Frankford bullmastiff going for the ‘Gusto’ at Westminster
Shoppers who visit the Harris Teeter supermarket in West Fenwick on a Sunday will often run into 18-month-old bullmastiff Gus and his owners, Lisa and J.P. McCormick.
“We would go get Starbucks coffee on Sunday mornings and would take Gus. We’ve been doing it for a year now. We go into the atrium, sit on the bench, drink our Starbucks, and people come in and out,” said Lisa McCormick. “Wouldn’t you know — it’s the same faces every week, and they look for Gus. The store employees come out and ask for him. If we miss a Sunday, the next one, people ask, ‘Where were you?’”
McCormick said Gus is a friendly dog and loves interacting with people.
“He loves children, and all the kids who come in go crazy over him. I think the cool part about it is … we make people smile. There are some people who walk in that aren’t smiling, but when they see Gus, their whole face lights up. I think he’s therapeutic for some people. They come back to pet him and even wait in line. We call him ‘the Harris Teeter mascot.’”
But even those who see him at Harris Teeter may not be aware that Gus is no ordinary pup. This coming Tuesday, Gus will be one of a select few bullmastiffs competing in the Westminster Dog Show in New York, N.Y.
“Westminster is like the Super Bowl,” said McCormick, noting it will be Gus’ eighth competition show but his first time competing at Madison Square Garden.
Although he is known as “Gus” at home, his official American Kennel Club name is Boundless Going for the Gusto. Having participated in eight shows, Gus is now a champion and is working toward his Grand Champion title. At the Westminster show, Gus will be competing against 24 Champion and Grand Champion bullmastiffs, and will be amongst 3,000 dogs competing in the show.
Gus won his first Best of Breed award in Wildwood, N.J., last month, and friends and family of the McCormicks encouraged them to take him to Westminster.
“Knowing how big he was and how well he’s doing, a couple of people said, ‘Go for it,’ and he did get in. He’s up there with the top nationally-ranked dogs in the country. We don’t have any expectations, but you never know — it’s all about the judge.
“This judge is out of California. She’ll come in and just judge bullmastiffs that morning. She’s looking for the best of breed, and he’s going to be competing with 24 bullmastiffs this year, which is a lot.”
The McCormicks got Gus when he was 8 weeks old, from a breeder in Ellicott City, Md.
“We had wanted a bullmastiff, but we couldn’t find any litters available, so my husband was out there trying to search but couldn’t find anything,” recalled McCormick. However, they were finally able to adopt Gus from a breeder.
“She asked if we were ‘show people.’ We were like, ‘No, we just want a good pet, and we’re willing to pay good money for a good pet.’ She’s like, ‘OK — you’ll be last, because I have all of these show people who want to eventually show them.’
“It was kind of funny, because Gus was considered the sleeper in the litter, which is the smaller one. Well, we got the biggest boy, which is hilarious.”
Although he was the sleeper of the litter, Gus now weighs in at 145 pounds and is not yet done growing.
“The breeder asked if we would consider showing him. We don’t have kids, and we don’t really have a hobby, so we thought, sure. We went to a couple shows last spring,” she said. “We just got lucky and got a great dog and fell into this accidentally. It just ended up being fun.”
Not only were the McCormicks not “show people” prior to adopting Gus, but they had never owned a bullmastiff before.
“I would always see pictures of these bullmastiffs and say, ‘Oh, my gosh — I want one one day.’ My husband was onboard. He likes the biggest dog he can get,” she said. “We were looking for a year and a half.”
After looking into showing Gus, McCormick began attended Salisbury Kennel Club events in January 2016 and taking conformation classes.
“It’s all about the dog — how does he look, his head, his cheeks, his bite, his top line. I trained him pretty much with these classes.”
McCormick said it’s a great learning experience, but she has no interest in being Gus’ handler at shows. Currently, Ron Klopfer from Bear, Del., works with Gus as his handler.
But Gus is just a normal dog, too — one that enjoys running around sod fields, going for walks with the McCormicks and, of course, visiting his fans at Harris Teeter.
“It’s therapeutic for us, too. It’s a whole new chapter in our lives. It’s something new. Thanks to Gus, we’re doing this, and it’s opened a lot of new doors for us, which is really cool.
“They call his breed ‘gentle giants,’ and they really are. He’s just the most gentle, sweet soul. He just loves people. He’s a lovebug. He’s got so much personality and loves people. There’s not a mean bone in his body. He sleeps with us. He’ll plop himself right up on the sofa with me every night. He has the best disposition.”
Her husband wanted to name their dog Gus even before they got him, and they said it’s appropriate. “It’s the best name, and it suits him.”
The McCormicks will head to New York on Monday and hang out in their pet-friendly hotel before Gus’ Westminster show time, at 9 a.m. the next morning.
They purchased tickets so that, in case Gus does not win, the two can watch the rest of the show while Gus rests.
“I can’t believe I’m sitting here talking about this right now. This was foreign to me two years ago. I never would have been able to talk like this.” He’s only 18 months, so we can go back to Westminster next year, if we have to,” she said with a laugh.
Gus won’t always be a show dog, said McCormick, noting she that hopes he can eventually serve as a therapy dog and visit people at nursing homes.
McCormick said she and her husband, along with their friends and family, are very excited about the show.
“He’s really into it,” McCormick said of her husband. “I hear him telling people we meet on the street or at Harris Teeter, ‘Yeah, he’s going to Westminster next week!’ It’s so cute. Sometimes at night he’ll be petting Gus and start chanting, ‘BOB’ — ‘Best of Breed.’ ‘We’re going to be BOB! BOB!’ I’m like — ‘Oh, you’re such a nerd.’
“A few years ago, my niece Alyssa Murray was Miss Delaware America. We often laugh about that and say, ‘OK, Alyssa — you had your moment; now it’s Gus’ turn.’ We’ve got a lot of good friends and family who are so supportive and excited for us.”
Those who are interested in watching Gus compete may do so through live online streaming on Fox Sports/National Geographic on Tuesday, Feb. 14, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Gus will be in Ring 9 at 9 a.m. The dogs that win their breed class will appear in breed group competition on live TV on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. on FS1 (the bullmastiff is part of the Working dog group), culminating in the awarding of Best in Show.