Posted: Thursday February 9, 2006 2:26PM; Updated: Thursday February 9, 2006 5:42PM
In the book of sporting rivalries between uncles and nephews, no page is more dog-eared than the one about a couple of hundred-pound white guys from New York. They both have large, lustrous eyes, long, shiny noses and two sets of extra toenails that require weekly trimming. Both have hairy chests that have been primped and fluffed. In fact, both have hairy backs, hairy feet and hairy earlobes. Neither can pass a fire hydrant without getting all pissy.
The uncle and nephew in question are somewhat fancifully named Champion DieuDonne Impyrial Acclaim and Champion Impyrial's Love American Style. But they answer to Fame and Devon. The two Champions are the reigning Great Pyrenees of the Canine Kingdom, the Claudius and Hamlet of Pucci pooches. Curiously, before their showdog showdown last February at the 129th Westminster Kennel Club show they had never met.
Fame and Devon faced off in Ring 4 at Madison Square Garden during the Great Pyrenees best of breed final. Devon, the 3-year-old nephew, was ranked first in the nation among (though not by) his Pyrs. Fame, then 6, was a two-time No. 1 who had finished 12th in the AKC's all-breed rankings in 2004. "There was no sense of competitiveness between Devon and Fame, " says Karen Justin, the licensed customs broker who bred them both. In other words, it wasn't dog-eat-dog out there.
Fame lives in Iowa and campaigns on the West Coast. Two years ago he amassed 13 Best in Show wins by prancing around the ring like an animated snowdrift. "He has great charisma and exudes confidence," Justin says.
Devon, who's got a pad outside Manhattan and dominates the Eastern Seaboard circuit, is more playful, but has less animal magnetism. The son of Fame's sister Glory, he comes from a litter of cheeses: Brie, Cheddar, Colby, Aragon and Mozzarella. Appropriately, Devon's favorite food is ham.
At Westminster -- amid a Babel of yips, yaps and the occasional yowl from barkless Basenjis -- Judge Kimberly Anne Meredith evaluated the 12 Pyr entrants pretty much as if they were guys auditioning for the Chippendales. She pinched, prodded and poked. She ran her hand down each dog's back, felt its shoulders, patted its rump trying to tell by feel instead of X-ray just how close its skeletal make-up came to Pyrenees perfection.
Judge Meredith clasped a dog's head between her hands and peered into its eyes. With a faint hand signal, she commanded the handler to walk the dog, halt, pose. As the handler matched the pooch stride for stride, Meredith stepped back and viewed each dog front, back and profile, like a fastidious art critic sizing up a newly found masterpiece.