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Local dog, Watson, heads to Westminster

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By Anna Taylor

Deb and Kenny Mattingly’s French bulldog Watson may look like a typical family pet, but in the world of dog showmanship, he’s a champion.

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The local canine has a chance of being top dog at this month’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City.

Dog rankings are done at the end of a calendar year. Watson is ranked No. 1 in the national owner handler series, meaning he tops the ranks of French bulldogs handled by their owner instead of a professional. Among all French bulldogs, he ranked No. 8 for 2015.

Deb Mattingly, manager at E-town Swim & Fitness, met Watson’s breeders at a dog show five or six years ago, she said, before she ever got him.

“We fell in love with French bulldogs and then about a year-and-a-half ago, we started bugging them that we wanted one and Watson became available,” she said.

Deb watched a few live dog shows and decided she could take Watson and do what the competitors did.

“I just watched what they did and I did that,” she said. “I just faked it until I finally did start learning. I’m still learning every time I go.”

In October 2015, the French Bull Dog Club of America’s National Specialty dog show was held in Louisville. Watson won the People’s Choice Award at that competition, an award decided on by breeders.

“This is like the French­ie Oscar,” she said.

This award qualified him to compete in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Feb. 15 at Madison Square Garden.

The 2½-year-old black-masked fawn has earned grand champion, bronze and silver medals in past contests through a point system. Mattingly said they are working toward a gold medal. In order to receive medals, a certain amount of competition points must be obtained. To receive a gold, Watson has to have 400 points. He currently has 265 grand champion points.

The most a dog can earn in one show is five points, Mattingly said. The goal is for Watson to earn his gold medal this year.

At Westminster, the judges review each breed during the day. In the evening, they have group competition where dogs are placed into seven breed categories: sporting, non-sporting, hound, working, terrier, toy and herding.

The top dogs from each of the seven categories compete for best of show.

“In order for us to be on TV on Monday or Tuesday night, we would have to win best of breed during the day,” Deb said. “That would be an underdog story. That would be a Cinderella story. That would be crazy if we won that because all of the top dogs in the world will be there.”

The French bulldog breed specifically has 48 entries in the competition this year, which is the third largest after Labrador retrievers (51) and golden retrievers (50).

“We would love to make it to the finals at Westminster but my goal was just to get there and so we accomplished that,” she said.

It’s Watson’s look and friendly behavior that sets him apart from other dogs, she said.

“He’s kind of a celebrity around E-town Swim,” she said. “People will peek in and say, ‘Is Watson here today?’ He comes with me to work a lot and we go every weekend to dog shows.”

Last year, Watson, whose registered name is Elementary My Dear, was invited by a publicist to go to Hollywood and possibly be selected for photo shoots or acting projects. Deb said they instead decided to try showing for the time being.

“We didn’t go to Hol­ly­wood and instead, we focused on his show career,” she said. “Once Westminster’s over, then we’ll be focusing on may­be his modeling and acting career. His show career took off and we had to pick. If he missed any weekends showing, then he wouldn’t have made the top 20.”

Following West­min­ster, Deb said Watson will have more time and they may consider local jobs as a “spokesdog.” The Mattinglys also plan to get his Canine Good Citizen Award from the American Kennel Club and therapy dog certification.

“He’s our family pet first and show dog second,” she said.

Anna Taylor can be reached at 270-505-1747 or ataylor@thenewsenterprise.com.