Among the bright stadium lights of Madison Square Garden, strict judges, and 2,500 well-groomed dogs, competing at Westminster will be Salisbury and former Coaldale resident Cindy Meyer and her Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Rita.
The seven-and-a-half year-old dog, better known in the dog show world as Champion Cabin Ridge's Mega Margarita, is no stranger to the annual New York City competition.
This will be the fourth year Rita will be competing at Westminster.
Meyer, the daughter of Catherine and the late Edward Hedes of Coaldale, first got involved with show dogs in 1998 with her first retriever, Katie. Meyer said the Chesapeake Bay Retriever was "supposed to be a pet" but hasn't looked back after first getting hooked into showing the dogs.
Meyer co-owns Rita with breeder, Jo Martin, of Allentown.
Meyer originally entered Rita into Westminster in 2009 just to say, "My dog was shown in Westminster." But after the competition, handlers Kevin Bednar and Heather Bremmar saw major potential in Rita, telling Meyer they could "make her one of the top 10 dogs in the country."
Within the next year, they followed through with their promise. This encouraged Meyer to continue with the shows and make Rita a star.
Rita is a professional at the competitions. In 2011, she was the number one Chesapeake Bay Retriever Bitch in the country. She was also eighth in the country last year, even after not showing for six months due to having a litter.
In 2010, she won Best of Opposite, which means a male won Best in Show, Rita coming in first for the females. But achieving such a high status is not easy.
Rita has been in hundreds of dog shows and is away at competitions every weekend. Her career has taken her to compete in places like Florida, California, Illinois, Puerto Rico and Canada, where she even earned a Canadian Championship.
"I'm a pet owner, this is a hobby," Meyer said.
But this is a very dedicated hobby indeed.
While Rita is at home in Salisbury, Meyer makes sure to give Rita baths and groom her coat; Rita even eats a hard-boiled egg daily to keep her shine.
Last August, Rita gave birth to a litter of two, with hopes of passing on her Champion genes. Mocha, one of the puppies, now five months old, will begin to be shown at the end of February. She must acquire 15 points to be considered a champion. Once a dog is at champion status, it can begin to compete in Best of Breed.
The Westminster Kennel Club 136th Annual Dog Show is Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 13 and 14. Meyer and her companion will be leaving Sunday morning for the Big Apple. Rita will be competing in the sporting dog event on Tuesday.
There are 13 Chesapeake Bay Retriever's registered this year. All of Salisbury will be rooting for Mega Margarita, who will hopefully add to her collection of two medals from Westminster.
On Monday, the shows for hound, toy, non-sporting and herding groups take place, while on Tuesday the shows consist of sporting, working and terrier groups and Best In Show.
Television coverage of the competitions begins 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday on the USA Network.