Barrie Essner of Lafayette Hill and her Dalmatians, Bondi and Fiona, hope to have a memorable weekend next month when they descend on the National Dog Show at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pennsylvania, on November 18th and 19th.
Bondi, a five-year-old Dalmatian, and Fiona, a two-year-old Dalmatian, will be competing in the annual Kennel Club of Philadelphia canine extravaganza taking place that Saturday and Sunday. They will be on hand all weekend to meet the public, as The National Dog Show is the only remaining “benched” show in America. A “benched” show special because all the dogs and handlers are in designated locations throughout the day all weekend long so the public can meet the canines and talk to the owners and handlers about the breeds, their attributes and suitability as a pet. Organizing a “benched” show is important to the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, whose mission is to educate the public about responsible pet parenting and the wonderfulness of dogs.
Essner’s favorite aspect of the National Dog Show is that it is right in her backyard. She can show her dogs in front of friends and family who come every year, taking advantage of free parking and reasonable ticket prices, $16 for adults, $7 for children and free for children under three years of age. Tickets are on sale now and available online.
Bondi is a sweet, laid-back pooch who loves to hunt for small animals and take walks on the beach. Fiona, the younger of the two competitors, is just starting her show career. Essner described her as a “little fireball” who is obsessed with her squeaky ball and Water Kong toy and loves the ocean and catching waves.
Most of us are familiar with the 1996 film “101 Dalmatians.” Essner said this movie generated a lot of hype around the breed and caused many people to purchase Dalmatians without knowing the nature of the breed. As a result, many of these dogs then ended up in shelters or abandoned due to owners not knowing what to expect when raising the Dalmatians, who need plenty of exercise and activity to be happy. In a good-natured admonishment with a twinkle in her eye, Essner stated, “Did you see the movie The Lion King and then go out and get yourself a lion?”
Dalmatians are also commonly associated with firehouses and firefighters, and Essner says some of this has truth to it. “This is my favorite question that people ask,” Essner offered. Dalmatians were originally used as guard dogs for horse-drawn carriages, and they could travel with the carriages for 20-25 miles a day. When firetrucks became horse-drawn, Dalmatians were naturally used to guard these public safety vehicles, and that began the association between firefighting and Dalmatians. Today, some firehouses around the country continue to keep Dalmatians as mascots in a nod to that legacy.
While Essner hopes to go home a winner when she competes at the dog show next month, she expressed that her reason for competing is to have a good time with her dogs. “I’d rather see my dogs have a great experience. Sure, I’d like them to win, but if they don’t, I’m okay with it,” she said. “At the end of the day, we always go home with the best dog.”
If either Bondi or Fiona wins their breed, they will advance to the group judging part of the show, which will be broadcasted on Thanksgiving Day by NBC 10 from noon to 2 p.m. The annual special is popular TV viewing for families here in Philadelphia, and it generates an audience of roughly 20 million total viewers on NBC stations around the country.
A local girl who attended Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School, Essner has been around the sport for decades, owning her first Dalmatian at the age of two and then showing in her early 20s. Now, it is a hobby and much of her life is devoted to the dogs, alongside her real job as a Nurse Practitioner at Main Line Health Lankenau Medical Center. She received her master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
Next month, she gets to show off her Dalmatians and her skills in front of friends, family and some 15,000 expected attendees at The National Dog Show. Find her, along with Bondi and Fiona in the Dalmatians aisle and stop by to say hello!