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Lights, cameras, lint brushes: On the red carpet at the Beverly Hills Dog Show, the stars shed

A miniature poodle named Brando being groomed by Teruko Miller, 37, of Thousand Oaks at the Beverly Hills Dog Show presented by Purina at the Pomona Fairplex.
A miniature poodle named Brando being groomed by Teruko Miller, 37, of Thousand Oaks at the Beverly Hills Dog Show presented by Purina at the Pomona Fairplex.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Maria Menounos stood on the red carpet, a team of stylists prepping her before the cameras rolled. One handler shielded the E! host’s eyes as he doused her with hairspray; another powdered the shine off her nose.

“Here, honey,” a man said, handing Menounos a lint roller. She brushed it down her pants, instantly removing of hundreds of strands of dog hair.

This was the Beverly Hills Dog Show, and the stars, though impeccably groomed, tended to shed.

Nearby, skating champion Tara Lipinski struggled to handle both her microphone and a leashed Irish wolfhound (average weight: 120 pounds) as she and her NBC Sports partner, Johnny Weir, worked the canine red carpet for USA Network.

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Despite the event’s Beverly Hills pedigree, the dog show was taking place roughly 40 miles outside of Hollywood at the Pomona Fairplex, where Angelenos normally travel to eat fried dough and ride the Ferris wheel at the annual L.A. County Fair. But on this Saturday in March, the grounds were overrun with a very different crowd: 1,354 dogs of 166 breeds from 22 states and two foreign countries.

A dog has his ears taped so that they will appear fluffy when it's showtime.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Dogs are taking a different place in our lives and our families. They aren’t just backyard dogs anymore.

Bo Derek

The Beverly Hills Dog Show, put on by the Kennel Club of Beverly Hills (est. 1965), has long lured top dogs and their handlers but hasn’t taken place within 90210 boundaries for years. For the 2017 show, organizers moved the affair from a park in Long Beach to Pomona’s Fairplex, which could accommodate all the canines — and the cameras. Because for the first time — this Sunday on the USA Network — the Beverly Hills Dog Show will be televised.

So just past the Pink’s Hot Dog stand and the soft-serve booth, dogs and their owners stopped for interviews with Menounos, Weir and Lipinski on the red carpet. Oversized golden dog statues flanked the entrance to the hall, where VIPs, including reality star Lisa Vanderpump and actress Bo Derek were holed up in a green room equipped with a fully stocked bar, pristine flower arrangements and a step-and-repeat photo backdrop.

The real stars of the show were busy getting primped in an adjacent grooming hall. Inside a hangar-like space that smelled vaguely of urine, dozens of dogs waited — some asleep in kennels, others barking indiscriminately, most under blow dryers of some kind. There were so many hair products strewn about that the room had an aura of a makeshift salon. Anti-slip formula for paws. Baby oil to shine up coats. Baby power to separate the hair on oily coats. Shampoo mixed with corn starch to whiten up dirty patches.

Derek, best known as the star of the 1979 film “10,” was on hand to sell her own pet-care line: Bo Derek’s Shampoo for Special Dogs, retail price $14.95.

“It’s interesting how dogs are just taking a different place in our lives and our families,” said Derek, who had brought along her German shepherd, Chico. “They aren’t just backyard dogs anymore.”

That’s exactly why sponsors Purina and NBC — which owns USA — are hoping for a big audience as they launch the inaugural TV event. They’re also the sponsors behind the National Dog Show — you know, the one that’s aired on Thanksgiving for 16 years, right after the Macy’s parade and before the food coma? The November show, held in Pennsylvania, tends to attract a family audience — and organizers are hopeful the new event will lure a similar demographic for a new Easter tradition.

“The love for pets — that’s what this is about. And here we have something a little bit younger, a little bit more glitzy, with the energy of spring coming,” explained Daniel Henke-Cilenti, Purina’s director of marketing. “We’re celebrating the idea of your pet as being your star. There’s no discussion about politics or right or wrong — it’s ‘Hey, there’s a beautiful pet and beautiful love for pets,’ and that’s the kind of positivity we need at the moment.”

The big day got underway bright and early at 7 a.m., when Beaucerons, Cardigan Welsh corgis and Pembroke Welsh corgis turned up to walk the ring in their individual breed competitions. Throughout the day, canines from all backgrounds — sporting, hound, working, terrier, toy, nonsporting — strutted their stuff. There were even special events for puppies and diving dogs, which leaped into a pool of water while trying to catch toys mid-air for a fun challenge.

A Shih Tzu named Ty being groomed.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The winners can’t be revealed until Sunday’s airing, but it wasn’t the best day for Blue, an Old English sheepdog. He was lying on his side having the mats brushed out of his coat by his owner, Chris Pesche, who’d driven from Tehachapi (where she manages her husband’s medical practice) to participate in the dog show. Blue had already competed for the day but didn’t place. Pesche remained undaunted.

