Dog-breeding Doner chief vying for Best in Show

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Alan Kalter's avocation of breeding and showing bullmastiffs was inspired by a crime. Specifically, the break-in of his home a quarter-century ago.

"We bought a dog because we were robbed," said Mr. Kalter, CEO of Doner, Southfield, Mich. "We wanted ... a guard dog. We didn't know anything about the breed."

But he and his wife, Chris Lezotte, knew what they liked. And in the bullmastiff-a cross between a mastiff and bulldog that can weigh 130 pounds bred in 19th century England to scare off poachers-they saw the animal they wanted.

After buying their first bullmastiff, Caesar, the couple started reading up about the line and attending dog shows. Before long they fell in love with the breed, known for being loyal and warm as well as huge with a deep growl.

They acquired a dog to show and Ms. Lezotte (then a creative director at Doner) showed a knack for the craft. The dog won champion status after only seven shows-a feat that can take a first-timer dozens of tries.

An obsession was born.

"We were both rather competitive, so why not have a leisure time activity that involves competition?" said Mr. Kalter, 58.

More than two decades-and 130 champions-later they're still breeding and showing dogs, along with Norma Smith, their handler of 20 years. Mr. Kalter and his wife share their 18-acre spread in Ann Arbor, Mich., with 14 dogs (not counting puppies). He noted: "Not all of them live in the house." The dogs were joined earlier this month by a litter of three puppies.

They've enjoyed a great deal of success as well. They've won Best of Breed at the Westminster Kennel Club All-Breed show at Madison Square Garden-"the dog world equivalent of Cannes"-a number of times with different breeds. And they've won group placements at Westminster with an English springer spaniel and an English cocker spaniel.

His goal, of course, is winning the ultimate award: Best in Show at Westminster.

And on the breeding front, Mr. Kalter has set a milestone as well: "We had 15 puppies out of a frozen-semen litter," he said. That broke the record of 13. (They only use artificial insemination in breeding.)

But breeding and showing dogs is not a hobby for everyone. It's expensive; a bullmastiff puppy can cost $1,500. Dog show winners net ribbons, not dollars, and most drop out after only five years.

Mr. Kalter shudders to think about how much he's poured into this "negative cash flow hobby": "I don't want to think about that."

"You can't do this unless you love dogs," added Mr. Kalter, who had Doberman pinschers when he grew up. "You have to be competitive. You have to be a little crazy."

And it's also a hobby with more than a little in common with advertising.

"It's about creating something," he said. "You have a vision of what the ideal dog should look like, and you breed to that ideal."

It also has some of the same frustrations. Namely, politics.

"If the judge likes you and knows it's your dog, the judge can point in your direction for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of your dog," he said. "It happens from time to time. But it happens in advertising."

And in case you're wondering, the hilarious Christopher Guest/Eugene Levy mockumen- tary "Best in Show" captures the world of dogs dead on.

"I know those people," Mr. Kalter said with a laugh. "Are you kidding? It's very accurate. "

Advertising Age is revamping its People & Players page by devoting space to the varied activities of marketer, media and agency people outside their office lives with the beginning of a new feature, Off Hours. Devoted to a worthy cause? Have a secret fishing hideaway? Rabid about participatory sports? If you have a fascinating Off Hours activity, describe your passion in an email to Mike Ryan at mryan@crain.com.

Alan Kalter

Yes, the dog is allowed on the furniture of Doner’s CEO

Dog love: The American Kennel Club registers nearly one million purebred dogs each year. There were 2,648 dogs registered to compete over last weekend in Tampa. Fla., at the annual AKC/Eukanuba National Championship, which offers more than $225,000 in prize money.

Americans spent $35.9 billion on their pets in 2005, according to the American Pet Products Manufac-

turing Association.

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