CHEYENNE – Chandra Flaim knew her dog, Amoré, was special from his very first competition.
When Amoré was just 4 months old, Flaim entered the smooth-coat collie into a practice dog show in Colorado. In a short time, Amoré was acting like he had been competing for years.
“I came out of the ring going, ‘Oh my gosh!’” Flaim said with a laugh. “We just knew there was something.”
It helps that Amoré approaches every dog show with the same demeanor, earning him the nickname “Mr. Business” from his handler. Some dogs like to play with squeaky toys during down time at competitions, but not Amoré.
Amoré’s superstar instincts have gotten the 5-year-old far – so far that he will be competing in the 144th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which starts Sunday. It is both Amoré and Flaim’s first time in the world-renowned competition.
Amoré will first compete in the breed ring with all the other smooth collies. For him to compete in the group competition – the portion of the show that airs Monday and Tuesday on TV – he will need to win best in variety in the Sunday competition.
“Even if we don’t make it out of the breed ring, I hope he looks good,” Flaim said. “I just want everybody to be like, ‘that white dog looked good!’”
Flaim noted Amoré’s white fur makes him stand out among the collies, which are typically brown or black. While unique, his coat can sometimes be a barrier to his success in competitions.
“We’ve even had judges say, ‘I really like your dog, but I just can’t put up a white,’ which is stupid because it’s a recognized color,” Flaim said. “If Saturday’s judge at a competition doesn’t like whites, I already know we’re probably not going to win.”
To qualify for the dog show in New York City, Amoré had to perform well in regional competitions. Last fall, the smooth collie got second place out of about 1,600 dogs in the biggest competition in the Rocky Mountains, which takes place in Greeley, Colorado.
“I just never imagined,” Flaim said of winning second. “There were so many nationally winning dogs there, like the number-one miniature American shepherd was there, the number-one Australian shepherd was there ... I never cried so hard in public in my life.”
A small group of breeders exists in Wyoming. The state has three kennel clubs – one in Cheyenne, one in Laramie and one in Casper – and Flaim said there are three collie breeders in Wyoming, as well.
Flaim has passed along her passion for breeding to her daughter, Frances. She was on hand for Amoré’s first group placement in a dog show in Utah.
“I drove him out there, and we showed for the weekend,” Frances said. “I cried so much ... it was one of those things that we never thought would happen.”
While Chandra and Amoré head to New York City for the competition, Frances will stay in Cheyenne with the family’s other dogs. But she already has been to the junior competition at the Westminster Dog Show.
A few aspects of dog shows keep Frances coming back, but a crucial one is the winning, which Frances described as “addicting.”
“It’s just something that you need to keep doing, even if you’re not on the end of the leash,” Frances said.
Frances also loves dog shows for the community that comes with them. Having grown up in the breeding community, she has gotten to know many breeders across the country.
“It’s like a mini-vacation that’s really stressful, and you’re really tired afterward,” Frances said.
Chandra agreed that building connections in the dog-breeding community is one of her favorite parts of competitions.
“I can go pretty much anywhere in the country and know somebody,” Chandra said.
Twenty-five years ago, when Chandra was first getting into dog breeding, her mentor told her to not even worry about getting into the Westminster Dog Show. While making the show wasn’t a goal Chandra had for her career, she’s happy she made it.
“I think she would be really proud of me,” Chandra said.