“He’s just starting his career,” she said. “He doesn’t have the confidence yet that when you take him into a big ring — he just likes to lean on me. He had one foot on each of my feet. Really good handlers blend into the background. At the end of the day, it is about the dogs. All these people go home, they’re up at, like, 5 or 6 in the morning, and the dogs eat before they do in the morning. They get home at night and those dogs are fed, watered and walked before they take their socks and shoes off and crawl into the shower. It’s just an incredible love of the dogs and the sport.”

Some owners were so devoted to understanding their dogs that they stopped to visit Shirley Hyatt, who bills herself as an “animal communicator.” From the time she could crawl, Hyatt said, she’s felt the vibrations of animals — understood their frustrations and desires. Now she charges $60 for 20 minutes of interspecies contact.

“This is a show area, so someone might bring me their dog and say, ‘My dog isn’t shy at home, but my dog’s shy in front of the judge,’” said Hyatt, who was set up in a festival tent outside the grooming hall. “And the dog will tell me, ‘It’s not that. The judge has got really gross hands because he’s been touching all these other dogs, and I don’t want his goobies on me.’ Once the owner understands, they do something different.”

Tina Yeates, 54, grooms Mira,€ a female 14-month-old standard poodle at the first Beverly Hills Dog Show.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A few folks idled by Hyatt’s booth, picking up pamphlets that advertised her phone consultations. (She does 90% of her business that way, she said.) Other owners wandered past, opting to stop at tents selling dog-themed merchandise, including one business that specialized in custom dog paintings. For $649, one could purchase a wooden jewelry box with a personalized portrait of a favorite breed. For those with less to spend, paintings were also available on leather wallets, tote bags or slices of agate.

But it was almost time for the main event: Best in Show, where the day’s high-scorers would walk down another red carpet that had been modeled after a fashion runway. Vanderpump, one of Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” took a seat in the front row.

“These dogs are like the supermodels of the dog world, aren’t they?” said Vanderpump, who recently opened a glamorous West Hollywood dog rescue center — replete with pink chandeliers, blueberry facials and aromatherapy sessions. “I think we should adopt, I really do, because we’ve got a huge problem here. I’ve seen dogs matted beyond belief with sores all over them from living in terrible conditions, and that’s the problem to focus on — not these dogs that are being conditioned and running around happy and being given treats every five minutes.”

No more than five minutes after the reality star had uttered these words, a controversy over this very issue erupted inside the arena. Just before the Best in Show presentation got underway, two military dogs were being saluted by the crowd. As the audience rose to honor the working canines, a dozen PETA protesters emerged from the crowd, storming onto the floor holding signs. “MUTTS RULE,” one poster read. “I’M A PUREBRED AND I’M HOMELESS,” said another featuring an image of a dejected German shepherd.

Protestors storm the floor during the Best in Show presentation.
(Amy Kaufman / Los Angeles Times)

Security scrambled to contain the angry mob. Vanderpump got out of her seat and walked over to one of the protesters in an effort to engage her in conversation.

“Get your facts straight!” Vanderpump urged. “There are far bigger problems in the world! I just opened a dog rescue!”

The demonstrator, however, was not swayed. “Disgusting!” she shouted, pointing her finger in Vanderpump’s face.

After a few minutes, security managed to escort the protesters out of the building. Despite some rumblings in the crowd, the festivities resumed. The top scorers of the day trotted out onto the red carpet and hit their marks: stars that resembled those on the Walk of Fame.

“I’m excited to watch,” Vanderpump said as the finalists prepared to be judged one last time. “I have an orgasm every time one goes past me.”

Back in the green room, Menounos sank into a chair and sipped a drink a publicist had delivered to her.

“I would sit here and watch this all day long,” she said, finally reunited with her own bichon frise. “I get a little fruity with it, but God created so many beautiful, different things in the world. The bichon I met outside? I cried. This golden I loved on today was amazing. Oh, and this Australian cattle dog named Salty? We fell in love.

“This,” she said, brushing dog hair off her pants, “was the greatest day ever.”

More from the Beverly Hills Dog Show:

Afghan hound named Vinnie, backstage in the grooming area at the Beverly Hills Dog Show.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A miniature poodle named Brando at the Beverly Hills Dog Show.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Samoyed dogs named Bodie, Stinker and Dolly.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
A Norwich terrier named Doogie with handler Kristina Rickard during the terrier group competition.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Jeannette Zavacky sprays hairspray on Murphy, € a bearded collie, as Patrick Cahil looks on backstage in the grooming area.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @AmyKinLA

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