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Canine charisma shines at show

May 13th, 2003, 07:05 AM
Canine charisma shines at show

Red Rose Classic in Lebanon fetches 1,581 dogs

Monday, May 12, 2003

Of Our Lebanon Bureau

LEBANON - Ask her how she judges her charges, and Ellen Russell quotes Andre Agassi.

"Attitude is everything," Russell said.

She's not talking about tennis players.

Her specialty is collies.

Hailing from the southern Delaware town of Bridgeville, Russell travels the East Coast showing her own collies and those of other owners, some of whom trust their dogs with her for months at a time.

Yesterday, Russell's maroon van was filled with 10 dogs, only one of which she owns, and parked in a barn that will house some type of farm animal when the annual Lebanon Area Fair is held at the Lebanon Valley Expo Center this summer.

"This facility is so good," said Gail Hillard, a member of the Lancaster Kennel Club's Red Rose Classic committee. "This facility will allow us to continue growing. It's wonderful. The people here have been so good to us. They are very nice people to work with."

Since deciding to move its show here three years ago, the Red Rose Classic has grown steadily. Yesterday's show attracted 1,581 entries from across the country and Canada, along with a variety of exhibitors peddling everything from art work to jewelry and clothing.

"People have found us," Hillard said. "When you move your show, it usually takes until the third or fourth year for people to catch on."

With a show of this size, "there's something here for everyone," Hillard said. "Every size, shape and color imaginable."

Two of the judges were from Uruguay.

"Judges draw exhibitors," Hillard said.

A professional handler for 30 years, Russell grooms collies and takes them through their paces in show rings from New York to South Carolina.

She also drives to the Collie Club of America show, which was in Minnesota this year.

"It's difficult for owners to get out to all the shows," said Russell, who puts 30,000 miles on her van every year.

"It's less expensive to hire someone to go every week."

Russell charges $50 per show.

She usually starts working with dogs when they are puppies, although sometimes she'll take a collie that hasn't been successful with another handler but appears to just need a change in scenery.

"A lot is charisma," Russell said of what she looks for in a collie.

Physical attributes are required, of course, but a dog's spirit and attitude can make a champion.

Most of all, "They have to love it," Russell said, a brush in hand. "They have to go into the ring and be confident. You want people to say, 'That dog commands the ring.'"

What if an owner wants to show a dog that just doesn't have it?

"If they don't love it, I let the client know," Russell said. Those who don't have what it takes to show can concentrate on breeding.

Show dogs get used to a routine, Russell said. They wake up early on show days and grow familiar with getting cleaned, brushed and pampered.

"The dogs come first," Russell said. "Dogs that are not happy are not going to enjoy a show."

When Russell starts to change into the outfit she wears for the show ring, her dogs get energized.

And so does she.

"It's as much fun for me as it is for them," Russell said.

STEVE SNYDER: 272-3759 or