“Yes. You can pet Phoenix. But only after you have thoroughly washed your hands. I don’t even want to think about what the other dogs here are carrying,” Chris says through her gritted gnashers. A crabbit woman far into her twilight years, she’d been sitting at her stand too long today to still be dealing with people civilly.
Phoenix, a 13-year-old Chinese Crested, was without fur but had a similar hairstyle to his owner. He had a flop of white, straw-like hair plopped on his head, on his otherwise naked body. He looked distant, seemingly oblivious to the hundreds of people walking by him.
“They are unique. How many other dogs don’t have any hair? They are like little people. They are funny and super intelligent,” Chris insists, as if demanding approval.
“I just love them. I mean, I kind of like the haired ones, but I definitely prefer the hairless. I used to have a poodle. So, I have gone from super hairy to no hair.”
Phoenix sauntered off to the back of his cage, before retiring to his bed. Chris kept barking on about her precious boy and will probably continue barking on long after Crufts.
Chris and Phoenix were part of the ‘Discover Dogs’ exhibition. This exhibition is at the back of the largest hall in the NEC, sponsored this year by Frontline, a company that provide long lasting protection against fleas and bites for dogs. This exhibition is one of the main features of Crufts dating back to when the dog show first began.
Broken into the five major dog groups, there were over 220 breeds present.
Frontline’s marketing director, John Toole, said: “We want a lot of engagement for pet owners. We did it last year as well and we just think that it is great to get lots of owners mixing.”
He was excited about this year’s exhibition. “There’s a great buzz going on everywhere” and he thinks that it is busier than last year.
The owners are passionate and knowledgeable about their dogs. But it’s also clear that some of them were a bit odd.
“I’ve had ‘em a few years now. I like the breed as I use ‘em for shooting. They are good at huntin’ down fowl and all that.” Del Walters is a burly Welshman, pushing his forties. He is the owner of Yogi and Izzy, two Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.
“They are so strong in the water. They don’t seem it ‘til they go in, but they jump in and it don’t bother ‘em.
“On Thursday I had them in show and two of them got a first and one of them got a reserve.” He nods to himself, confidently.
Yogi and Izzy were jumping up at every passer-by, panting with joy at the amount of attention they were getting.
Discover Dogs is one of the staples of Crufts as it allows thousands of people to meet and ‘discover’ new dogs.
Rachel Abbott said, whilst scratching Lizzie’s head:
“It’s great; it’s not often people get to see a rare breed dog. I come along here every year and it definitely opens people’s eyes up.”
Lizzie is a Bergamasco – in human form she’d smoke too much pot and listen to reggae, having more dreadlocks than Bob Marley and Whoopi Goldberg combined. Lizzie was probably the happiest looking dog at Crufts.
“We wanted this breed originally 16 years ago. We found a breeder but then things didn’t happen. Earlier this year we had a litter and that’s how we’ve got the baby. 16 years we waited for one.
“They just look so interesting, that’s why I wanted this breed. Their temperament is amazing. They are just so laid back. ‘Sofa dogs’ is what I call them.”
Temperament is something that is incredibly important to owners at Discover Dogs. Nearly every single person mentioned it.
A couple of snowmen-cloud hybrids were in the stand next to Lizzie’s. Beside them sat Janet Steel, an elderly and welcoming woman from Warwickshire, who adores Old English Sheepdogs. She has owned 15 over the past 44 years.
“They are a high-maintenance breed, there’s a lot of grooming and so on. But they are so loveable and so good with children.”
She is particularly proud of Paris today, who is only 14 months old. “She’s been really calm meeting everybody here and she’s just been out for a comfort break. Everybody has been petting her and taking photos and she loves it. Paris is a good girl.”
Steel says the Discover Dogs exhibition is “absolutely brilliant” and she showcases her dogs every year at Crufts.
“If this encourages one person to avoid going to a puppy farmer then we’ve done a good job. It is important to have this, to educate the general public.
“I’ve had Old English Sheepdogs for 44 years and I still don’t know everything. At least I can help people and point them in the right direction, that’s very important.”
Several of the owners have found their beloved breed at the exhibition.
Jane Owen, one of the younger women to be showcasing a dog here, actually found her dog through the exhibition seven years ago.
“It’s really good because people get to have a look at all sorts of different breeds. I wanted a dog that could just do all of the stuff that we do together as a family. One that could cope with doing things like dog agility, walks in the park, and being able to just settle down and hang out on the sofa all day on Sunday.”
Owen discovered the Bolognese that day, not the pasta dish but the dog breed. She fell in love as they “are just a really sensibly-sized, dog-shaped, easy-to-live-with breed”.
A few others thanked ‘Discover Dogs’ for them finding their breed. Gina Melville, a Londoner from the Southeast, discovered Gordon Setters 21 years ago, and has had them ever since. She “couldn’t be without them”.
Vickie Arkesden, an entrepreneur for her business ‘The Dog Lady’ is here with Mr F, her five-year-old Basset Fauve de Bretagne. She says that when she visited three years ago, she was just “genuinely interested” to see all the different breeds.
After she saw this particular Basset breed, however, she needed one having felt “a connection with them from the word go”.
The veteran of Discover Dogs at Crufts is Colin Rae. Rae looks as though he should be sitting in a rocking chair, outside a cabin with a bit of straw between his teeth. This is his 25th consecutive year attending and showcasing his Golden Retrievers.
Sascha, a three-year-old bitch, whined for attention until Rae gave her a scratch.
“They are very easy to train, and they give you a lot back. We walk them twice a day and feed them twice a day.
“For me, having Retrievers, means that when I come home I can smile. It means I have got company. It means I have always got a purpose, as someone always wants my attention.”
As the longest recurring dog owner in this exhibition, Rae said:
“We’ve been coming here for 25 years and I can tell you that it is a brilliant idea. I just feel it is a magnificent way of finding that dog you are looking for.
“Having bred many litters, we have an information pack we give to new owners.
“We can give people advice on puppies. We can tell people where to look and what look for.”
There are over 220 breeds of dogs in the exhibition and based on their temperament and looks it becomes a near impossible choice to choose which breed you’d pick to adopt.
However, one thing is for certain; avoid the Chinese Crested.