There are only a few good reasons to give a dog a steak dinner. One would be if that dog won a major award at the biggest dog show in the world, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City.
"He would have gotten steak if he had lost, too," Paducahan Patience Renzulli said of her prize-winning pup, William. "He is so calm, and he will do just about anything I ask him to do. So he got steak, and a cookie for good measure."
Renzulli and William returned home Wednesday from the show, in which William won the prestigious Best of Opposite Sex Award. The award, given to the best dog that is the opposite sex of the dog chosen as Best in Breed, named William the best male whippet at the show.
"It doesn't faze him," Renzulli said of William, who was snuggled warmly into his bed in the afternoon sun. "Nothing really does, though. He's happy now that he's back home with his buddies."
Renzulli saw her first whippet as a young girl in western Massachusetts. As the youngest girl in her neighborhood, Renzulli often played with her next door neighbor's rescued whippet. When she decided she wanted to begin showing in 1992, the breed was all she could think about. She bought her first whippet, Gracious, from a breeder and meant for the dog to be purely a pet, she said. But she started reading the American Whippet Society's newsletter and noticing events and decided to try competition.
At her very first show, she took Gracious to a match and put her up against 350 other dogs. In her first time in the ring, Gracious took home Best of Breed, Best of Hounds and Best of Show.
"I was hooked," Renzulli said. "It was like if you went to a casino and won big on your first bet."
Friends told her that whippets were like potato chips, meaning most owners have more than one or two, but she never believed them. She wanted Gracious, and that was enough for her, she thought. Within four years, she had four whippets prancing around her house. The competition never slowed. One of Renzulli's prized whippets, Mama Pajama, was the top-ranked whippet in the country for field agility and speed, she said.
Her first litter was a litter of one, Renzulli said. The one puppy, Willow, was later named the American Kennel Club's ACE, or therapy dog of the year.
William was born in Sweden, and took the long plane ride to Chicago, where Renzulli picked him up. He was an unpopular color - whippets in England are usually tan but in the United States that was not a popular color, so whippets of that color are rare - but Renzulli added him to her hoard. At home, they call him Swede William, a name which always has the canine's tail wagging. In 2011 he won an award of merit at the National Specialty show, and was the only tan whippet out of 600 dogs.
Renzulli has taken a dog to Westminster before, although she's never won an award. She works hard at shows around the country, and is a member and past president of the Paducah Kennel Club. When she entered him in Westminster, she wasn't sure she had a chance. She wasn't even nervous, she said, a typical feeling for her at big shows. William stood at his station as 100,000 people passed by.
"He was so calm," Renzulli said. "He kissed all of the kids and let everyone feel his coat. There were people and TV cameras and it was very loud, but he took it all in stride."
A video of the awards shows the moment William was named Best of Opposite Sex, and Renzulli's mouth drops open. She received congratulations from friends all over the world, including William's Swedish breeder who left a screaming message on her voice mail in another language. Renzulli's surprise is evident, and it still was on Wednesday afternoon after the long drive home to Paducah.
"I was floored," Renzulli said, beaming with William on her lap. "That's the best word for it. It was beyond my wildest dreams. This is a once in a lifetime type of thing.
Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.