SOUTH SALEM, N.Y. – Anna Stromberg was born into the dog business.
Earlier this week, the South Salem woman had two dogs competing at the 137th Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden – an event she’s entered every year since 1994.
“My parents bred and showed afghan hounds, and I started showing dogs when I was 7 years old,” said Stromberg, who describes herself as a breeder/owner/handler. “I am second generational.”
Stromberg was born in Sweden and moved to Long Island in 1993. She’s lived in South Salem for the past eight years.
“[Showing dogs] is more of a hobby in Sweden,” she said. “It’s more serious and professional in this country.”
At this year’s Westminster Dog Show, Stromberg showed a black afghan hound whose AKC-registered name is Scaramouch Show Must Go On, but is known around the house simply as Spies (pronounced spees).
“I was listed as the owner for registration purposes, but Spies is actually owned by a woman in South Africa named Clair Vandenbergh,” Stromberg said.
And in case you are wondering, yes, the Scaramouch part of the dog’s registered name does come from the lyrics of the Queen song "Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“[Vandenbergh] is a big Freddie Mercury fan,” Stromberg laughed. “She has another dog named ‘Radio Gaga.’ ”
While Spies didn’t take home any ribbons at this year’s Westminster show, Stromberg said she was proud of his effort.
“I was very pleased with his turn at a very big event,” she said. “He has won several Best in Show awards at some afghan hound club shows.”
Stromberg also entered her own dog, a whippet named Glory. And while Glory didn’t take home any prizes this year, she is responsible for the highest showing Stromberg has ever obtained at the Westminster Dog Show.
“Glory was Best of Breed in 2009,” Stromberg said.
Stromberg said competing in the Westminster Dog Show is intense and can be nerve-wracking.
“If you don’t get butterflies, it’s time to go home,” she said. “You are there to have your animal judged by an expert on the breed.”
Stromberg said that while the American Kennel Club sets out specific detailed guidelines for judges to follow, judging still remains somewhat subjective.
“You have to accept it or you couldn’t participate,” she said. “Sometimes you think, ‘how on earth could they do that,’ but you move on.”
And Stromberg said the dogs seem to know they’re in a competition and will get their game faces on before entering the arena.
“Our dogs are our pets first and show dogs second, but they know that when you get up at 4:30 in the morning and they’re not allowed to go out and then they drive in the car for hours that it’s game day,” she said. “They are alert; they know they get extra special treats to perform well. They can feel your adrenalin, so the dogs know – they can read you like a book.”
One of the things Stromberg likes best about the world of dog showing is the diverse lot of people she meets.
“The movie ‘Best in Show’ is actually somewhat true,” she said with a laugh. “It’s very funny and amusing in a good way and a bad way. Sometimes people take it too seriously and you wish they would calm down a bit. You have all kinds of characters there and it can be a bit cutthroat sometimes.
“But this is a multi-generational family sport and it’s both a hobby and lifestyle," she added. "The Westminster show is one of the oldest sporting events in U.S. history. It’s second only to the Kentucky Derby.”