Top dog

Local canine competes in national show.

By:Jennifer Potash Managing Editor
  &nbspThe rulers of the Nini household of Province Line Road seem to be the four-legged variety.
   One of the family’s nine Bernese mountain dogs, Roxie, recently competed at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 14-15. Roxie, whose show name is CH. Decade’s Miss Independent was handled in the ring by Melissa Nini, 20, whose family has been breeding and raising champion Bernese mountain dogs since 1997.
   "She’s a stand-out dog," Melissa Nini said, giving Roxie a backrub.
   Roxie, a 3-year-old female, won a slew of qualifying dog shows up and down the East Coast last year that resulted in an invitation to the AKC national show.
   "People asked me (in Tampa) if Roxie was done competing because I think they were sick of her winning," Melissa Nini said with a laugh.
   The Bernese mountain dog is a striking, tri-colored, large dog. Considered a working dog, "Berners," as owners and aficionados refer to these animals, were bred for draft and droving work in mountainous regions.
   But the dog’s friendliness and warmth toward children is what attracted Gina Nini, Melissa Nini’s mother, to the breed.
   A dog Gina Nini had in the early days of her marriage did not fit in well when Melissa Nini and her sibling arrived. The dog was aggressive toward the kids so Gina Nini decided to find a new home for the animal and find a more child friendly breed.
   Her research led her to the Bernese mountain dogs, but she did not acquire one until 11 years later.
   The family’s first Bernese, Decade, purchased from a breeder in Flemington, was aptly named, Gina Nini said. Decade’s offspring, Jeter and Missy, also had great success in the show ring. But it was Decade’s granddaughter Roxie, Missy’s daughter, who has reached one of the biggest stages of all — the invitation-only AKC/Eukanuba National Championship.
   Melissa Nini and Roxie did not reach the event’s final — broadcast live on television on Jan. 15. Still the experience was unforgettable, Melissa said.
   About 140 dogs from 20 countries, including Asia, Europe and South America, competed in the show. Melissa Nini enjoyed the finals from the stands.
   "Some of the breeds didn’t have anyone cheering for them, so I clapped for all of them," Melissa Nini said.
   The AKC shows also offer special categories for dogs handled by the breeders not a professional handler, Gina Nini said.
   Tampa really went for the dogs during the weekend, Gina Nini said. One hotel put down sod on its parking lot and added amenities such as nonfunctioning fire hydrants for the canines. Hotel lobbies, instead of offering candy dishes with mints, filled food bowls with dog biscuits for the canines competitors, she said.
   And Roxie was quite fond of her accommodations — a two-room suite, Melissa Nini said.
   "She didn’t want to stay in the bedroom, she wanted to be in the kitchen," Melissa said. "That was her space."
   The invitation to the AKC national championship was a great honor and a fabulous opportunity, Melissa Nini said.
   "It really helped my confidence," she said.
   But the win that means the most was Roxie’s first best in show at an AKC qualifying show in Long Island, N.Y., last summer.
   "When they handed me the ribbon, I thought I was going to start crying because I was so proud of Roxie," Melissa said.
   Showing the dogs is a family affair for the Ninis. For the trip to Tampa, Gina Nini drove the van with Roxie, Melissa Nina and her friend Emily Sherman, and Melissa Nini’s aunt, Laureen Camisi.
   "I am so grateful for them," Melissa Nini said.
   Raising, training and showing dogs is a huge commitment of time and finances, Gina Nini said.
   Melissa Nina, who is studying communications at Mercer County Community College, said she does not plan to make dog handling a career, but will keep it as her main hobby.
   Tony Nini, Melissa Nini’s father does not mind serving as host to so many canines.
   Growing up in neighboring Princeton, Mr. Nini had two dogs, but the animals lived mostly outdoors.
   "I wasn’t allowed to have a dog in the house," he said. "Now, I love to come home and see the dogs so happy with their tails wagging."
   Roxie herself seemed most nonplussed by the attention. Instead she curled up on a sunny patch of the living room floor for an afternoon nap, perhaps to dream about winning best in show.
For more information about Roxie and the Nini family’s other dogs, go to their Web site,