A Chattanooga toy poodle named Grand Champion DeBrock's Avra on 48th was one of only 2,000 champion purebred dogs invited to show in the Westminster Kennel Club's 136th Annual Dog Show in New York City last month.
Avra, as she is known to owners Mark and Christine Waldrop, was invited to show at Westminster after being named the eighth top toy poodle in America in 2011.
"It has taken us over 10 years to breed a dog that was worthy enough to show at Westminster," Mark Waldrop said.
And worthy she was.
Of the 12 toy poodles competing, Avra caught the attention of the judges in New York and was given one of only two possible Awards of Merit for her breed at the show.
"The judges don't have to give an Award of Merit. So it is quite an honor," he said.
Since 2003, Waldrop and his family have been showing toy poodles. They chose the breed for a few practical reasons.
Before they married, Christine had cats and Mark had allergies.
"The reason we have this breed is because it is very smart, and it doesn't shed," he said.
The two started going to dog shows after they married to help them decide what breed of dog to raise as a couple.
"When we went to dog shows to find a suitable breed, we caught the fever for the sport of showing dogs," he said.
Established in 1877, the Westminster Kennel Club is America's oldest organization dedicated to the sport of purebred dogs. It is also considered America's second-longest continuously held sporting event, behind the Kentucky Derby, according to the WKC website.
The couple found Avra and named her after a Greek restaurant they enjoy on their annual trips to New York attending Westminster, he said. Her parents, Stella and Denny, are both champions.
The Waldrops have two other toy poodles that they show, but neither are champions yet.
Avra is just under 2 years old and has attended nearly 36 dog shows in the past nine months. Before that, she was in intensive training classes with Chelsay Paul, who became her professional handler at shows around the country, including Westminster.
Although Avra continually meets and exceeds AKC standards for the breed in terms of the shape of her body, eyes and ears while showing in confirmation rounds, she had never stepped into a ring full of just champions until arriving in Madison Square Garden last month.
Waldrop said even among the breed's best, she stands out in many ways.
"Some dogs get tired in the ring. Avra loves to show and be in the ring. She loves the applause. It is one of the biggest attributes that will help any dog in the ring. She really enjoys showing, and she can be still for the judges," he said.
To see Avra in the ring with the judges, check out this video from the show.
Waldrop said he is hoping it won't take another decade to show another champion like Avra. In fact, he hopes Avra will give birth to the family's next champ when she delivers her first litter in two months.
"She won't be showing anymore for at least the next nine months. Usually the litter is just one or two puppies, so we are looking for another champion," he said.