HAVANA – The Cuban capital has played host to political summits and art festivals, ballet tributes and international baseball competitions. Now dog lovers are getting their chance to take center stage.
Hundreds of people from all over Cuba and several other countries came to a scruffy field near Revolution Plaza this past week to preen and fuss over the shih tzus, beagles, schnauzers and cocker spaniels that are the annual Fall Canine Expo's star attractions. There were even about a dozen bichon habaneros, a mid-sized dog bred on the island since the 17th century.
As dog lovers talked shop, the merely curious strolled the field, checking out the more than 50 breeds on display while carefully dodging the prodigious output of so many dogs.
The four-day competition, which ended Sunday, included competitions in several breeding categories, and judges were flown in from Nicaragua, Colombia and Mexico.
"This is a small, poor country, but Cubans love dogs," said Miguel Calvo, the president of Cuba's dog federation, which organized the show. "We make a great effort to breed purebred animals of quality."
Winners don't receive any trophy or prize money, but that doesn't mean the competition is any less fierce.
Anabel Perez, owner of a cocker spaniel named Lisamineli after the U.S. actress, spent more than half an hour coifing the dog's hair in preparation for the competition, while the owner of a shih tzu named Tiguer meticulously brushed his coat nearby.
"I'm a hairdresser for humans," explained Tiguer's owner, Miguel Lopez. "So it's easy for me. I like shih tzus because they are a lot of work to keep well groomed."