By STEVE EIGHINGER
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Shelley Miller chuckles when she talks of raising, training and showing Clumber Spaniels as her "second career."
"Only I don't get paid for it," she's quick to say.
Actually, Miller has a more fitting term for that "second career."
"It's a passion," she says.
Shelley left her position as chief clinical officer at Blessing Hospital more than four years ago to devote all her time to that passion, one she shares with her husband, Chip, who is an anesthesiologist at Blessing.
Shelley's passion is tied to Clumber Spaniels, so much so there are five of the purebreds who share a home with the Millers on the city's southeast side.
One of those spaniels, 2 1/2-year-old Eli, has been invited to participate in the 137th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Westminster show is looked at as the most prestigious in the nation, featuring 3,200 of the world's leading purebred dogs.
The Westminister show will be broadcast on CNBC Monday evening, and USA Network Tuesday evening, from 7-10 pm each night (CST).
Miller first attended the show as a spectator in 2009. This will be the first year one of her dogs has competed.
"It is a whole different world," Miller says of the breeding, shows and all that goes with the high-end purebred competition.
Most of the shows the Millers attend are in Illinois and Missouri, but they also have competed in Texas, Tennessee, Florida and Pennsylvania. Eli is the No. 2-ranked Clumber Spaniel in the nation.
"There's a lot of traveling," she said. "We're usually at (at least) two shows a month."
The lure is not any sort of tangible reward. There is no prize money and the ribbons carry a value of about $5 apiece.
"It's the prestige," Miller said.
Miller said she first was attracted to this new lifestyle while working in a rescue effort for dogs a number of years ago.
"I decided I wanted to get into the dog world," she said, with a laugh.
She and her husband eventually opted to work with the Clumber Spaniels after a period of study and visiting various kennels. That breed of dog, developed in the United Kingdom, is the largest of the spaniels with its name taken from Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire.
The Clumber Spaniels are described as gentle and loyal. They also shed a lot, snore and drool, but the Millers love them.
"Our five range in age from 8 months to 6 1/2 years," Shelley said.
Eli is right in the middle age-wise. Schroeder is 6 1/2 and Clarissa is 4. The youngest are twin girls, LaVerne and Shirley.
All five of the spaniels compete. The three oldest have all won a variety of titles. LaVerne and Shirley are just getting started in competition.
The Clumber Spaniels have a rich history, although details of the breed are uncertain prior to the mid-19th century. Clumber Spaniels have been kept and bred by various British monarchs, including Prince Albert, King Edward VII and King George V. They were introduced into Canada in 1844, and that same year became one of the first 10 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club.
The first Clumber Spaniel was entered in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1878. The dogs are predominantly white in color and stand only 17 to 20 inches tall, but can weigh up to 85 pounds.
"They're kind of like Cocker Spaniels on steroids," Miller said. "They're cute and always happy, but there's some substance to them. They're hearty dogs."
To be invited to the Westminster show, a dog must have attained different levels of championship success. Dogs are judged at Westminster against their breed standards, to see how close each dog matches those particular standards. Judges work from written descriptions of what the ideal specimen of each breed is considered to be.
Standards may include references relating form to function in the performance of the job that the dog was bred for, and may also include items that seem somewhat arbitrary such as color, eye shape and tail carriage.
The first Westminster show was first held in 1877, making it the second-longest continuously held sporting event in the United States behind only the Kentucky Derby, which was first run in 1875.
The Westminster Kennel Club predates the formation of the American Kennel Club by seven years and became the first club admitted to the AKC after its founding in 1884. Specific clubs create the standards for judging their own breeds, with the AKC administering the rules about shows and judging.