More than 8,500 dogs are on exhibit in dog shows taking place at the Alameda County Fairgrounds this weekend, starting yesterday and running through Monday. It's the Harvest Moon Classic Dog Cluster with five days of dog shows, competitions and vendors -- and it's free.
The shows are great events for families, said Jean Heath, a retired captain in the U.S. Navy who lives in Pleasanton and is quite renowned in the world of dog breeders and dog shows.
"If you're interested in a purebred you will see nearly every breed there," she said. "It's a huge show."
Those looking for a particular dog can see some from every variety and talk to the knowledgeable owners about the breed's particular characteristics.
"The emphasis now is on rescue dogs, but if you go to a reliable breeder, you're more apt to get what you want," Heath said.
Most of Heath's dogs have been schnauzers and terriers.
"Terriers are more independent," she explained. "And miniature schnauzers are wonderful little dogs.
"I got my first miniature schnauzer when I was stationed in Philadelphia after having seen one in a Rochester, Minn., department store, in 1957," she recalled.
She was stationed at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Philadelphia as its physical therapist when she bought Sir Chip of Rainybrook, aka Chipper.
"He eventually started going to work with me everyday -- because he was tearing up my apartment," she said.
One physical therapy technician in her department was a corpsman named Bill Cosby. Chipper became popular with the patients, as did Cosby.
"At the end of the day they would keep us all entertained," Heath said. "Bill Cosby had a wonderful insight into human beings."
Heath lost touch with Cosby until 1972, when she was attending the annual conference of the American Physical Therapy Association and he was the headliner. He remembered Chipper well, and Heath told him that she was breeding miniature schnauzers as a hobby. Cosby began to partner with her, and for 38 years they worked together in breeding and showing dogs.
"The first dog we co-owned was a champion -- Fat Albert," Heath said. "We've had different breeds through the years, with professional handlers. We had the top Lakeland Terrier (Awesome Blossom), who won 100 Best in Shows; she's the top winning Lakeland Terrier in the history of the breed worldwide."
"We also had a Dandy Dinmont Terrier who was the No. 1 dog in the country, the most winning Dandy of all time," she added. "We called him Harry. He's now retired in Australia."
Heath and Cosby still stay in touch.
"I turned 80 in July and threw this party at the Callippe Golf Course, and that dear man called the club," said Heath.
After living in Pleasanton on and off since 1969 she retired here in 1997. Now she participates less in showing dogs and spends most of her time playing golf, she said, but loves when the dog shows come to the Fairgrounds.
"Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday are all-breed shows. Saturday are Independent Specialties," she said. "The two shows on Thursday and Friday are Skyline Kennel Club, and Sunday and Monday are Del Valle Kennel Club."
Events include conformation, obedience, rally and agility, with a special junior showmanship competition held Sunday afternoon.
Heath and a friend from Southern California will be showing three miniature schnauzers:
* One champion female, Sathgate Black Watch Gussied Up, called Gussy;
* One pursuing champion, Sathgate Black Watch Glory Be, Glory Be; and
* One puppy, 6-month-old Sathgate Black Watch Huck Finn, Huck.
"People come from all over," Heath said. "You'll see a large number of motor homes and big rigs that the professional handlers travel in. Our terriers will be in the Young California building."
Dog days are here
What: Harvest Moon Classic Dog Cluster
When: 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursday-Monday
Where: Alameda County Fairgrounds
Presented by: Del Valle Dog Club of Livermore and Skyline Dog Fanciers of San Mateo County
Cost: Free to public; parking is $8
Telephone: (408) 683-4851