By John Burton
Rumson resident has 3 dogs entered in prestigious show
RUMSON – Hondo can be imposing, when you first meet him.
The large 3-year-old Leonberger weighs in at about 130 pounds but his owner, borough resident Shelia Jett-Wickman, tells visitors not to worry about her award-winning dog. He has the sweetest disposition, she says, and he demonstrates just that when he tries to offer affection – and tongue licks.
Jett-Wickman is proud of her dog – actually all of her dogs – and excited, a characteristic that Hondo seems to share. What is exciting them now is that Hondo will be competing in this month’s Westminster Kennel Club Show, in New York City.
Hondo, whose American Kennel Club (AKC) name is Bronze Level Grand Champion Cherrywood’s Slam Dunk, will be appearing and competing at the premiere dog show on Feb. 12, according to Jett-Wickman. It’s his second time in the show, having participated in last year’s event.
The Leonberger breed dates back more than 150 years, Jett-Wickman said. The dogs were originally bred in Germany, combining traits of such large breeds as the Newfoundland (especially its gentle temperament), Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog and the Saint Bernard (though, without the drooling). It’s bred as a work animal and has a distinctive leonine-like mane.
Jett-Wickman, who has always loved dogs, has been involved in canine competition since her childhood. Growing up in Iowa farm country, her parents raised and showed German shepherds and Belgian tervurens, also originally bred for herding.
“We were thrown into a car in our pajamas at 5 a.m. to go to [dog] shows,” she remembered.
Eventually living in Monmouth Beach, she had a pug, a small, affectionate dog that she immediately loved. Since then she has two other pugs living in her Avenue of Two Rivers home, and another two which are boarded with their trainer and also will be appearing at Westminster.
After moving to Rumson, Jett-Wickman decided to see about a larger dog, one that would keep her company – and provide some protection – as she hiked and ran along the trails in nearby Hartshorne Woods, she said.
When she first saw pictures of Leonbergers, she again fell in love and contacted a breeder. Now she has Hondo and his 14-month-old half brother, Vigo (Cherrywood’s Viceroy), at home with the pair of pugs. All male dogs, she joked, she was “a sucker for a good-looking guy.”
The four dogs living with the Wickman family aren’t just show animals. They truly are the family pets and gentle, as shown by Jett-Wickman’s 6 1/2-year-old daughter, Sutton, who was wrestling with them, climbing on them and appeared to be using them as pillows as they lay on the floor, without a peep or growl from any of them.
Vigo and Hondo have participated in shows around the country and have fared well in competition. Both are well ranked among their breed making the show circuit, Jett-Wickman said.
She hopes that Hondo, who was invited to participate in the show due to his ranking, will pull ahead of the other seven Leonbergers competing this year. She holds out hope that he might make it into competition for Best in Show, the top prize.
Ultimately, Hondo and Vigo will be used for breeding, “to strive for the betterment of the breed,” Jett-Wickman said. “Which is the whole point,” for those who raise and love them.
This year’s Westminster Kennel Club Show has 2,721 confirmed competition entries from more than 187 breeds and varieties. It’s the largest number in 15 years for the 137th competition, according to club’s website.