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Dog owner and 'best friends' unleash global winning waysSeries of accolades at renowned dog shows has gained them a reputation
You may not have heard of Mr Chua Ming Kok, but the Singaporean gets cheers usually reserved for rock stars whenever he performs in stadiums abroad.
The cheers are in fact not only for him, but for his "best friends" too. The 40-year-old childcare and tuition centre operator competes along with his pet dogs in canine shows around the world. These events pit canines against one another to compare their beauty, agility and obedience.
He and his charges have gained quite a reputation for themselves.
In 2011, Mark, one of his papillons - toy spaniels whose hair around the ears resembles a butterfly - won Best of Breed at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It beat nearly 150 other papillons from the United States.
As he took to the arena floor to display the dog's gait, the crowd of 18,000 erupted in cheers and applause. The audience at dog shows, Mr Chua explained, usually comprises enthusiasts of the specific breed being contested.
"They recognised how beautifully the dog was being shown, that it was moving very nicely and 100 per cent fixated on me," he said, calling the cheers deafening.
More recently, in 2012, one of his other female papillons beat 300 others at the World Dog Show in Salzburg, Austria - the world's biggest dog show.
Just this March, he scooped another accolade when a chihuahua which he entered in the renowned Crufts dog show in Birmingham, Britain, took home second place by beating 200 of its kind from all over Europe.
The Crufts show section that the chihuahua, Dynamite, took part in is essentially a beauty pageant for dogs, said Mr Chua, who is married with two children.
Each dog is judged against an idealised standard for its breed, which states precisely how exactly it should look, pose and walk.
For instance, a chihuahua should have round eyes, not oval or almond, he said. Its ears should be "pointed sharply at 45 degrees".
Judges scrutinising its gait will expect it to be "balanced, with a level top line and a tail carried gaily", he added.
It gets tougher. Even the dogs' personalities are assessed. Papillons must be elegant and lively; chihuahuas compact and feisty.
"But the dogs don't feel stressed. They don't feel the pressure because I have to make it fun for them to bring out their best. It is the handler who gets the pressure," he said.
Mr Chua is convinced he is the only Singaporean competing in dog shows abroad. In five years of competition, he has never seen another.
Why so? He considered the $8,000 he spent travelling with just one of his dogs to the Crufts show, which lasted four days. And in 2009, he spent $15,000 competing in a four-day dog show in California in the US.
Flights, hotel stays, car rental and entry fees all add up, he said, estimating he spends tens of thousands of dollars a year taking part in five to eight dog shows abroad.
For all of that, when he wins, all he gets is a trophy, a ribbon and a lifetime of satisfaction.
He said laughingly: "Does that answer why there're not a lot of Singaporeans doing it?"
Mr Chua, who is also grooming director at the Pets Enterprises and Traders Association Singapore, will not say exactly how many dogs he keeps in his Jurong home, only that he has owned dozens in the past two decades.
They include Shetland sheepdogs, German shepherds, Irish setters, English springer spaniels and wirehaired fox terriers.
His wife, a master dog groomer whom he met at a dog show here, also counts dogs as dear to her.
But the couple still appreciate the occasional break. "When we went to Disneyland in Hong Kong last month, my wife said, 'Finally, finally! A holiday without dogs!'"
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