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Local ‘low dog’ vies for ‘top dog’ in Westminster dog show

Figgy, a Petits Basset Griffons Vendeens from Duluth, will be shown at the Westminster dog show next week. 1 / 2
Jan Zigich and several of her PBGVs at Mirepoix PBGVs enjoy a warm summer day at the lake. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Three years ago, Jan Zigich and her husband Ross Litman of Duluth received a furry Christmas Eve surprise: Their dog Pippa gave birth to a single puppy whom they festively named “Figgy Pudding.”

This Tuesday, Figgy is scheduled to compete against others in her breed at the 138th Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York City. If she wins as the best of her breed — Petits Bassets Griffons Vendeens — Figgy might be prancing across Madison Square Garden, and your television sets, on Feb. 11.

“I think she’s got a great chance to win,” said Zigich, Figgy’s owner and part-time handler. “She’s the perfect show dog. She never falls asleep or looks bored.”

In fact, Zigich says Figgy has the tendency to be a little too excited and energetic.

“Figgy has been known to nibble on the fingers of her handler, Andrew Mansfield … oh so gently, of course,” said Zigich.

This isn’t the first time one of Zigich and Litman’s Petits Bassets Griffons Vendeens, or PBGVs, have competed in the Westminster. However, it is the first time that one has been invited to compete.

“Figgy is what they call a ‘top dog,’ which means she has beaten so many other dogs in the breed and has so many points for beating each dog. Because she’s a top dog, she was invited rather than making it in through the lottery system,” said Zigich.

For the Westminster breed competitions, a portion of participants are invited and a portion are allowed to enter via the lottery system. Zigich has had two previous dogs entered through the lottery system.

When Figgy arrives in New York this week, she will first be judged against others of her breed. The judges choose their winners based on how well the dog comes to fitting the standard for that breed.

The judge chooses the best male and best female, then chooses between the two for “Best of Breed.” This winner advances to the group selection (the portion shown on TV) where the dogs are split into seven groups: Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding.

Figgy, being a PBGV, falls into the hound group.

“Originally, these dogs are bred to be rabbit hunters,” said Litman, Zigich’s partner. “They are scent hounds.”

And Figgy definitely has the instincts to hunt.

“She hunts anything that moves — butterflies and birds — even shadows,” said Zigich.

Zigich and Litman have been breeding PBGVs for 15 years now as a part of their kennel, Mirepoix PBGVs.

“Mirepoix” is a French cooking term for a mixture of onions, celery and carrots. Zigich said she picked it because her son is an executive chef. It also matches the type of dog, as PBGVs were first bred in France.

“‘Petits’ means ‘small,’ ‘Bassets’ means ‘low to the ground,’ ‘Griffons’ means ‘wire-coated’ and ‘Vendeens’ refers to the area in France where they came from. The French name their dogs like they name their wine — after the region it comes from,” said Zigich.

Zigich said they knew that Figgy would be a good show dog from when she was just a puppy.

“We give them a full lookover at eight weeks to determine if a pup is show quality … maybe a day either side of eight weeks, but no more. This is crucial in determining if a puppy will stay on as a show prospect. At that point they should look as they do as a fully grown dog,” said Zigich.

Figgy won her first award of merit in a show when she was just 13 months old.

Often, Zigich will show her dogs herself, but in a competition like Westminster, she says having a professional handler can make a big difference.

“Her handler is a young man named Andrew Mansfield. I’m glad to show my own dogs, but I’m also glad to be supporting his career as a professional handler. Very few owners are also handlers at this level. And sometimes those handlers can make a political difference with the judges,” said Zigich.

Zigich will be joining Mansfield and Figgy in New York City. In addition to the show, she is looking forward to staying with friends and getting her first croissant-donut mix, called a “cronut.”

The group-judging of the 138th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, will broadcast live on USA Network on Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

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