There are hundreds of short, four-legged visitors on Hilton Head Island this week, and the beach is not their main attraction.
The French Bull Dog Club of America is holding its annual National Specialty competition at the Westin through Friday. More than 300 French bulldogs, with owners and handlers holding bedazzled leads, began vying Monday for colorful ribbons and the championship titles that go with them.
With large, red plastic fire hydrants planted outside and a cordoned-off competition ring inside, the hotel’s Grand Ballroom is the prime destination for the pedigreed pooches to prance back and forth before judges and applauding onlookers. Between rounds, the dogs rest in strollers or sprawl across laps. Being spectacular is hard work, apparently.
“I thought dog shows were crazy until I started doing them,” quipped Annie Piper, who came from Minnesota to the Hilton Head event as a vendor. Once she started, though, she was hooked.
Her booth, Piper Sales, was lined with French bulldog-themed ornaments and figurines. Others among the roughly dozen vendors were peddling tchotchkes, T-shirts, gear for the pampered pets and even glossy coffee table books.
Kathy Caton-Musto, a professional dog handler who divides her time between Ohio and Hilton Head, is chairman for the Nationals competition. She said the event attracts “the best of the best” French bulldogs.
Some of those on Hilton Head this week will go on to televised shows like the Westminster Dog Show, Caton-Musto said.
Competitors have come from as far away as Japan and South Korea, and states from New York to California also are represented on Hilton Head this week.
French bulldogs are supposed to be muscular but compact, with square heads and large “bat ears,” according to the American Kennel Club. Judges in the competition will bestow honors on the dogs who come closest to the breed standard that details things like weight, color of fur and even the color of the dog’s nose — only black is acceptable.
Piper, who has seven dogs of her own and previously worked in animal control, said French bulldogs are her favorite because they are “no-issue dogs” with fewer health problems and an easy-going temperament.
The breed standard addresses that too: “Generally active ... but not unduly boisterous,” it says.
Piper puts it a little more bluntly: They aren’t “barky” like other breeds, she said. “Couch potatoes.”