In this month’s Rose City Classic, Portland’s top dog show, a Pekingese with the ungainly name Windermere’s Answer Me in White will aim to fill big pawprints. Last year, the dog’s half-brother won the five-day, multievent Classic’s largest competition, then became the country’s top show Pekingese and no. 3 toy-breed dog overall. (That dog also has a huge, weird show-dog name, but is known to friends as “Dusty.”) On the eve of battle, Joy Thoms, a Molalla-based breeder who works with both dogs, reveals the secret weapons that make champions.

PEDIGREE  Genetics determine much of a show dog’s fate. Thoms’s dogs inherited jet-black noses, eye-rims, and paws; perfectly flat faces; and mouths “slightly undershot, with no tongue or teeth protruding.” 

SALMON & SOLITARY  Biology, however, isn’t destiny. After trying “innumerable” formulae, Thoms feeds her dogs a kibble based on sweet potatoes and salmon, plus salmon oil to promote a healthy coat and skin. Her dogs live in separate runs in her kennel to keep them parasite-free.

BIG MONEY  Thoms won’t say on record how much it cost to show Dusty at scores of competitions around the nation. The figure she names off the record would purchase a fine Portland home. “You find a backer who’s got more money than God who wants to see their name in the [show dog] magazines,” Thoms says. Dusty’s patrons are a Southern California couple who pay for air travel and promo ads in dog show publications, which are thought to sway judges.   

DOG-EAT-DOG ATTITUDE  In this game, killer instinct isn’t optional. “If you go in the ring for any other reason than to win, you’re crazy,” Thoms says. At the same time, Thoms and her rival Pekingese breeder-exhibitors in the Northwest leave everything in the ring. “We get together after a show and have a few drinks,” she says. “That doesn’t happen everywhere.”

The Rose City Classic dog show happens Jan 16–20 at the Portland Expo Center.