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Jessica MacMillan, center, poses with Argus, a liver and white dalmatian. Here, Argus was awarded the Dalmatian Club of America 2010, First Award of Merit. Argus will be competing in the 2011 Westminster Dog Show next week.

Top dog heading east: Dalmatian to compete in Westminster

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Jessica MacMillan has been showing dogs for as long as she can remember -- and her reputation reflects it.

Next week MacMillan, East Farmington, will travel with her mother and Argus, a 6-year-old liver and white dalmatian, to New York for the 2011 Westminster Dog Show.

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Argus, whose full name is "American Grand Champion UKC. INT. CAN Champion. Paisley NspirD By Broadway, Register of Merit," is considered one of the top five dalmatians in the country, which automatically qualified him for the prestigious Westminster show.

Argus is co-owned by Sue MacMillan, Jessica's mother, and Ginger and Mark Iwaoka.

Sue is Argus' handler, Jessica attends the shows as moral support and as a backup "if mom has a meltdown."

"I've shown him several times and have won with him a bunch too," she said.

To qualify for Westminster, a dog must have previously won an American Kennel Club championship. To have a spot held -- like Argus -- you must be one of the top five of your breed.

The Westminster Dog Show is not like any other dog show, MacMillan said.

"This is the only champions only show," she said. "It's the ultimate show with all the big names and the top dogs.

"Champions can enter until the number of entries reaches its limit of 2,600. The top five are guaranteed a spot -- no matter what," she said.

Although this will be MacMillan's second time at the Westminster show, it will be the first time that one of her dogs is being shown.

"We've had other dogs who have qualified," she said. "But we've never gone. It's a process and not easy to travel with a dog."

Argus and his entourage will leave Minneapolis on Feb. 12 and return Feb. 16.

The group will fly into New York's LaGuardia Airport. Although Argus would prefer a seat on the plane, he'll be crated and shipped in the plane's cargo hold, MacMillan said.

While traveling as cargo might seem stressful for a dog, MacMillan said she's not worried about it.

"Last time he flew (to Tennessee) he got Best in Show," she said with a grin.

Looking at Argus' resume, it's hard to believe that he was once a squirly puppy.

"He was ... foolish as a puppy," MacMillan said.

Argus was just six months old when he was entered in his first show, she said.

"My mom was pretty upset after that one," she said. "He embarrassed her pretty bad with his silly puppy antics."

MacMillan said dog shows are hit or miss, depending on the dog's attitude.

"Sometimes they think they're there to socialize," she said. "Even though they're show trained, sometimes they think they have better things to do."

Argus' life is far from all work and no play.

Although he is exercised daily, he also enjoys curling up on the couch and napping in the sun, MacMillan said.

"To be a good show dog, you have to be a good companion dog too," she said. "You still have to have fun. That's part of being a dog."

Dog shows aren't all about winning, MacMillan said.

Originally shows were a way to evaluate stock for future breeding purposes. Now, there's a lot of money involved, she said.

Although winning is always exciting, the true test is what a particular dog can contribute to its breed, she said.

Argus is a multiple Best In Show winner, won the Dalmatian Club of America National Specialty in 2008, is a Regional Specialty Winner and the sire of 12 champions, including four AKC grand champions.

"Argus is a good sire and produces beautiful girls," she said. "That contribution to his breed is what's most important."

Argus will be in the ring Monday morning competing along side the other 20 dalmatians.

Individual breed judging will not be televised; however, streaming video will be available on www.westminsterkennelclub.org. If Argus is selected Best of Breed, he'll move on to the group competition (dalmatians are part of the non-sporting group). Group competition will be televised Monday evening beginning at 7 p.m. The winner of each group competition moves on to the Best in Show competition -- televised Tuesday, Feb. 15, on USA Network.

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