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CHAMPIONING THE BREED; WOMAN GUIDES DOG TO TRIUMPH.

Byline: Greg Botonis Daily News Staff Writer

For more than 15 years, Stephanie Archuleta has dreamed of taking a dog to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

Last week, she got her wish with a blond cocker spaniel named Mishka, who not only got into America's most prestigious dog show but came home with a trophy.

``I've done probably 65 shows last year,'' said Archuleta, a professional dog handler. ``But going to the Westminster was a dream come true. An absolute once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was just incredible.''

Started in 1877 by a group of New York businessmen - its organizers call it America's second-oldest continuous sporting event, after the Kentucky Derby - the Westminster show accepts only dogs that already have earned championship titles.

Only 2,500 dogs are accepted to compete and, on average, all slots are filled in less than 10 minutes from the opening of registration.

Mishka, a 3-year-old whose official American Kennel Club name is Champion Laramo's Handsome Dancer, is owned by a Columbus, Ind., couple, Nancy Foley and Ken Feller.

But he lives in a kennel at Archuleta's Palmdale home, which dog handling fees have helped pay for. Mishka gets good care: on Friday, two days after he returned from New York, he went in for a tonsillectomy - something not commonly done on dogs.

Archuleta takes Mishka from coast to coast competing in shows, and he wins just about every show he enters - so many that Archuleta has lost count. She does all his trimming and grooming herself.

Mishka earned not only an American Kennel Club championship title but a Canadian Kennel Club Championship title.

In the Westminster show - held at Madison Square Garden - Mishka competed against cocker spaniels in the ASCOB category - any solid color other than black. He came out first, meaning he best met the standards for what the breed should look like.

``Mishka is a 100 percent-plus show dog,'' said Archuleta. ``A once-in-a-lifetime dog. I'm just glad I had the opportunity to take him there.''

Archuleta became interested in showing dogs nearly 15 years ago when she purchased her first purebred cocker spaniel.

``I just wanted to know everything there is to know about the breed,'' said Archuleta. ``Being in the world of purebreds, you meet other people who show their dogs and AKC breeders. I just learned grooming and showing from being their and experiencing it all. It's become a passion of mine.''

Since her first purebred, Archuleta has brought more than 50 dogs owned by other dog enthusiasts to champion status. She has shown dogs throughout the country and gained a fair amount of recognition for her achievements.

``That was how I became Mishka's handler,'' Archuleta said. ``I knew the owners and they knew me from shows and they approached me and asked me to handle Mishka.''

Mishka is the father of four other champions, and Archuleta handles them as well. She is working with them all in hopes of taking another dog to Westminster.

``They're all great and I hope that they will do as well as their father,'' Archuleta said. ``It's hard to say. It takes a very special dog to make it to Westminster but we just keep working at it and hoping.''

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

PHOTO (1--Color) Dog handler Stephanie Archuleta of Palmdale talks to cocker spaniel Mishka, also known as Champion Laramo's Handsome Dancer.

(2--Color--Ran in Valley Edition only) Stephanie Archuleta of Palmdale grooms Mishka, top cocker spaniel at the Westminster show.

Jeff Goldwater/Daily News

(3--Color--Ran in AV Edition only) Westminster Kennel Club champion Mishka nuzzles handler Stephanie Archuleta.

(4--Ran in AV Edition only) Stephanie Archuleta holds Mishka as she talks with fellow handler Jeff Wright at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 16, 1999
Words:622
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