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Top dogs and handlers compete for glory at the Old Fort Cluster Dog Show

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - 10:27 am

The annual Old Fort Cluster Dog Show opened Wednesday morning at Memorial Coliseum with the first of five dog shows.

The event will run through Sunday and is actually a cluster of five shows and a joint effort of four clubs: the Northeast Indiana Kennel Club, the Marion Kennel Club, Sturgis (Mich.) Kennel Club and the LaPorte County Kennel Club.

Top handlers and their dogs come from all over the country to compete in the five days of shows. Wednesday morning Gabriel Rangel was in the house. The name might not be familiar to those outside the world of dog showing, but it was in 2010 that Rangel handled the top-winning dog at Westminster Kennel Club Show in New York City. The Scottish terrier, named Sadie, took Best in Show. That is the coveted top honor that owner, handlers and their dogs all work toward winning. The dog must be best in its breed and best in its group of dogs to compete for that honor.

Wednesday, Rangel was showing the top wire-haired fox terrier in the country, Sky, who at 4 1/2 holds seven championships including an International Championship. Right now this is the dog to beat if you are handling a fox terrier. Rangel is a modest man who has been on the road, handling dogs for 30 years. He explained it takes a combination of a top breeder, dedicated owner, and handler to take a dog all the way to Westminster. Rangel said he likes working with terriers, which he said are only as spirited as their handlers allow them to be.

“They are like children,” Rangel said.

Rangel who is much in demand for his handling skills only takes command of the dog when it is handed over to him at ringside right before he enters the ring. When he leaves the ring his assistant again takes charge of the animal.

Other people, like Lori Sustek, of Huntertown, are new to the dog show scene. She owns, grooms and handles her own dog. She was showing a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Sophia, 4. She also had a 5-month-old pup, Bentley, with her, more for his adjustment to the show scene because he had missed the cutoff date to show at his age by just a few days, Sustek explained. She might be new to the scene but the joy and excitement on her face showed she was committed to the competition.

For people interested in coming out to the show doors will be open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. each day. Admission is free, although visitors must pay for parking in the coliseum lot. They can bring dog food to donate to Community Harvest Food Bank. Dog lovers should bring their money; there are 25 vendors on hand with everything from dog handling equipment to unique canine-themed gifts.