LADSON -- In one of the last stops on the dog show circuit before the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in mid-February, dog handlers and owners came from 31 states and the District of Columbia to compete Saturday in a two-day All-Breed Show of the Charleston Kennel Club that continues today.

Ricki Silveria, chairwoman of the show, said participation for the Charleston Kennel Club's show is down slightly this year. The show typically draws 1,000 dogs, but this year's event attracted 875.

"We think numbers are down for two reasons," said Silveria. "One, the economy. And two, the weather. The weather the past six weeks has been nasty and I think people didn't want to take a chance with travel plans."

While 65 percent of the registrants hail from the Carolinas, many of the others came from states along the East Coast that have been buried by snow and ice, not to mention in a deep freeze.

Frank Murphy, an Anderson resident who is one of the top handlers in the nation, said while the Charleston show is not the biggest in the state, it's placement on the dog show schedule -- between a month-long circuit in Florida in January and Westminster in February -- draws top talent from the East Coast and Midwest.

Murphy, who is returning to Westminster on Feb. 14-15 to show three dogs, was working with three different dogs "starting their careers" -- a Pembroke Welsh corgi, a Siberian husky and a beagle -- this weekend.

Murphy, who participated in 135 shows in 51 weekends last year, agreed the economy has cut into dog show participation nationally, but not on the competition at the top level.

"I show top dogs for wealthy people and the economy didn't slow them down at all," said Murphy.

Meanwhile, the Charleston show also is an opportunity not only for dogs to earn points toward being champions and grand champions, but for young handlers to get experience.

Ashley Devaney, a freshman at Bishop England High School, was waiting to show one of her family's three Great Danes, Autumn -- which weighed about 20 pounds more than Ashley did. Her parents, John and Jenn, and younger sister, Denise, were there to support her.

For Devaney, it was her first show since moving to Mount Pleasant with her family in September. She's been showing their Danes, also including Remy and Della, for three years.

"Ever since I was little, I watched dog shows on 'Animal Planet' and wanted to do it," said Devaney. "It's a part of my life. I love it. It's a great interactive sport and you make a lot of friends here."

But she's not so sure about being a professional handler. She said, "When I'm done with high school, I plan to go to art college and become a professional artist."