Two Laois Bernese Mountain Dogs have secured their place at world-famous Crufts dog show in London next year.
Fiona Stafford-Byrne from Castletown, who competes under the kennel name Danganroe, recently saw two of her dogs qualify for the prestigious event.
Her seven-month-old dog Tiger Bear which was brought in from Poland has qualified on the double, winning both the Irish Kennel Club event in Navan recently as well as the Belfast Championship in the Best Puppy Dog category.
And her 17-month old Honey Bear won the Best Junior Bitch at Navan.
While Fiona has been showing dogs for some time, it will be her first time to compete at Crufts.
Originally from Wexford, she lives in Castletown with her husband Willie and two young children – and combines her time-consuming hobby with a full-time job as a cabin manager with Aer Lingus.
In all, they have five Bernese Mountain Dogs with one of their bitches, Betsy, having pups in January of this year – a litter of 11 – with Teddy.
All were later sold to good homes and Fiona remains in contact with all the owners, with some even returning to her to be minded on occasion.
Preparing for shows is a big commitment, involving hours of grooming in the days and weeks beforehand.
Managing the dogs diet is also of huge importance – with Fiona feeding the dogs an exclusive diet of raw meat, which is sourced nearby from Mountrath butcher Michael Keegan.
“It’s a lot of work but it’s so enjoyable. I love it,” she says.
“It’s a brilliant thing to be involved in. The show community is a wonderful community to help each other out and is so welcoming. There is a wonderful atmosphere at the shows.”
To help prepare for the events, Fiona brings the dogs to showing classes in Ballybrittas with Sinead Taggart and Paul Lawless, who experienced judges, something she says is vital ahead of big events.
Pedigree, exercise and nutrition are the three most important components for show dogs while getting the breeding right is something she also has a huge interest in.
“All dogs have flaws so when you’re breeding you’re looking to cancel out the flaws.
“I’m on the committee of the Irish Bernese Mountain Dogs and it’s very important to promote good breeding of dogs.”
In terms of Crufts next March, it’s something Fiona is really looking forward to.
“It’s one of the biggest dog shows in the world and it was the first show for all breeds. I’m delighted. There’s a lot of work and training involved but it’s wonderful thing to be involved in and a brilliant experience.”