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Published: Wednesday, 7/12/2006

Attitude's important, says trainer of Kerry terriers

Sarah LaGassa grooms her Kerry Blue Terrier Cricket. Sarah LaGassa grooms her Kerry Blue Terrier Cricket.
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When it comes to raising champion terriers, it's all about the attitude.

So says Sarah LaGassa of Sylvania, a 37-year veteran of the show ring and the area's only breeder of Kerry blue terriers.

"They have to want to be in front of people," she said. "You can have the best structurally built dog, but if they don't have that show mentality, you won't get very far with it."

Ms. LaGassa got her first Kerry in 1969, when she was 10 years old. A friend talked her parents into showing the dog, and when she took second place, Ms. LaGassa was hooked. In the years since, she's had at least 20 champions to her name. All of them can trace their bloodline back to that first pet, Keri.

Originally bred in Ireland as a badger hunter, the Kerry blue terrier is unique for the slight blue tint to its fur. The puppies are born black, and as they age the fur gradually turns to a silver-blue color. Because they don't shed, the Kerry is sometimes recommended for people with allergies, according to the Kerry Blue Terrier Foundation.

Shannon LaGassa, 12, shares a quiet moment with Cricket. Shannon LaGassa, 12, shares a quiet moment with Cricket.
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It is a fairly rare breed in the United States, according to Ms. LaGassa - there are only about 500 born here per year, she said. She usually sells the dogs for $1,200 to $1,500 each, depending on how she thinks they'll do in the show ring. Ms. LaGassa also has contracts to show the terriers for their owners after they've been sold.

"I like their temperaments; they're very family-oriented, happy-go-lucky [dogs]," she said.

Showing off some of that personality are Cricket and Sweety, two female terriers that are more than just show dogs to the LaGassas - they're part of the family.

"They're the most loving dogs I think I've ever seen," said Ms. LaGassa's daughter Marie.

Marie, 15, and Shannon LaGassa, 12, have adopted their mother's passion. Like their mother, both girls have fond memories of being at shows from an early age.

Shannon has been in the ring for two years, but she says she still gets nervous.

"Usually I just try not to show it and just concentrate on Cricket," she said. "It gets a little less nerve-wracking because she's my best bud."

Ms. LaGassa said she thinks showing is good for the girls because it teaches them life lessons, like how to be a good loser and how to improve for the next time.

Win or lose, human or dog, the show ring brings the LaGassa women together.

"It's a bonding experience," Marie said. "Not only with the dogs but with the family also."

Contact Carin Yavorcik

at: cyavorcik@theblade.com

or 491-724-6050

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