For Nuri the Azawakh, the green synthetic turf of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is a far cry from the Tennessee greenery to which this 6-year-old Sighthound is accustomed. Rest assured, plenty of attention is focused on the breed’s inaugural appearance at one of America’s most well-known dog shows.
Nuri and her owner Vicki Williams, however, are more at home on local hiking trails in and around Sweetwater, Tennesee (estimated population 5,858) and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Getting to Westminster has been a lifetime dream for Williams, but recognizing that ambition took on a surprising twist in December.
“A friend contacted me and asked if we were going to Westminster,” she says. “I laughed, and replied, ‘no,’ not thinking we were invited, but out of curiosity, I looked up the Top 5 list. When I saw Nuri’s name on the list, I was overwhelmed. I didn’t waste any time entering, thinking we will work out the details later.”
Williams, Nuri, and Linda Sample (a friend who is an AKC Rally and Obedience instructor) made the 11-hour drive from East Tennesee to Midtown Manhattan together. For Williams, this trip was an opportunity to not only compete in America’s second-oldest sporting event (behind the Kentucky Derby ) but also a chance to showcase her breed to the media and public.
“This is a golden opportunity for us to introduce the Azawakh to America on a broad scale, from the show telecast to all forms of media coverage,” says Williams.
The Attraction of An Ancient Breed
So, why an Azawakh?
“I was attracted to the breed by its intelligence and deep bond with the family,” says Williams. “And I have to admit, the absence of heavy grooming was also pretty appealing.”
While Williams loves Sighthounds for their athletic prowess, too, her previous dogs have included a catalog of characters, including a Rottweiler, Mastiff, Cocker Spaniel, Australian Shepherd, Rat Terrier, and multiple mixed breeds.
The 43-pound Nuri joined the household as a puppy, and Williams agreed to raise, train, and show. Her socialization began early with many outings with multiple dogs and to public events. With a unique breed, each outing becomes both about exercise and education. The most common questions she receives are about Nuri’s skinny frame and speed.
“There is an unlimited number of trails and outdoor areas near Sweetwater for Nuri and me to enjoy,” says Williams. “People continually stop me and ask questions about the breed. When I tell the breed name, the most common response is, ‘What?!'”
What about this Tennessee hound adapting to the Big Apple?
“Despite having attended several large events, there’s nothing to compare to the experience of New York and Westminster. She is very confident in a large show setting but prefers to be approached slowly, as the Azawakh was originally bred as a guarding breed.”
An Azawakh of Many Talents
Rest assured, Nuri is not intimidated by the presence of lots of other dogs nearby. Williams and friends take a two-mile “walk” every day with three to 15 dogs of various breeds. The walk often evolves into impromptu training sessions.
So far, Nuri has participated in Barn Hunt and Scent Work and earned a Trick Dog title. She also has her Canine Good Citizen title and Farm Dog certification. Plans call for her to segue into AKC Rally this year, too.
“I try to expose her to many sports available in our area and let her tell me what she enjoys the most,” adds Williams. “Nuri enjoys a sport you are unlikely to see a Sighthound express interest in- tracking. We attended a seminar, and once Nuri learned to work at a distance, she found that she loves it.”
Even without any tracking titles, when Williams’ Sighthound community needed help with a lost dog, they pulled together to assist. Last year, when a new owner fell while walking her recently retired Greyhound, the startled dog fled into the nearby deep woods. There were sightings throughout the day, but in new surroundings, the dog proved highly elusive. Williams, her husband, Marvin, and a friend took two tracking-trained Azawakhs—Nuri and Minnie, a friend’s dog—to the area. There, they offered each a scent item to launch the search.
“We had never asked either of them to track an animal previously, but it was worth a try,” says Williams. “Both took the scent and headed out through the tall grass, muddy ditches, and terrain full of rocks and obstacles. They came upon the Greyhound hiding under a low-hanging tree in the brush. Upon seeing our group, the dog sprang to her feet and ran. But when she spotted our Sighthounds, her pack instinct lured her in. My husband was able to slip a leash over her head and start the long walk back home.”
Azawakhs at the 144th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show
After becoming the 193rd AKC-recognized breed in 2019, the Azawakh competed at Westminster for the first time in the Hound Group in 2020. On February 9th, Nuri competed alongside five other dogs vying to become the show’s first Best of Breed Azawakh. While she didn’t triumph on that front, the stellar Sighthound was presented with an Award of Merit.
Given at the discretion of the judge at Westminster, an Award of Merit may be made to outstanding entries that are not judged to be either Best of Breed, Best of Variety, Best Opposite Sex, or Select. So, while Nuri is likely itching to get back to the hiking trails, she and Williams can enjoy their 11-hour ride home knowing they’ve done their breed proud in NYC.