At Westminster Dog Show, New Jersey therapy dog competed, but did not place for top prize

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Skye, a therapy dog in the Commercial Township School District, competed Tuesday in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Skye was relaxed and looking like a winner trotting around the ring at the most exclusive dog show in the country.

The Greater Swiss Mountain dog that turned into a media sensation competed at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for the second year in a row. Although he had a confident stance and playful run, the Swissie did not place as the best of his breed during Tuesday’s competition.

“He looked good, but it wasn’t his day!” Superintendent Daniel Dooley, who trained Skye to be a therapy dog for the Commercial Township School District in Cumberland County, texted after the winners were picked. “He gave it his all, we are proud of him.”

Indeed. In Commercial Township, students cheered for their hometown canine, having a blast as the show was streamed online for them to watch in real time. As was the case last year, they were happy for Skye win or lose.

Skye lined up with the others in the Swissie category waiting for the 1:30 p.m. start at Pier 94 in New York. Skye was vying for best of breed  against more than a dozen others to go on to the working dog category at Madison Square Garden.

“They all look fabulous,” Dooley said in the morning as the tri-colored pure bred with a white blaze waited for his turn to compete.

Last year, Skye advanced to the Garden, but did not place there.

Swissies are not typically working dogs and had Skye won the working dog category, he would have been the first to do so at Westminster. Dooley thought Skye had an advantage over the others because he is trained to stay focused regardless of the hoopla surrounding him. In rural Commercial Township, Skye calms students with special needs who are prone to behavioral problems. Whether cuddling, walking kids to class, or listening to them read, Skye helps the students relax and enjoy school, Dooley said.

About three years ago, Dooley saw something special in Skye as a puppy and asked the breeder whether he could train as a therapy dog for his school district.

Camera icon provided by Daniel Dooley
Commercial School District Superintendent Daniel Dooley (left) with Skye and his handler Daniel Rosa at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

“Absolutely,” he was told. The breeder, Kismet Swissies in Birdsboro, Pa., donated Skye to the district with the condition that Skye be permitted to show. Dooley and his wife, Stephanie, agreed, not quite understanding what the commitment involved. The couple split the cost of a professional trainer, Daniel Rosa, with the breeder, along with travel costs and show costs throughout the East Coast.

In Commercial, the therapy dog program has not cost the district any money, which Dooley said was important to him. It has been so successful that the Dooleys adopted a second Swissie, Hope, they are training to become a therapy and show dog.

Earlier this year, Skye placed fourth in the nation at competitions, and was the top dog on the East Coast in his category going into Westminster. Using the Eagles’ Super Bowl win as inspiration, Skye and his fans were optimistic going to Westminster again. In the eyes of the 600 students in the school district, Skye is already a winner, Dooley said.

“It’s the journey that makes him great, not necessarily the outcome,” Dooley said before the loss.