LAKEVIEW — When the best show terriers and hounds in the country competed in the Westminster Kennel Club dog show this year, it was a Lakeview man who held their fate in his hands.
Jerry Klein, a doctor at Chicago Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center, judged seven categories of terrier breeds and hounds at the premier dog show in New York last week, including Afghan Hounds, Kerry Blue Terriers and Miniature Schnauzers. And for the 59-year-old man who joined the show-dog circuit at age 13, the invitation was "a real honor," he said.
"It was non-stop, whirlwind, no downtime, black-tie dinners and lunches and crowds — everything New York City is," Klein said of the two-day experience. "It didn't disappoint me, but it exhausted me."
Klein, who lives in Lakeview with his partner, was the only judge from Chicago. The emergency veterinarian fell in love with dogs and dog shows as a teenager in Ohio, where he owned a pet Wire Fox Terrier. At 13, he convinced his parents to take him to a competition. Klein lost, but he became addicted.
"I'm not sure what it was," he said. "Something about watching the whole excitement of it. I loved animals anyway, and I loved competition. I was just kind of hooked."
Klein started reading books about dogs at the library. He would tag along with more experienced breeders and ask questions. Eventually, Klein started showing three or four times a year.
"It led me to want to become a veterinarian and lend my life to dogs," he said. "I stuck with it."
After years of losing at shows, he started to win. He's had an Afghan Hound that's won the title of "Best of Breed" at Westminster and "Best in Show" at local shows. But Klein has stopped breeding recently due to space and time constraints, though he and his partner still live with two show dogs named Sebring King Kong (or Kong, for short) and Sebring Legally Blonde (or Reese).
Instead, Klein focuses on judging shows about once a month, across the country and sometimes across the globe. This year, he'll judge in Michigan, Kansas, Wisconsin and Norway.
"I've met people from all walks of life and all corners of life," he said. "It's been an incredible journey."