Sisters Erin and Maren LaPlante of Caledonia have a lot in common, but their passion for dogs seems to go beyond the regular similarities sisters share.

Both consider their dogs to be their “best friend” — Maren, 11, with Neo, her Chinese Crested Hairy Hairless, and Erin, 15, with Shamrock, her Doberman Pinscher — hanging out together through everything from homework and naps to hours of training and driving to compete in dog shows across the country.

“You need to practice, it’s repetition, it’s a lot of dedication, but after you get at that point, it’s also — my dog won’t perform for anyone as well as she does for me just because we are a team, there is that connection between us,” Erin explained. “We’ve always worked well together and I think we’ve become a good team.”

“You think?” Maren chimed in sarcastically.

That connection the girls share with their dogs makes them more than just pals, but well-oiled machines that are honed by practice and experience — especially as they both prepare to compete in the Westminster Kennel Club’s 140th Annual Dog Show in New York City next week.

This will be Erin and Shamrock’s second straight year showing at Westminster, while Maren and Neo compete for the first time. Both pairs will compete in judging for their respective breeds and the junior showmanship; the former puts the judge’s scrutiny on the dog, the latter on the handler.

The daughters of Jim and Christy LaPlante have been training with their dogs for years, starting small and competing in bigger and bigger competitions to get to the point that they could qualify for Westminster.

While Erin said her affection for Shamrock grew from her family owning several Doberman Pinschers, Maren initially liked Neo because of how much his breed looked like horses, but quickly developed a friendship.

“I bond with him,” Maren said. “I love him; we’re a really good team.”

Sylvia Minnis — family friend, veterinarian and owner of the Caledonia Veterinary Clinic, 4338 Highway 38 — noted that qualifying for Westminster is no easy feat, and two siblings in the same family having the talent to get that far is rare.

“I think it’s an extremely talented family, because clearly they’ve put in the time,” she said. “Westminster is like the Kentucky Derby for horses, the Super Bowl for football — it is the pinnacle — and they’re both talented with different breeds… that takes a lot of skill and a lot of knowledge.”

While Maren is excited to have her first experience, Erin said she feels more confident this time around. Although she didn’t take home a prize last year, Erin said she and Shamrock have become a stronger, sharper and more focused team since last year.

“She’s always super focused on me,” Erin said of Shamrock. “She’s always ready to see what I want her to do next, and when you’re competing for such a top spot, you’ve got to be on, you’ve got to be thinking on your feet, you’ve got to be better than all the others.”

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