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Striving to be top dog

Chubby is 150 fluffy, furry pounds of pure energy and animal magnetism.
“He loves to go to the dog shows. He’s a showman,” said his owner, Jack Kuster of Pumpkin Center. “He’s always been ‘Here I am! Look at me!”
Chubby, a 4-year-old St. Bernard, has received 40 Best of Breeds and eight group placings in 2005 alone. He is currently ranked sixth in the country in the St. Bernard breed.
Chubby hopes to add to his accolades this weekend at the Eukanuba National Championship, which will be simulcast live on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel starting at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights.
A total of 2,648 contenders are expected to compete for the $225,000 in cash prizes.
The Kusters believe Chubby has a shot at first place. In 2002, they entered Chubby’s father, and he took home Best in Show. The 8-year-old dog’s picture now sits above the mantel.
“He’s got a great temperament,” said Jack. “He’s very outgoing and has a got a great personality and that’s why he wins.”
Chubby’s wins are a family effort — two of Jack and Barbara’s three children and their families are involved.
“I never thought we would be so involved in it at our ages,” said Barbara.
The couple bought their first St. Bernard puppy in 1958 when they were living in Buffalo, NY. He proved to be a handful.
“See, I wanted a poodle, but we got a St. Bernard,” said Barbara.
One day, when Barbara brought the dog, Tiny Tim, into the bank, he leaped up on a woman.
“She had a fur coat on, and he tried to eat it,” Barbara said.
After a few good training lessons, however, it was smooth sailing. After Tiny Tim won the first dog show he entered, the couple was hooked.
In fact, the Kusters were so taken with St. Bernards, they moved to the country to breed them.
That life lasted 10 years, and helped prepare Jack to become a dog show judge — something he still does to this day. He is certified to judge four different breeds, St. Bernards included, and the work takes him all over the country.
Although they have always loved St. Bernards, the couple did go for a period of time without one. When Jack was hired at The Timken Company in 1976, the family moved south with no St. Bernards in sight.
That remained the case until Barbara bought Jack a St. Bernard puppy in 1997 following his retirement.
That dog turned into the 2002 Eukanuba National Champion. He also helped care for Barbara’s 90-year-old mother while she was staying with the couple, laying next to the elderly woman and following her around with a watchful eye.
Despite wanting a poodle nearly 40 years ago, Barbara has since been sold on St. Bernards.
“They’re big and they slobber, but they’re really, really easy to train, and they’re really super, super intelligent,” Barbara said.
They also ham it up when put in the spotlight, at least in Chubby’s case.
“He’s like a magnet at the dog show because kids love him,” Barbara said.
It isn’t uncommon to find Chubby laying on his back with a number of little hands scratching his tummy. And then, of course, are the questions — “How much does he weigh?” (150 pounds), “How much does he eat?” (about eight cups of dog food a day).
The Kusters leave most of the dog show responsibility to their children. That said, they’re 100 percent behind Chubby and hope to make him a national champion this weekend. He has the whole family behind him.
“Everyone stops and looks at Chubby,” said Summer Kennedy, the Kusters’ granddaughter.
by Sarah Grano

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