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When it comes to her dogs, Terry Thurrott of Old Lyme likes them as big as they come.
A proud Mastiff owner, Thurrott is headed back to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York City on Feb. 10 and 11 with her newest dog, Jagger, to compete in the Best of Breed competition.
"We got our first Mastiff in 2002 as a rescue. He ended up passing from cancer, but we were addicted," Thurrott says. "In 2006 we got Cooper and six months later we got Kronk." Kronk showed at Westminster in 2010 and 2011.
"Now six years later we brought in Jagger. He obtained his Canine Good Citizens Award and was a representative at the New York City 'Meet the Breeds' this past fall. He is a total goof and sweetheart," Thurrott notes.
Jagger, at only 19 months old, weighs in at about 200 pounds. Still an adolescent, he has a few more pounds to gain and will continue to fill out until he's about 4 years old.
Thurrott stresses that she's just an owner/handler and not a professional trainer; some dog owners hire professional handlers for show purposes.
"I've learned by the seat of my pants, watching other people do it. I grab a handful of bait and say (to the dog) 'Let's go practice' in the yard or kitchen.
"They're very trainable dogs," Thurrott adds. "Either the dog has it or it doesn't."
Jagger appears to have it and was accepted into Westminster in its 138th year.
"There's no guarantee that you'll get in," she says. "You submit your entry and hope you get to go."
Mastiffs, she points out, are one of the oldest breeds of dogs, dating back to Roman times.
"They put them in the gladiator rings to fight bears and lions. Today they're house pets. They make good couch potatoes if that's your style," she says. "They're not a sporting breed with high energy that needs to go out and run; they're pretty low key."
Indeed, mastiffs can be so mellow, they aren't always natural show-dogs.
"Their temperaments are fabulous," Thurrott explains. "They're very loyal. And second, they're show dogs. You're lucky if it happens, to be honest. You may get a dog that doesn't like showing. Cooper hated showing and so we stopped. They're not appliances, so there's no guarantee how they're going to turn out. Two of my dogs have had the quality to show."
As large as the dogs are, Thurrott says her average-sized house has plenty of space for them.
"You don't need a big house when you have a mastiff because they want to be under your feet," she says. "If I had a castle, it wouldn't matter."
Food is another story.
The dogs eat on average six to eight cups of dry food each per day, which Thurrott mixes in with special canned food and fresh meat. They love veggies and vanilla yogurt, too.
Thurrott says her dogs are happy homebodies, but when she pulls out the show bag (with treats and drool cloths in it) they know it's time to shine.
"They'll race me to the car," she says.
"My husband plays golf and I show dogs. That's how I chill out. Sometimes I'm showing every weekend (in and around) Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It depends on the time of year and what's around."
Because she's an amateur handler, Thurrott says anything that can go wrong has gone wrong for her during a show.
"I've lost the dog - the leash came right off in the middle of the show. I've lost a shoe. I didn't know how to go around the ring correctly in the first show. There were all kinds of little embarrassing moments we try to forget."
One of her more pleasant memories is of Jagger when he was just 6 months old and they were staying at a hotel in Fitchburg, Mass., for a show.
"They had a program for returning veterans suffering from PTSD," she says. "We went out for a bite to eat and ended up in the lobby for about three hours. The soldiers were lying on the floor with him, taking pictures, showing me pictures of their dogs. They really bonded with him. It was a really nice thing. That's just the way this breed is - so receptive and good."
She says she still gets anxious about going to Westminster.
"I'll be as nervous as the first time I went into the ring. I'm not going to lie. It doesn't get any easier," she notes.
But the Westminster show isn't as cutthroat as one might expect, Thurrott says. She only expects to spend two or three minutes in the ring with the judge one on one.
"That's your time to shine. They'll inspect the dog's bite and check the body for structure and make sure it conforms to the standard."
Thurrott says she has no aspirations of Jagger winning in this show but she's looking forward to watching him in action.
"He's a young guy; we're going to New York and we're going to have some fun, no matter what the outcome. ... You're only as good as your dog is that day and so if they're having an off day, it's off for you. If it's our day to win or our day to lose, it doesn't matter; it's a nice group of folks. We've made some really good friends."