Joe Buchanan had a house full of dogs on Halloween. It was one of the few times he wasn’t traveling on business as the regional director for a health-care company.
Buchanan invited the dogs into the Drexel Hill home he shares with his fiancé, Stephen Hicks, to practice putting on their show leads, walking their patterns and going through an appearance exam.
“They have to move a certain way and they have to behave a certain way,” Buchanan told PGN the day before the dogs arrived. “They have to be calm and they have to be comfortable with me.”
“Most of the prep work, though, is the day of the show,” he added. “You get there very early. You put your dogs up on the table and get them groomed exactly the way you want them. You can walk them around and get them calm with all of the people. You do that with each of the dogs.”
Buchanan will show three pharaoh hounds, a whippet and a Chinese crested at the National Dog Show, hosted by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, Nov. 14-15 at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, 100 Station Ave. in Oaks. The show will be broadcast on NBC on Thanksgiving Day.
The Chinese crested lives with an owner in Virginia, while the rest of the dogs come from Pennsylvania.
Dogs lived in Buchanan’s childhood home in Phoenixville before he did. His parents already had a Shetland sheepdog when he and his sister were born. By the time Buchanan was 10, he’d convinced his parents to adopt a whippet from some family friends who bred and showed the dogs.
“I begged my parents to let me go to a dog show with them and they did,” he said. “I was immediately addicted. I’ve always been very competitive and I like to win.”
Karen Lee, a second-generation dog handler, noted that Buchanan also commands charisma. She thought he could be a television host or a comedian. Buchanan will show one of her whippets, whose call name is Arya, after the “Game of Thrones” character, at the Philadelphia show.
“I don’t normally like to hand my dogs off to anyone,” Lee said. “But I can relax and enjoy watching how beautiful my dog looks with Joey. He has some of the best hands on a dog I’ve ever seen. He has an ability to instantaneously connect with dogs and make them work well with him.”
Lee said Buchanan has a natural gait that doesn’t overpower the dog.
“He’s very elegant and the whippet is an elegant breed,” she said. “They make a pleasing picture.”
Lee met Buchanan while he was a student at the former St. Pius X High School in Pottstown. She heard that he had apprenticed with several leading handlers from the region and wanted to meet him. Buchanan could hold his own at a table full of rowdy adults, she said.
Buchanan came out at some point as a young man. His family and friends in the dog world embraced him immediately. There are a number of out dog breeders and showers in the field, Lee said.
“Even if people were still in the closet at work, you could always be open at the dog show,” she said, noting it’s an art form that draws a lot of open-minded people. “A lot of people were there with their boyfriends and girlfriends.”
Buchanan said his love of dog handling at first seemed odd to Hicks, whom he met five years ago.
“All that people know of dog shows is what they see on TV,” Buchanan said. “You just see, really, the finals, where you have the best of each breed in the ring. The work is not just five minutes in the ring and you’re done. It’s constant training.”
Hicks has become overwhelmingly supportive, Buchanan said, adding his fiancé gets excited from the sidelines when he sees Buchanan’s dogs doing well.
The Philadelphia show, considered a big deal in the dog world, is one of the few televised shows, Buchanan said.
The show is also benched, which is rare. It means the dogs are in the arena all day. In most shows, the dogs are only there when they’re being shown.
If spectators want to see pharaoh hounds at the Philadelphia show, they can go to the pharaoh hound area any time to see the dogs and interact with the owners and handlers. Buchanan said it’s a great way for families who are considering adopting a pet to figure out what breed they like.
The handlers usually decorate their areas in the tradition of their dogs. For pharaoh hounds, people will see Egyptian-themed statues.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” Buchanan said. “It’s a big show for handlers and, as a spectator, you get to see everything you want to see.”
For more information, visit www.nds.nationaldogshow.com.