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WILD NATURE

New Breeds Showcased at 134th Westminster Dog Show

Zack, left, and Heather Helmer, display Harvey's 14 inch ears at the Pennsylvania Hotel, Friday, Feb. 12, 2010 in New York. Harvey, a 3-year-old Bloodhound is in contention for the Guinness Book of World Records for longest dog ears.AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

NEW YORK — His name is Alchemy — a sleek Irish red and white setter, high-energy but gentle. And he represents one of three new breeds making their debut at the Westminster Kennel Club's world-class dog show Monday.

Alchemy, a silky-coated canine from New Jersey, will also step outside Madison Square Garden on Tuesday to ring the closing bell at the Nasdaq stock exchange. That moment will be beamed live to a Times Square giant screen.

The two other breeds entering the annual show for the first time are herding dogs — the Pyrenean shepherd and the Norwegian buhund.

"It's exciting for me to see beautiful dogs that finally get recognized in this country after being around hundreds of years in their home countries," said David Frei, a spokesman for the club who co-hosts the show's live television broadcast.

The so-called Pyr shep, native to the mountains of southern France, has guarded sheep since medieval times. Its expressive, intelligent eyes guide a fuzzy, sturdy body in action. The breed comes in two varieties — rough- and smooth-coated. Hundreds of them lost their lives in World War I, searching for wounded men or as couriers or guard dogs.

The loyal and fun-loving buhund — either black or cream-colored, with a curly tail — also has existed for centuries, sailing on Viking ships and working in the Norwegian countryside.

"It's a dog with pointed ears and a thick coat who looks like it's ready to go to work on a farm, herding," said Frei. "They have a great work ethic."

Represented by 29 individual dogs in the show, the three breeds made it into the 134th annual event after being officially recognized last year by the American Kennel Club, the governing body of the purebed dog sport in the United States. The show starts Monday.

Several factors are required for AKC recognition: a solid parent club that oversees the registry, a precise standard for the breed's ideal dog, and a sufficient population and distribution in the United States.

"They can't all be on some farm in Georgia," joked Frei.

Worldwide, more than 400 breeds of dogs are recognized. Although the three new breeds in this year's show have long been accepted abroad, "it took this long for them to receive AKC recognition in this country," Frei said.

The Labrador retriever was named the top dog in the United States on Wednesday by the American Kennel Club, followed by the German shepherd, the Yorkshire terrier and the golden retriever. The ranking is based on the number of registrations for the breed with the AKC in 2009; the lab is most popular in Los Angeles.

Westminster's 2010 rookie breeds were introduced Friday in the lobby of Hotel Pennsylvania, across the street from the Garden. They're staying with their owners in rooms equipped with special "dogpedic beds," said Jerry Grymek, the hotel's "doggie concierge."

Special services include massage therapists who limber up the animals for competition. And in the hotel basement is a his-and-hers "comfort station," complete with faux fire hydrants for the males, near a treadmill dubbed "Jog a Dog."

This year, there are 173 breeds and varieties in the show, up from about 150 two decades ago, Frei said.

"This is the world's greatest dog show, with a different cast of characters every year," he said.

Anna Jones is bringing 9-year-old Alchemy along with another Irish red and white setter, 2-year-old Toffy, after a string of other shows this past year that won the dogs enough points to be declared AKC champions, a requirement to step on Westminster's green carpet.

The red and white setter — an older breed than the well-known mahogany-coated Irish setter — is a lean, elegant hunting dog with a mouth soft enough to retrieve game without damaging it. The breed became almost extinct in the early 20th century, but was saved by its "fanciers," said Frei.

Amid this week's snowstorm, Lisa Donnelly's 18-month-old buhund, Lola, was oblivious to the excitement leading up to the show. All the pooch knew was that she'd gotten a bath and wasn't allowed outside her Connecticut home to play.

"She's usually happy, outgoing and low-maintenance," said Donnelly. "But now, she's having a hissy fit in the basement, whining and crying to go out."

The Westminster is the nation's second longest continually held sporting event, after the Kentucky Derby, according to Frei.

The Pyrenean shepherd and the Norwegian buhund will compete Monday as part of the herding group. The setters will compete the next day in the sporting group.