As senior psychology major Michael Mentasti stood on the green carpet of Madison Square Garden, his mind was a blank slate. This was not new to him. He knew the judge would base their pick on structure, expression, teeth and a luscious coat. Thousands of spectators watched, but Mentasti stayed focused. As the judge walked past, he knelt down to Mentasti’s partner in crime, a 5-year-old golden retriever named Troy.
As Mentasti described the Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden, he called it “the Super Bowl of dog shows.” With nine years of experience and countless awards under his belt, he qualified for and competed in prestigious shows such as Westminster, the AKC Eukanuba National Championship and the Thanksgiving Day National Dog Show Presented by Purina.
“The experience is mind-blowing, especially going to Westminster at Madison Square Garden,” Mentasti explained. “There are really no other words to describe it.”
Mentasti began showing dogs at the age of 13, after one of his three golden retrievers of the time passed away. His mother found a dog show in St. James, N.Y., where they saw a golden retreiver being groomed on the table, he recalled. “We went over and started talking to this wonderful couple from New Jersey,” Mentasti said. “She encouraged me to watch the rest of the show, and, in April of 2003, I got my first show dog.”
Mentasti said Troy, the dog he currently shows, shares a special bond with him and loves competition. “The only way I can say this is that the dog is obsessed with me. He is my shadow and follows me everywhere.”
Between “fluffing and stuffing” the dogs in preparation for the show, practicing and competing with them, Mentasti said the chemistry with any show dog is strong. “They are your security blanket and vice versa,” he explained. “I think of them as my conjoined twins since they are always by my side and will do anything for me.”
Although though Mentasti is a professional dog handler, he has other career goals in mind, and he hopes to be a psychologist. “I mean, I could see myself doing this forever but not as a profession,” he said. “I prefer an education before hairspray and dog mousse.”
Mentasti shared what he said he loves most about showing dogs. “When they win, you are such a proud owner and brag to anyone you can find about your dogs accomplishments,” he explained. “When you win, it is such a wonderful feeling because you know that judge liked your dog the best out of all the rest, which for breeders is like winning the mega millions.”