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Will Weare Pooch be the top dog at Westminster?

May 12 – With his rugged good looks, muscular build and winning smile, it’s no surprise that Mando is already a top dog. Now he’s heading to the biggest show of them all.

“Baystar This is the Way at Knee High” – Mando to his friends – is a Lancashire heeler, a rare dog breed recently recognized by the American Kennel Club and making its first appearance at the 148th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

This year, more than 2,500 top-class dogs will participate in the prestigious dog show, including 31 from New Hampshire, including Mando.

Owners Michael Branley and Lindsay DeVito-Branley from Weare named their dog after the hero of the TV show “Mandalorian”. “We really like the show and felt the name suited it,” said Branley, Swanzey’s city manager.

Westminster will be held again this year at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, New York, from May 11 to 14, and is the nation’s second-oldest sporting event after the Kentucky Derby. The show draws large crowds in person and even more spectators on prime-time TV, and now also includes agility and obedience competitions.

Mando will have his moment in the national spotlight on Monday evening, when he is expected to compete in the Herding group following the breed inspection earlier that day.

That’s because he’s the only Lancashire heeler in the show.

The breed was not eligible for entry until January 1. Mando earned his championship earlier this year and Branley said he and his wife decided to enter the lottery so Mando could have the opportunity to compete at Westminster. He received an invitation to do so.

“We think he is a great representative of the breed,” Branley said. “The honor of being the first to ever be there forever was something special.”

Branley and his wife have had Miniature American Shepherds for years, but were looking for “something different,” he said. They learned about the Lancashire heeler and began researching the breed. They had been beaten.

They got Mando from a breeder in Massachusetts, and he immediately tried to be the boss of the larger dogs in the household, Branley said. “Even though they only weigh 12 pounds, they’re just very tenacious,” he said. “He definitely tries to manage everything.”

The 2-year-old dog is very loyal and bonded with his people, Branley said. “He’s always aware of what my wife or I have going on,” he said, sometimes adding his dog voice to conversation among the people.

According to the AKC breed standard, the Lancashire heeler is a “small, powerful, solidly built, alert, energetic worker,” with a temperament described as “courageous, happy (and) affectionate toward its owner.”

According to the AKC, the breed’s history dates back to the 17th century. These dogs were bred as livestock herders and ratters and now compete in conformation as well as obedience, agility, rally and herding events.

Mando has trained for dog sports: agility and Fast CAT, a 100-meter sprint for dogs. But it’s in the show ring that his striking pooch shines, Branley said.

“He loves it,” he said, laughing. “He’s got a style about him. He’s definitely a showman.”

And look for the characteristic ‘heeler smile’ in the ring on Monday evening. “They have quite expressive lips,” Branley said.

DeVito-Branley usually handles their show dogs, but she can’t make it to Westminster, so Mando will be shown at the big show by a professional handler, Jessica Plourde. Branley invited his mother, Kiki Branley of Chester, to join him on the trip to New York, a nice treat for Mother’s Day.

His Westminster goal for their dog is simple: “To have fun and show people how special he is.”

Mando has had great success in the ring and recently came second among owner-handled dogs at a major show. So Branley said, “You never know. Obviously we love him, but there’s a lot of good competition. The best dogs in the world are going to be there.”

“This is the big time,” he said. “So it’s pretty exciting.”

How to watch the Westminster Kennel Club dog show

Monday

Fox Sports 1 (FS1), Pre-show, 7:00 PM – 7:30 PM, followed by Hound, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding Group review, 7:30 PM – 11:00 PM

Tuesday

FS1, Pre-show 7:00 PM – 7:30 PM, followed by Sporting, Working and Terrier group judging, then Best in Show, 7:30 PM – 11:00 PM

For more: www.westminsterkennelclub.org