3 new breeds are ready to run with Westminster dog show pack

NEW YORK (AP) A winsome but hardworking Hungarian herding dog, a swift and ancient African hound and a playful, fur-free terrier are about to get their first shot at the most famous U.S. canine championship.

The pumi, the sloughi and the American hairless terrier will be newcomers at next month's Westminster Kennel Club dog show, competing among as many as 202 breeds and varieties for the coveted best in show award.

More than 2,800 dogs are expected at the show, set for Feb. 11, 13 and 14. Besides the traditional breed judging, it has added agility and obedience competitions and a non-competitive ''meet the breeds'' event in recent years.

This year's ''meet the breeds'' even will include some really rare breeds for a dog show: pedigreed cats. Felines were featured when the event was held separately from Westminster a few years ago, but their return this year gives them a chance to share the spotlight of the 140-year-old dog show.

''The club has maintained its traditions while expanding to accommodate an ever-changing, dog-loving public,'' Westminster spokeswoman Gail Miller Bisher said at a Madison Square Garden news conference Monday previewing the show.

This year's new breeds vary from the American hairless terrier, a compact canine developed in the American South in the 1970s, to the lanky sloughi, which dates back thousands of years in North Africa, according to its fanciers.

Then there's the pumi (pronounced POOM'-ee), which has a ''whimsical expression'' built right into the standards, or official judging guidelines, for the bushy-coated, curly-tailed, big-eared breed. Owners hear ''your dog's so CUTE!'' so often that they've turned it into an acronym.

''We say they're `Curious,' `Unique,' `Tenacious' and `Energetic,''' Nancy Nelson of Norwalk, Connecticut, said as her 5-year-old pumi, Zsa Zsa, lent a paw to the gathering.

But prospective owners need to consider that the pumi, originally bred to herd cattle and other animals, needs more activity than simple walks, Nelson said.

The sloughi (pronounced (SLOO'-ghee), or Arabian greyhound, is also an athletic dog, with a history of hunting game as big as gazelles. Sloughis retain a yen for chasing yard animals and often are shy with strangers, but they bond closely with their human families as pets, says owner Julie tenBensel of Bolingbrook, Illinois.

The inquisitive, spunky and allergy-friendly American hairless terrier was developed from rat terriers. While some people might do double-takes at hairless dogs, ''I actually just like unusual things,'' says Sue Medhurst of Stafford, Virginia, who is planning to show them at Westminster.

Breeds qualify for the show once recognized by the American Kennel Club. Criteria include having several hundred dogs of the breed nationwide.

Some animal-rights advocates oppose dog breeding and stress that many mixed-breed dogs need adoption. The AKC says conscientious breeding helps people find pets with traits that suit their lifestyle, so they can make a lasting match.

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