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2014 marks a special milestone for mutts around the world: It’s the first time the Westminster Kennel Club dog show has invited them to come play! The club is staging the The Masters Agility Championship on Feb. 8 in New York, where these dogs will be ready to roll – and jump, and run, and strut their stuff in an obstacle course before a panel of judges. This American Staffordshire terrier/border collie mix named Crime is ready to steal (hint, hint) championship gold on Saturday. Dubbed a natural by owner Debra Lazaro of Jackson, N.J., “His size, structure, power, and enthusiasm make him a wonderful agility partner.”
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He was a bargain – with bark! Owner Irene Palmerini of Toms River, N.J., first spotted this poodle/Cairn terrier mix at a local pet store with a “clearance” pricetag of $99. After learning he had “a lot of energy,” she signed him up for agility classes. “I used to walk him two miles in the morning and two at night and still he’d run around like crazy,” Palmerini says. Agility has become a great outlet for that.
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Owner Nicole Bozich of Southern Pines, N.C., used to be deathly afraid of dogs, but her husband wanted one, so in the spirit of compromise, she agreed. They spied this American Staffordshire terrier mix on sale for $20 at a local pet store and fell quickly in love. “We took him home and he fit in the palm of my hand,” Bozich says. But “he didn’t listen to me,” so she signed him up for obedience classes, which led to agility training.
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Agility training turned this once-frightened Boston terrier/chihuahua mix into a confident canine. “At first she was very afraid,” says owner Laura Donaldson of Elk Grove, Ill. “But we recognized that she just loved to run and do the jumps and the equipment so much that, as my trainer told me, ‘She just had a lot of drive and it was so strong that it was overcoming her fears.’”
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The tri-colored Border collie mix, who was adopted from Petfinder.com at 8-weeks-old, started agility training almost accidentally. “I always wanted a dog that was trained off leash,” says owner Stacy Eastman of Chester, N.J., who chose agility training over traditional obedience classes because she found them “mundane.” Going to Westminster “is really an honor,” she adds.
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Karen Profenna’s now ex-fiancé bought her “the dog from hell,” she says. “She flunked out [of obedience classes] I can’t tell you how many times.” A trainer suggested that Profenna, of New City, N.Y., redirect the beagle/Boston terrier mix’s energies with agility training. Now, “my dog is my best friend,” she says, “and with agility training, I get to have fun with my dog.”
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With 20 years of agility experience under her belt, Mary Champagne of Guilford, Conn., knows how to stand out from the pack. A breeder in Oregon had exactly what she was looking for: a farm collie, which is a mixture of a bunch of different herding dogs. His personality reminds her of Kramer from Seinfeld, she says. “He always shows that goofy smile when he runs and jumps,” she adds. “Pace is a silly boy. He makes me laugh when I need it.”
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Rose Savkov of Long Valley, N.J., says her Border collie/American Staffordshire terrier mix is “an honest and sweet dog” with a huge heart. “I just love everything about her,” she adds. “She is a very special little dog who gives unconditional love.”
To meet more mutts from the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE on stands now. The Masters Agility Championship at Westminster airs Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. on FOX Sports 1