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Damaged by Sandy, dog owners head to Westminster


March 16. 2013 8:12PM
BEN WALKER, AP Sports Writer

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NEW YORK — Exactly when Lois Cohen-Goldstein can move home, she's not sure. The black, brackish water from Superstorm Sandy that filled her Long Island house has receded. The problems haven't.


The repairs are far from finished, the washer and dryer that got pulled off the wall need to be replaced. Her husband is hobbled by a bad disk in his back. Time is running out on how long they can stay at the hotel where they've temporarily lived.


All that, and yet they are still determined to bring Keaton the Tibetan terrier to the Westminster dogshow.


We are. We are. We are. Proudly, Cohen-Goldstein said. It was totally nonnegotiable.


Of the 2,721 entries in America's top dog event that begins Monday, more than 500 are from the New York-New Jersey area. And many are owned by families severely hit in late October by one of the worst storms ever to strike the Northeast.


Damaged, yet undaunted, Westminster is their destination.


Denise Wilczewski of Wall Township, N.J., saw the beaches and boardwalks washed away from the Jersey Shore where she grew up.


Minus flood insurance, Wilczewski and husband Scott are waiting to fix a leaking roof, deal with dense mold and clear the 70-foot trees that fell on their property and trucks.


It's a daily effort, too, to keep their eight dogs, three of them diabetic and blind, calm and comfortable.


Among the brood is Chauncey, a 3-year-old komondor. The 140-pound mop of a white, corded coat will walk the Westminster ring on Tuesday morning, guided by expert handler Ernesto Lara.


To Wilczewski, there was no doubt they would attend.


It makes you forget about things for one whole day. Not a minute of that day will I think of all this at home. Do you know how nice that is? she said.


That day, we'll be in that special dog world. It's a magical little place. And then you come back to this, she said. People who have dogs understand it. Anyone in the dog world does. You don't even have to say it out loud.


The 137th Westminster features dogs from 187 different breeds and varieties with a pair of newcomers, the treeing Walker coonhound and the Russell terrier.


Oakley the German wirehaired pointer enters as the nation's No. 1 showdog, with sleek Veni Vidi Vici the Doberman pinscher also a top contender.


Sky the wire fox terrier won two big events — the National and the AKC/Eukanuba — and her breed has won a record 13 times at Westminster. But true to her terrier nature, she can be a bit mischievous, and no telling whether best in show judge Michael Dougherty will put up with such antics in his ring.


Last year, Malachy the Pekingese wobbled his way to victory on the green carpet at Madison Square Garden.


This year, the hound, toy, nonsporting and herding groups will be judged Monday night at the Garden. The top sporting, working and terriers will be chosen Tuesday night, followed by Dougherty's pick shortly before 11 p.m.


Because of renovations at the Garden, the daytime portions of the show will be held at the Pier 92/94 exhibition space on the west side of Manhattan, along the Hudson River. All dogs will be housed there — benched, in show parlance — during the day to compete in breed judging and to be seen up close by fans.


Among them will be the dogs and families of Sandy.


The storm that closed the Statue of Liberty, shut down the New York Stock Exchange and shuttered Atlantic City casinos changed the lives of Merrilee and Andrew D'Antonio forever.


They got out early when the water started rising around their Long Island home in Massapequa, taking their 14-year-old daughter, three dogs and a rabbit to his parents' home farther inland.


When they returned the next day, Andrew tried to open the front door and it immediately bumped into the refrigerator. Most everything they owned was on one floor, and it was lost.


Putting all your possessions on the curb, the baby pictures, Merrilee said, tearing up, it was tough.


The D'Antonios have no idea when their house will be rebuilt. Friends from the dog community, some from across the country whom they've never met, have heard of their plight and sent contributions. While insurance and FEMA affairs get sorted out, money is tight.


But the $75 entry for Philo the Samoyed and the $100 or so extra it might take for a day in New York, that is worth every penny to them. The couple got engaged at Westminster, they've attended about 10 times, and it would hurt too much to miss.


We have so little of our old life left, we don't want to skimp on this, Andrew said.


Merrilee looked at her husband and slowly shook her head in agreement.


It's our tradition, she said. We're going because we're dog people. Our dog deserves to go. We deserve to go. If we can get past our refrigerator floating in our house, we can navigate getting to Westminster.


Maybe it will be Philo's day. Maybe it won't, she said. But it will be our day.




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