For these hounds and humans, dog show a couples' competition

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CORRECTS SPELLING OF PHOTOGRAPHER'S LAST NAME TO PELTZ INSTEAD OF PELL - Owner-handler Debbie Develin shows Tips, an otterhound, in breed competition during the 147th Westminster Kennel Club Dog show, Monday, May 8, 2023, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York. (AP Photo/Jennifer Peltz)

NEW YORK – As otterhounds lined up to be judged at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show Monday, Tips and Creed could be forgiven if they secretly were rooting for each other.

Same goes for their owners and handlers, Tom and Debbie Develin. The Boyertown, Pennsylvania, duo are a couple. The dogs are, too, in a manner of speaking — they live together and have had a litter.

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Although there are a number of husband-and-wife professional dog handlers who sometimes compete against each other at the United States' most illustrious dog show, that's less common among so-called “owner-handlers."

“We cheer each other on and then see how it goes,” Debbie said.

The Develins, both retired from managerial jobs, got their first otterhound years ago after Tom learned that the dogs had a reputation for friendliness. They live up to it, he says. Tips and Creed make therapy visits at hospitals and elsewhere when not busy with dog shows, agility, obedience and other canine sports.

Tom started showing one. Debbie helped. Eventually, both were in the ring.

Otterhound fanciers are a tight-knit group, partly due to sheer numbers. The big, shaggy, spirited hounds trace their roots to medieval England but are now among the rarest breeds in their homeland and in the United States.

On Monday, neither Creed nor Tips advanced to the competition's next round. But Creed got a ribbon, and both Develins came away happy for their dogs and their competitors.

“It's like one big family," Debbie said.

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New York-based Associated Press journalist Jennifer Peltz has covered the Westminster dog show since 2013.