Sorry, Leroy, you're just Westminster shabby

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There was big news from the animal kingdom last week, and I don't mean the fur flying at the Winter Olympics.

The Westminster Kennel Club best in show was announced on Feb. 12, and the next day the amazing news was revealed that someone is cloning cats.

My dog Leroy slept through it all.

Some parents drive their children across the country for skating or gymnastics lessons or build kid-size luge runs and half pipes in their backyards in hopes of producing an Olympic champion. Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I always secretly believed that Leroy had the right stuff to bring home the bacon from the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

The Westminster winner, Spice Girl, is a very carefully coiffed toy poodle who looks like she wears leg warmers and a fur hat. It's just her hairdo. The days after Leroy gets his annual haircut, he won't come out from under the couch, he is so embarrassed. The trappings of success may prove too much.

Spice Girl is quite a little package. She won a lovely silver cup and the hearts of the crowd of 10,000 people who jammed the annual dog show. I ran the specs on Spice Girl and, by golly, Leroy cudda been a contender.

From the Westminster guide book for general appearance, carriage and condition:

"That of a very active, intelligent and elegant-appearing dog, squarely built, well proportioned, moving soundly and carrying himself proudly. Properly clipped in the traditional fashion and carefully groomed ... an air of distinction and dignity peculiar to himself."

Leroy's dignity is very peculiar to himself. As for his "air of distinction," we call that gas and poor oral hygiene at our house,

Leroy doesn't do much: no tricks, can't bark "Ave Maria," play poker or tell fortunes. That makes my job as dog owner much easier. If you throw him a ball (or a Smithfield ham) he just looks at you. He lives to eat, sleep and go for walks. My obligations are to feed him, take him for walks and nudge him every couple of hours to make sure he is still breathing.

He used to be a champion bolter. If I dropped the leash or he squeezed out under the fence, he was gone in a second. He is a terrier cross, rumor has it his folks came from the Topaz Lake area. Like all truly great dogs -- Lassie, Rin-Tin-Tin, Old Yeller -- we rescued him from the jaws of death. That's not really true. He showed up 13 years ago as pet of the week in The Record-Courier, wet and rejected, and we forgot all about that cute cocker spaniel we dreamed of and brought him home.

Leroy is aging about as gracefully as I am. His eyesight and hearing are starting to fade. He stands patiently in front of the piano for the longest time, thinking it's me and waiting to go for a walk. We have an established route so I don't have to think very much and he can just sniff where he's been the day before and won't lose his way.

The days I sneak out without him, I am peppered with questions from the regulars on my route. No "how are you?" It's all "Leroy, Leroy, Leroy."

According to the Wall Street Journal, an early effort to clone an elderly dog name Missy has proved technically difficult, thus giving way to the successful cat cloning.

If scientists are looking for old dogs to clone, take my dog, please,

As every-dog, he's got a lot going. Medium height and build, doesn't eat too much or all that goes along with that. Smart and companionable, slows down after the first decade, long life span; not many vet bills; inexpensive to groom and dog hair blends in with the carpet. He's no Spice Girl, but then, he doesn't wear leg warmers either.

The Wall Street Journal account ends with a quote from Brian Sodergren of the national Humane Society who said, "In the face of the overwhelming pet population, there is not a need to breed or clone new pets."

It almost makes me regret that Leroy taught himself to read.

Sheila Gardner is night desk editor of the Nevada Appeal


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