Search and Rescue Dogs Honored

Tuesday, February 12th 2002, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Preparing to walk on to the green carpet for the Westminster dog show, Pete Davis could barely keep from shedding a tear.

``It's very emotional,'' the New York police officer said Monday night. ``We're very appreciative of the recognition.''

On a day when the favored Kerry blue terrier got a nice cheer, the K-9 heroes drew the biggest ovation at Madison Square Garden, the kind usually reserved for star athletes.

Often called a beauty pageant for canines, America's most prestigious dog show broke tradition and paid tribute to 20 German shepherds and retrievers that normally would not make it to the event.

The search and rescue dogs were honored for their tireless work at the World Trade Center and Pentagon following Sept. 11.

``We were pretty nervous,'' admitted Lt. Daniel Donadio, head of the New York Police Department's canine unit. ``We'd rather face gunmen than the crowd.''

There was no need to worry.

The 10,000 spectators stood and cheered throughout the 15-minute ceremony in the center ring, which included actress Glenn Close singing ``God Bless America.''

The dogs _ with their handlers _ who had come from all over the country were introduced one by one.

As they walked out, public-address announcer Michael LaFave detailed their efforts in New York and Washington, along with places such as Nairobi. Officer Bobby Schnelle came with Atlas, the first canine on the scene at the World Trade Center disaster.

Davis brought Appollo, who was singled out last year for the American Kennel Club's Ace award for law enforcement.

Appollo was supposed to be honored on Sept. 11. Instead, he was called to duty and became engulfed in flames while walking on debris after the towers collapsed. The shepherd, nearly 10 years old, survived and kept working throughout the day.

Officer Suzanne McCrosson had to watch from a backstage aisle. Even though her German shepherd, Charlie, worked at the World Trade Center that day, McCrosson is now seven months pregnant and assigned to desk duty.

McCrosson said she watched a replay of last year's Westminster show with Charlie during the weekend.

Asked whether she thought her 3-year-old canine could win best-in-show, she was emphatic.

``Yes, he would! He's so handsome!'' she said.

Near the end of the tribute, the USA Network, the Pedigree company and Westminster presented a check for $275,000 to Mike Tuttle, the president of National Association for Search and Rescue.

A Kerry blue named Mick also enjoyed a big day.

The 5 1/2-year-old terrier, born in England and now the No. 1-ranked show dog in America, needed only nine minutes to win the best-of-breed ribbon.

Hours later, the dog with the blue-silver coat and black beard breezed to win best-of-group.

The big prize, the best-in-show trophy, was to be awarded Tuesday night.

``There's always apprehension,'' Mick's handler-agent, Bill McFadden, said after the morning victory. ``The dog can perform badly or the judge can perform badly.''

``This is like 'Survivor.' If you get to this point, it gets easier. The ring gets bigger,'' he said.

Mick, known officially as Torum's Scarf Michael, was never in any danger. During the 2001 season, he won the terrier group in 137 of the 138 shows he entered, and was picked as top dog 87 times.

Among the other contenders will be a 6 1/2-year-old standard schnauzer named Charisma Jailhouse Rock.

The dog commonly called Rocky won the working group Monday night for the second straight year. He and Mick were the only dogs to repeat as best-of-group winners.

An affenpinscher named Yarrow's Super Nova won the toy group and a miniature poodle named Surrey Spice Girl won the non-sporting group.

Three more group winners will be picked Tuesday night, leaving seven contestants for best-in-show.

There were more than 2,500 dogs _ all champions _ entered and they represented the 159 breeds and varieties recognized by the AKC. While only one St. Bernard showed up, 41 Irish setters were entered.

No one left the Garden feeling any better than Donadio.

``I'm very proud of my people and my dogs,'' he said.

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