Northborough woman to show dog at Westminster
By Erika Steele, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Northborough resident Donna Lacroix is a busy pet guardian. As the caretaker of two well-bred dogs, Lacroix uses whatever free time she has apart from her career as a nurse to support their time-consuming activities as model, show and therapy dogs. That itinerary this winter will include a return trip to New York City when she and her 4-year-old dog, Perla, will compete in one of the world’s most prestigious dog shows, the Westminster Kennel Club 138th Dog Show.
Onlookers would be hard pressed to find any glaring qualities that would identify Perla and 8-year-old Monk as anything but typical pets. They slop up water from their bowls, make a mess at dinner, and chew toys until they are a fraction of their original form, much to the pleasure of their owner who admires their joyful spirit.
“Sometimes there’s a stigma around show dogs but my dogs are nothing but normal,” said Lacroix. “They do everything with enthusiasm and it’s because dogs like being with their people so any time spent with me is quality time.”
Monk, a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, first ventured into the public eye as a model for the catalog, “In the Company of Dogs.” On set, his cooperative nature made him easy to photograph, as he modeled clothing, jewelry, gifts, and gear for dogs and the people that love them.
In front of a different audience, Monk’s accurate representation of his breed earned him rights to compete in a prestigious hound specialty show in New Jersey where he passed through a process of selection and became a finished champion. It was an impressive accomplishment, since Lacroix is not a breeder and describes herself first as a pet owner.
“If we walk away with nothing,” Lacroix said about dog shows, “it is still a wonderful, fabulous, and memorable experience to show at such prestigious events.”
As a professionally trained handler, Lacroix trains her dogs according to the qualities their breeds should exhibit and it has been paying off. Perla, a Spinone Italiano, won an Award of Merit at the Westminster Dog Show in 2011 and Best of Opposite in 2012, meaning a male won Best of Breed so the next award was given to an opposite sex breed winner.
However, Lacroix always knew Monk and Perla were more than their good looks and strong breed qualities. With 30 years of experience working in the medical field, currently at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Lacroix sought to share the joy her dogs bring her with people close to her heart – medical patients.
“I work with a very challenging population of patients, including oncology, hospice, and bone marrow transplants,” she said. “The job is very difficult so the dogs are an outlet for me to de-stress. I thought that, since they are both old souls with calming spirits, perhaps I can integrate what I do for work with my passion for dogs to make a positive influence for patients.”
Their stable temperaments qualified them as perfect candidates to be certified therapy dogs. Monk and Perla were tested in basic obedience, how to remain calm in unstable atmospheres, withstand loud noises from alarms and children, and refrain from going after human food. Both Monk and Perla were certified.
Since then, Monk has participated in a library program where children build confidence and improve overall grades by reading to dogs. He has also spent time at cancer hospital in Philadelphia and been involved in a day care for developmentally disabled adults.
Perla, however, has been a part of one of the most memorable volunteer efforts that Lacroix can remember.
“Her first time out as a therapy dog was Saturday after the bombings at the marathon in Boston,” she recalled, explaining that she and Perla went to visit memorial sites the day Boston reopened. “I think a lot of people felt helpless when everything happened, so to be able to go and do something, it put as much as a positive spin on the whole thing as it could.”
On their next big trip together, Lacroix and Perla will travel to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 10-11, leaving retired Monk at home. Lacroix noted that she is hoping for a placement, but regardless of the outcome, they will be sure to have a great time enjoying the camaraderie of the many others (human and canine) in attendance.
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