Every morning, Tammy McGill wakes up to a text message from her best friend in Salt Lake City.
Hearing from her French bulldog, Bruce, and his handler is the highlight of the day for McGill, a member of the Sawnee Mountain Kennel Club.
Bruce, who will celebrate his third birthday next month, is a grand champion who recently competed in the invitation-only AKC/Eukanuba National Championship for best in show.
CH Lefox Born To Boogie took the title over Bruce and 40 other French bulldogs, but McGill is confident Bruce’s career is about to take off.
“They really have to have a certain attitude,” she said. “It’s the ‘look at me’ attitude and he loves to travel ... and go to the shows and he loves to strut his stuff in the ring. He’s a diva. He’s really made for it.”
McGill should know. For more than 17 years, she’s been in the show dog circuit with her Rhodesian Ridgeback hounds.
Bruce, named because of his bat-like ears after actor Bruce Wayne of “Batman” fame, was McGill’s first venture into showing French bulldogs.
Bruce started winning competitions early and is currently the No. 15 French bulldog in the country.
Being top of his breed is no easy task.
Bruce spends much of his time touring the country competing. It also means he lives with his handler, Juliet Clendenon, on the other side of the country. That’s why McGill looks forward to her daily text messages.
It’s also why McGill is a frequent flyer, recently traveling to Las Vegas, Wisconsin and Los Angeles to watch Bruce compete.
“I’m the pageant mom,” she said. “You just take pride as the owner when they do well and he’s had a wonderful career as a young dog.
“Bruce will be out showing next year, so I plan to continue to travel and watch him show as his career progresses.”
McGill also has two hounds that live with her. Logan, 6, is a retired champion and Reks, a 1-year-old, seems eager to get started in his show career.
While she’s not a handler, McGill does work as an exhibitor for her dogs in agility, obedience and other performance shows.
Her advanced skills in dog training have made her a great owner, Clendenon said.
“We’ve been really fortunate Bruce came to us trained,” she said. “Tammy did an incredible job with him.”
Despite being a skilled dog trainer, McGill has handed over full control to Clendenon. During shows, McGill has special instructions.
“[Juliet] tells me to visit with my dog before he shows so he knows I’m there, to find a seat ringside and to sit and stay,” she said. “And that works out pretty well.”
Bruce is one of eight dogs handled by Clendenon and her husband, Dave. Four of them, including Bruce, are top-winning specials with national rankings.
“We’ve been doing it for 29 years now,” Clendenon said. “We just love being with the dogs, we love training them, we love the bonding and working with them. It’s just really fulfilling.”
All eight dogs live in the Clendenon home and like McGill, all the owners get daily text messages with updates, show information and photos of the dogs playing together.
McGill said she misses Bruce. But two or three years down the road, he will become a retired show dog and will return to her.
It’s then that Clendenon becomes sad.
“We work with them every day,” she said. “It’s hard because we get really attached to them as if they’re our own.
“But we get to stay in touch with the owners and we keep in contact with them all the time.”
McGill loves owning show dogs, but also works individually with each one, learning his strengths and preferences.
“I’ve had dogs who have finished their championship begrudgingly and then went on and did other performance events that they really enjoyed,” she said. “It’s all about finding what that dog’s talents are. You can’t force a dog to do anything. It’s like horse racing — you can’t make them run.
“But being able to go out and compete with man’s best friend, it keeps the dogs from just sitting around on the couch and it’s really a great hobby.”