Harrison County

'We're crazy!' Dog-show maven joking, sort of

BILOXI -- They admit it, the two women fussing over poodles at the Coast Coliseum: They are obsessive-compulsive.

This helps a lot if you show dogs, especially one of the coated breeds they prefer. And showing dogs they are.

Tabatha Waters of New Orleans and Michele Polito of Atlanta are the proud owners of show poodles, no small feat, let them tell you.

Polito ordered semen from London for $6,000 to breed her last litter of pups. Waters traveled to Canada for sperm that spawned her regal white poodle, Deuce AKC Ch Heart and Soul of a Saint A' NOLA's. Yes, that's his name and if he wins more championships, initials will be added.

The dogs are competing this weekend in an American Kennel Club-sanctioned Pelican Cluster -- four shows in one location.

"This is a labor of love, I'm telling you," Polito said as she coaxed black poodle Liam's substantial pompadour (they call them topknots) into rubber bands for the evening. "This is worse than having a child." Well, she's never had a child, actually, but still.

Because Polito has been fussing over show dogs for 32 years, she's got it down to a science and mentors other owners, including Waters. Polito starts looking for show-dog material the minute a litter is born. You can spot a star pretty quickly. They preen. Their tails point and quiver. They have that "look at me" look. In other words, they are arrogant.

Puppies that are sweet and need to be loved? Not so much.

"We need the fire," Polito said.

Their poodles have what are referred to as Continental cuts. We'll skip the historical roots, though these ladies can recite them. The poodles' fur is sculpted top to bottom. On the head sits the pompadour, the jacket drapes the shoulders, shaved hind quarters are topped by perfect round balls and long bracelets adorn their ankles.

It's not easy to maintain all this fur, either. The women keep their air conditioning set at 62 degrees because otherwise the dogs shed. You definitely don't want that.

Polito said it takes about 16 hours to get ready for a show.

"Look at us," she said while Liam rests his sweet neck on a pillow so she can get at that head of fur. "We're crazy. Who would do this to a dog?"

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