Anyone walking the driveway of Sandy Wytoshek's Brigantine home would find it difficult to miss the bumper sticker reading, "Caution: Show Dogs" placed on the back of her Ford Expedition. Dog crates sit stacked in the back of its cargo space.

Not far from her front door, an English springer spaniel lawn ornament sits in soil, hugging the walkway.

Even with an outsider's perspective, little speculation is required to guess what could be housed inside.

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Two energetic spaniels, Grand Champion Twin Oaks Russian Star Natasha and her sire, Moose, run in unison to meet a visitor.

Their lively greeting is matched equally by Wytoshek - the dogs' enthusiastic primary owner and show dog devotee.

"This is more than a hobby," she said of her nine-year experience as a show dog owner. "This is a lifestyle."

Yet, the self-employed Brigantine resident still considers herself a novice in the game, even after showing Natasha at nearly 100 shows in 2012 alone. She said that her dogs' breeder and co-owners, Tom Faust, of Medford, and Laureen Camisi, of Tabernacle, have steered her in the right direction.

And as of mid-February, the three were beaming with pride because Natasha had received the award of "Select Bitch" in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, placing her as the second top female in her breed.

As prestigious as it is historic, the Westminster dog show, held at Madison Square Garden in New York City, exhibits only the best of the best, making the title truly significant, Wytoshek said.

Entries included more than 170 varieties and breeds this year, with more than 20 competing in Natasha's breed, Faust said. Wytoshek showed Moose in the same show only four years prior. 2013 marked Wytoshek's second time exhibiting at the New York show.

But, like many events, politics is a factor. A Best in Show title comes at the cost of millions spent in campaigns and advertising over several years of showing, Wytoshek said.

"We are small time, so to speak," Wytoshek said of her dogs, not once referring to them as pets. "So, that's what made this win especially sweet."

Raising show dogs in one's home is not usually recommended, Wytoshek said. Typically, months before competitions, dogs will room with the handlers - those who actually exhibit the animal the day of show - to get them acquainted to the individual.

For Wytoshek, she preferred keeping them with her at her Brigantine home, which she shares with her husband, Walter - a less than enthusiastic supporter of dog shows, but a dog-lover just the same.

"He's into fishing," she laughed.

Wytoshek doesn't have children, but it's clear her canines count as family.

A dog-printed step rug, a hanging stained-glass image of a spaniel and numerous photos of her animals placed throughout her West Shore Drive home show Wytoshek to be a "dog person." A small office devoted to them shows her to be a diehard.

Dog-related catalogs, magazines and photo albums fit tightly into a closet as framed ribbons lined every spot on the wall.

The time-consuming, expensive venture of owning show dogs comes with a turnaround time of about five years, Faust said. But after her dog earned its first recognition - an experience that left her shaking with joy - Wytoshek was hooked.

"We had to pick her up off the floor," Faust said.

"I'm a lifer," Wytoshek confirmed, saying her hobby keeps both her and her dogs young and active.

Wytoshek's entry into the dog show world began in 2004, after she attended her first show as a spectator at the Boardwalk Kennel Club All Breed Dog Show in Wildwood. It was there that she met Camisi and soon after, bought her first show dog, Moose.

Camisi instantly noticed her new friend's devotion to the sport.

"She brought back joy to it," she said. "She was a breath of fresh air for us."

Now, traveling from Florida to the national championships in Rhode Island is nothing new. Driving more than an hour to handling classes every week is a part of the game. And frequent obedience training with retired Atlantic City K-9 officer Dennis McSweeny, of Absecon, is crucial.

Not to mention, the grooming.

"There's grooming, and then there's Westminster grooming," Wytoshek said.

Judges look at every detail, from the shine of their coat to their ear shape and placement. A lackluster temperament could eliminate their chances immediately, Wytoshek said.

Natasha and Moose have been trained since birth and began to compete as puppies. Currently, the dogs and Wytoshek have time to wind down.

Moose, almost 9 years old, competes now as a veteran, making only 12 appearances per year. Natasha was bred just a few weeks ago to spaniel Jesse James, son of a Best in Show winner for 2007. Carrying her second litter at age 6 will keep her out of commission until the fall, Wytoshek said.

Still, Wytoshek seems willing to give everything to the sport, from jogging with her canines in increment weather to giving up her summer weekends.

For years she has correlated holidays with the dog show held that day.

"Thanksgiving is Philly. Memorial Day Weekend is Freehold," she said.

The commitment is "a lot of hard work," she said. But, a title at Westminster? "I still find it hard to believe."

Contact Caitlin Honan:


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