It was a bad hair day for Rummy the puli, who arrived at his hotel near Madison Square Garden amid unrelenting rain and temperatures that made Manhattan feel like a bog.
A puli, a dog bred for sheep herding, has a coat that grows into tight cords that hang like fringe on a throw pillow. Preparing for the Westminster Dog Show can be a 12-hour process that includes eight to 10 hours under a dryer.
Rummy’s preshow grooming began Saturday afternoon in a tub in Pessina’s laundry room in Putnam Valley, New York. She separated his cords from his skin for about an hour. Then after a shampoo and several rinses (another hour), a good mop-wringing twist of the cords and enough towels to outfit a carwash, Rummy was ready for his long nap under the dryer.
“He could care less,” Pessina said about the drying process. “He just goes to sleep.”
She has a specialized dog dryer, which is a crate equipped with two high volume fans at each end that create a circulating flow of cool air. Current models cost about $2,000, but Pessina, who has been an owner, breeder and judge of the breed for more than 40 years, bought her model years ago.
There is good reason a puli needs his coat completely dry. A damp coat leads to mildew, which is never a good look, or smell, for a show dog.
At the 142nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which began Monday, two other dogs — Zoe and Blu — competed against Rummy in breed judging.
Blu, an 8-year old competing in his final show, arrived from Tennessee with a compete rain ensemble, booties and all. “It took me about 30 minutes to put on his suit for a 10-minute walk,” Blu’s owner, Glen VanDerHart, said.
Zoe, who is 4 1/2, arrived from Maryland looking as if she had a run-in with a cheerleading convention. Cords all over her body were tied up with pink scrunchies to keep her hair from sopping up all of Seventh Avenue’s puddles.
The absorbency of a puli coat rivals any man-made microfiber. Rummy, when dry, weighs 32 pounds. Give him a long walk in heavy rain, and he returns home topping the scale at 100 pounds.
Puli hair grows into ropelike locks after the puppy stage, and it usually takes about five years for a coat to reach the ground.
If a dog scratches feverishly or a someone steps on a cord, it can easily detach, leaving five years of work and 13 inches on the ground. Desperate show handlers may look for hair extensions as a quick fix, hoping it goes unnoticed by a judge.
When a puli hovers over a pile of leaves or glides across some dust bunnies, the surface is wiped clean. Items are known to get lost in the thicket.
“What’s the strangest thing that’s ever got lost in one of my puliks?” VanDerHart said, using the plural form of puli. “A judge.”
In a show ring, smaller dogs are placed on a table and judges meticulously run their hands over their coats and body, evaluating them by the breed standard. At one show, a judge’s arm slipped under Blu’s undercarriage and never came out.
“She had all this jewelry on and it got tangled in the coat,” VanDerHart said.
After several attempts to untether some bracelets, he said, he had to put Blu on his side to extract the judge.
Before breed judging Monday, waves of dog lovers gathered around the pulik, snapping pictures and quickly posting them on social media. Though they are still considered a rare breed, they do trend on social media, and not just because Mark Zuckerberg owns a puli named Beast.
Last Halloween, a puli from Kentucky named Keki won the day when her owner plopped her in a bright yellow janitor bucket and pushed her around like a mop. A few years ago, a puli memorably starred in a beer commercial atop a man’s head, accompanied by strains of reggae music.
Pulik rank 159th among the 189 dogs listed on the American Kennel Club’s most recent registry, but a puli named Preston won best in show at the AKC National Championship in December 2016. Preston entered Westminster last year as the favorite but was upset in the herding group by Rumor, the German shepherd who won best in show.
With its roots in Hungary, the puli was first recognized by the AKC in 1936, but it took 80 years for the breed to win top honors at a U.S. national championship. With Preston now in retirement, the competition was wide open, if thin, on Monday. Rummy and Zoe were Westminster rookies.
Though Pessina, 70, has had several best in breed winners at Westminster, this is her first time in the ring as her dog’s handler.
“What was I thinking bringing such an unseasoned show dog?” she said, stuffing liver cookies into her suit pocket.
This is only Rummy’s fourth time in the show ring, and Pessina considers him the most willful dog she’s shown.
“He’s a wild man,” she said.
In the ring, she held his leash tightly. “He just wanted to take off,” she said, showing her hand streaked with red marks.
Nevertheless, Rummy won best in breed. Back in the benching area, he climbed into his cage. Pessina picked up a jug of spring water, filled his dish and then took a long chug herself.
“I have no clue what to expect tonight,” she said about Monday night’s group judging at Madison Square Garden. “He’s never been in front of a crowd like that, noise like that.”
She took another long gulp of water. “What was I thinking?” she said, yet again.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.