If you’re in the movie industry, the highest honor you can receive is an Academy Award nomination. If you play baseball, it doesn’t get any better than a chance to win the World Series. If you’re in the competition dog world, the chance to compete on the Westminster Dog Show’s green carpet at New York’s fabled Madison Square Garden symbolizes the highest achievements in breeding and conformation excellence.
This year, i Love Dogs ambassador Jo Anne Ybaben will have her first opportunity to shine at the nation’s highest profile dog show. Ybaben, who represents i Love Dogs at various events around the country, will accompany Dash, a young but already accomplished Papillion champion.
It’s a testament to both Dash’s qualities and Ybaben’s commitment to showing that brought the 2-year-old phenom so far, so fast. Although only on the show circuit for about a year, Dash is already ranked No. 11 in the nation for Papillions. “He’s a really special little guy even though he is young,” Ybaben says.
“Wherever I need to be is where I’ll go,” says Ybaben. “I’ll fly to wherever. I’ve flown to Nashville, I’ve flown to North Carolina.”
Dash himself loves the attention he receives from his show business career and is a natural when it comes to strutting his stuff for the judges. In fact, says Ybaben, he thrives on it.
“He loves to show. When I pick up my bag he’s just dancing around, all excited,” she says. “One of my dogs is not a champion yet and I’ve been taking her to shows, trying to get her a championship. I gave her a bath and he was just going nuts because he thought it was his turn next and when he saw me get the show bag and walk out without having given him a bath, he was, like, ‘What’s going on? You’re forgetting me.’ He was crushed,” she chuckles.
He won’t be crushed come Westminster weekend where he’ll get ample opportunity to show why he’s a rising star. Even before the main event, Dash will compete in a couple of smaller shows in New York.
“We have a toy dog show on Friday called the Progressive Toy Dog Show,” Ybaben says. “Then there are two Papillion specialties, one on Saturday and one on Sunday.”
Because Dash’s enthusiasm for showing is so great, Ybaben gave him a month-long break from the show circuit before Westminster weekend. It gives him a well-deserved rest and his saved-up energy will likely improve his performance, she believes.
“I want him to be relaxed and motivated and excited to go because he hasn’t been for a while.” Ybaben’s other passion is agility competitions, a sport for which the Papillion breed also shows a knack thanks to their great temperament and activity level. In fact, Ybaben views the Papillion as an all-around solid companion: fun, friendly, active and a nice size.
“The Papillion is a spaniel so it’s a sporting dog,” Ybaben says. “This is a dog that was a sporting dog that was bred down over the centuries. It’s a small dog that’s a member of the household but they retain their sporting instincts. They want to play. They want to go. They want to run. Whatever you want to do. I can take them on hikes. Their priority is to be with their people. On top of that, they are beautiful dogs. Their heads and their ears are just beautiful and have so much expression. I really enjoy them.”
Those beautiful, expressive dogs have another connection to i Love Dogs. Another one of Ybaben’s Papillions served as the model for i Love Dog Diamonds’ Amour, Amour collar. By coincidence, that collar will be modeled over Westminster weekend at SkyBark’s Pre-Westminster Fashion Show, with model Beth Stern and a dog model walking the $3.2 million dollar collar down the runway.
For all Ybaben’s accomplishments, though, blue ribbons are not her first priority when it comes to her breeding program and show schedule. “I think I’m most proud of the fact that I make great pets,” she says. “Everyone that has gotten a dog from me keeps in touch with me and is always telling me how their life is so much better because they have a Papillion. And whether that dog is in the show ring or sitting at home watching TV, people tell me ‘This is exactly what I want.’ As a breeder that’s the best thing you can ever hear.”
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Jo Anne Ybaben
Do you watch the Westminster Dog Show every year? What’s your favorite breed or breed group?