How much is that doggie going to cost me?

People whose dogs win the top prize at Cruft's stand back and start counting the cash, right? Not quite. By Jack Crossley
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The judges of Cruft's have chosen, and so, last night, another canine was plucked from its kennel, paraded before the closest the animal world gets to an Oscar ceremony and proclaimed the finest dog in Britain.

So what happens next? A life of beauty queen-style glamour, sponsorships, photo opportunities, and (perhaps not for beauty queens) increased stud fees? Untold riches, in fact?

Not quite. First of all, try to recall the name of last year's Best in Show, who stunned the world's most prestigious dog show with his unexpected win. Starchelle Chicago Bear - Joshua to his friends - won't ring a bell unless you are a doggie aficionado, even though his face appears on every pack of scientifically balanced food that now makes up his diet.

What, then, has happened to Joshua since he bounced triumphantly around his mistress in the judging ring at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre this time last year, becoming the third Irish setter to be named Cruft's Best In Show?

Far from having earned a fortune, Joshua's balance sheet ended up in the red when I asked owner Rachel Shaw to do something she had never dared to do before - add up the sums.

Rachel works as a secretary in Leeds. She lives with her mum and dad in a semi in Birstall, which is not much more than a street in what was the West Riding's heavy woollen district.

In 1993, Joshua was chosen by Spillers to promote its complete dry dog food, but at that time, winning at Cruft's was as remote a dream as winning the National Lottery, with the odds probably in favour of the lottery.

But if you are going to keep an animal as perfect as Joshua, there is a disciplined regime to be followed, whether you are going to beat the world or not.

Joshua, his mother Amber and puppy Theo are up early and out on the Yorkshire moors by 6.45, bounding out of the estate car and running off the leash. They follow the same 20-minute route every morning, always stopping at three appointed "reward-points". There is one Spillers Shapes biscuit treat for each dog at each stop.

"We get back home about 7.45 and it's reward time again," says Rachel. "One biscuit each of five flavours - pink for meat, yellow for oil, white for calcium, brown for cereal and black is charcoal; it's good for bad breath and flatulence."

Mum and dad look after the dogs while Rachel is at work. She is home again at around 6.45, then it's back up the steep hills for the same routine. The dogs come back with twigs, gorse and sticky burrs clinging to their finely groomed coats and, if Joshua is about to take part in a show, he is put into the bath and under the shower.

"He doesn't really like it," says Rachel. "But he's a gentleman and knows how to behave. He stands there giving me these awful mournful looks out of one eye but lets me get on with it."

Joshua's shampoo is special - in summer, Rachel uses an American preparation on which she spends around pounds 120 a year; in winter, an anti-bacterial shampoo available from vets costing around pounds 20 a year. His delicate feathering is treated with the same conditioner Rachel uses on her own hair - Revlon Flex at pounds 2 a bottle.

"Joshua's shampoos are dearer than my own," she says, "but every hair has to be perfect. Bathing, drying and trimming takes about three hours." She uses hairdressers' trimming scissors that cost pounds 50 a pair. Joshua's teeth are cleaned with a baby's toothbrush, using ridiculously expensive meat-flavoured toothpaste (pounds 6 a tube, four tubes a year).

Even the world's most perfect dogs get fleas. Joshua is fed an anti-flea tablet once a month, which works out at pounds 26 a year. His bedding and the Shaw home are sprayed every three months at a cost of about pounds 16 a year. His annual booster vaccinations for hepatitis, distemper, leptospirosis and parvovirus cost pounds 15. Worming tablets are pounds 9 a year.

This is a bounding 32 kilos of hunting dog we are talking about, but his diet consists of only eight ounces a day of his dry-food formulation.

"It doesn't sound much, but I know he is getting all he needs and that it is good for his stomach," Rachel says. "He digests it well and it comes out in a neat package at the other end - nice firm stools that are easy to deal with."

Rachel has never totted up how much it all costs her - driving around to shows, visiting kennels, schools, hospitals, attending seminars and breed events, and being an unpaid judge.

"It's a fallacy that you make lots of money after winning Cruft's," she says. "That's not why people are in it.

"Spillers have been very good. Joshua gets his food free and they pay travelling expenses and hotel bills on promotion trips."

On the credit side, the prize money for winning Cruft's is an astonishing pounds 175. Joshua's stud fee is pounds 300, but it was pounds 250 before, so winning Cruft's hardly made it soar. He has had to do his duty four times during the year.

There is another hidden expense attached to being a top dog person. Rachel admits to going just a little bit over the top on clothes. "I like to dress smartly when I am in the ring," she says. "To complement Joshua." Perhaps yesterday's proud winner should make this morning's first appointment a visit to the bank manager.

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