Lisa Parsons of Bridgewater and her dog, Zaria, are getting ready for the show of a lifetime. Parsons and Zaria, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, are heading to New York for the Westminster Dog Show where Zaria will compete this week, on Feb. 12. Parsons remembers the day she got their letter with their golden tickets to the show.
“I stood there in disbelief, dancing in the middle of the road,” Parsons says.
Zaria is already a winner with 36 titles to her name, including best in show and best in breed wins from shows around Canada and the United States. It’s quite the accomplishment for the almost three-year-old dog with the quirky personality and who Parsons says is “built like a brick.”
Parsons has been showing dogs for years, but Zaria is different, she says. For a long time, Parsons owned Rottweilers, which she trained and showed. But then she started learning about Staffordshire Bull Terriers through Squibs Mercier, a longtime advocate and trainer, who Parsons calls the “grandmother of the breed.” Mercier was a member of a number of dog clubs, including the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of Canada. Parsons says Mercier would reach out to her at every show, talking about the dogs.
“I got the best education possible at no charge,” Parsons says.
Then Parsons found a Stafford pup from a breeder in the Louisiana. Even early on, Parsons knew she had something special in Zaria, who was one of the biggest in her litter.
“She was beautiful,” Parsons said. “She came out of the crate at the airport, gave me a kiss, and looked at me like she was saying, ‘I’m home.’”
Zaria was four months old when she competed in her first show at the Markham Kennel Club in Ontario. She won best baby puppy in show and a few other titles. Parsons says one of the judges pulled her aside to comment on Zaria.
“She’s one of the nicest, most put together Staffordshire Bull Terriers I have seen in many years,” Parsons says the judge told her.
Parsons says she can’t go anywhere in Bridgewater without someone asking about Zaria. The staff at Kent often announce over the PA system that Zaria is in the store. If Parsons goes to Walmart or Gows Home Hardware without Zaria, the staff ask her to bring Zaria in for a visit.
“She comes in and loves everybody,” Parsons says. “She doesn’t meet a stranger.”
But Zaria is more than a show dog. She’s also a service dog for Parsons to help her with mobility and other medical issues she suffered after a horseback riding incident in 2004 when she broke her neck in three places. Zaria helps Parsons with everything from making her bed, by standing near the pillows and pulling up the blankets, to walking ahead of her, keeping her moving forward.
“The shows are secondary,” Parsons says. “She’s reliable, she’s funny, she’s quirky and anything she does, she does with heart.”
As a show dog, Parsons says Zaria loves the attention. If she Parsons tries to engage her in the ring, she might ignore her. But she loves to be the centre of attention and her personality shines.
“The more people clap,
the more she hams it up,”
Parsons says she applied to go to Westminster in 2018, but they weren’t accepted through the show’s lottery system. Parsons forgot about the competition until a friend reminded her to apply, with about an hour to go to the deadline.
Parsons says she’s hoping Zaria takes the title as best of breed. But she’s more than excited just for the opportunity to be at Westminster, meeting other dogs and their owners and learning grooming techniques she can use in the salon she’s opening in Bridgewater this spring.
Parsons says to prepare for Westminster, she’s keeping Zaria in top condition and packing some blankets and crate covers Parsons made with Zaria’s name stitched on the fabric. She’s packed treats and bottled water, so Zaria doesn’t get sick on water at the show. Parsons, who is Zaria’s handler at every show, had to go shopping for more semi-formal outfits for herself, just in case she won in more than one category.
But the show is also a chance for Parsons to teach people about the breed, which has been banned in Ontario since 2005.
“I want people to see these are not what they think they are,” Parsons says.