November 7, 2017
Westminster Dog Show: Dreaming With Dalmatians

Update: February 15, 2016: "Dirt" earned an Award of Merit in the Breed Ring today, in a class of 24 Dalmatians.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was the stuff of dreams for 11-year-old Samantha Stafford. She stood ringside, watching spotted Dalmatians trot importantly in their circles, in the cloudy hills near Knoxville, Tennessee. Samantha and her mom Linda own two Dalmatians, but they never considered showing them until now.

Westminster, with its shiny groomed dogs, perfectly coiffed handlers in colors to compliment the fur of their charges, and stately judges called to a young girl with a wistful voice that whispered, "someday."

Samantha's mom Linda was skeptical.

"You aren't going to Westminster unless you get a written invitation!"
But, she loved her daughter and bought her a puppy; a female named Volunteer's Enchanted Hart.


It was easy to see the appeal of the "Dally," with their smart bicolor coat and their tight, athletic build. They have a distinctive, busy trot, and often, a bemused head tilt. The American Kennel Club states that the Dalmatian is also known as the "English Coach Dog," the "Carriage Dog," and perhaps best of all, the "Plum Pudding Dog."

Dalmatians are born nearly white. As "Tillie" the pup grew, she was spattered with black dots, perfectly round and quarter-sized. She wore a constant grin and had a good-natured wag. She was a willing project, Linda said.

"We were 'learning' what to do in the ring, so Tillie was our learning show dog."
Samantha handled her dog, prancing along with her in show after show until they finally eked from Tillie a championship title.

Samantha and Tillie, winning! [Photo via Gina Hyatt]

The next step, naturally, was to breed her. The male they selected had brown spots. Linda knew some of the pups would, too.

"I named the puppies from a dream dictionary: Easel, Pockets, Mud and a few others. They all had meanings of happy futures."
Mud was spotted with brown, and he became an instant favorite. He was a large pup with a regal bearing and one blue eye.
"He was my heart dog. He got his Canine Good Citizen Certification and became a therapy dog. He visited hospitals with me."
Mud's heart was in his work so much that he decided he would rather be a Therapy Dog than a Show Dog. Reluctantly, Linda placed him in a loving home in Michigan, where he continues his therapy work.

It seemed logical to repeat the breeding. Linda hoped for a black and white female with Mud's same charisma.

Lots of Spots [Photo via Linda Stafford]

But, what arrived was even more magical; another liver and white boy which they immediately named, "Enchanted Hart Down and Dirty."

As he grew, "Dirt" charmed everyone with his sense of humor.

With Tillie retired from the ring, Dirt became Samantha's new show puppy. When he was nine months old, Linda and Samantha took him to the 2013 Dalmatian Club of America National Specialty in St. Louis, Missouri. Recalling that day, Linda says, "Oh wow."
"We thought he was pretty special, but not until the Nationals did we really know how special."
Against a slew of competition and some fierce professional handlers, Samantha and Dirt placed first in each of his classes: Sweepstakes, Breed, and Futurity. He was the 2013 DCA Best in Futurity winner.

Samantha and Dirt [Photo via Linda Stafford]

They were on their way. Over the next two years, Samantha and Dirt forged through adolescence together, savoring the show experience and teaching each other new means of finesse and sportsmanship. The kinship of fellow exhibitors and the urge to support and help others in the sport grew, as did the bond between the girl and the dog.

As the months and years passed, Linda watched her daughter developing strength and confidence, learning that winning is only a very small part of showing.

This year, Dirt is AKC's number three Dalmatian, nationally. This earned him a golden ticket; a "written invitation" to the Westminster Dog Show.

Samantha's mother is "floored."

"I know that's what I said to her, but at the time, I never believed it would really happen."
Dirt [Photo via Linda Stafford]

Samantha and Dirt are proof that dreams can come true, especially with persistent action. Her mother now agrees.

"I believe God opens windows. You just have to know when to leap through them."
She might already know what the Dream Dictionary says about the Dalmatian.
"To dream of a Dalmatian represents emotional protection that encourages you to care about other people's feelings. Doing everything you can to keep someone happy. Pushing others to improve safety or be extra helpful to people with less."
There's Dirt on the couch. [Photo via Linda Stafford]

Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show airs Monday, February 16 on CNBC, live from 8 to 11 p.m. ET and Tuesday, February 17 on USA Network live from 8 to 11 p.m. ET.

Read more about Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on the Inquisitr in the following articles.

[Photo via Linda Stafford. Used with permission.]