Like their Pekinese show dogs, Darlene Willy and Carlene Hammond are tough to tell apart.
Known as “The Barker Twins” growing up on Butte’s West Side in the 1960s, the identical twins, now 62, reinvented themselves from regular day workers to self-employed dog groomers.
Darlene worked as a bookkeeper and Carlene was a customer service manager.
Now they run Montana Twins Pet Stylist grooming business out of Carlene’s garage on Longfellow Street.
The business serves double-duty: they spruce up clients’ dogs and prep their own for shows.
The Butte natives stay busy with their hobby on the side: showing Pekinese on the American Kennel Club circuit throughout the west.
It’s a hobby, but an expensive one. They think nothing of loading up their van with kennels, dog grooming equipment and granddaughter Rosie Hammond, then traveling as far as Denver or Portland.
”We’ll go anywhere we can make it in one day,” said Carlene. “We love it. We know all the handlers.”
If the twins earned points for cloning, judges do a double-take when one of them steps in the ring.
“In dog shows, No. 1 is the only thing that matters,” said Carlene. “No one else gets points.”
Rosie, Carlene’s granddaughter, has already made a name for herself in the show ring. The 10-year old has won several first place ribbons in the Open Junior Division, beating out teenagers at a Coeur d’Alene show recently. She also won First in Class and Best Junior.
Rosie, a natural in the ring, is shy until she trots a dog around the ring to catch the judge’s eye. Having traveled to shows for five years, she is in demand by other owners asking her to showcase their dogs, even if they compete against the family Pekinese.
“She’s quiet and a bit bashful, but she gets in that ring and shines,” said Darlene.
One family dog, Nena, is a Grand Champion who took Best of Breed twice this summer. Her AKC name is Montana Twins Pistol Packin’ Nena.
Katie, compact Pekinese face lost in dark fur, is Champion shooting for a Grand Champion title. Both Nena and Montana Twins Cattle Katie hail from separate champion parents.
“Everything has to be perfect,” said Darlene, smoothing Nena’s coat. “Weight, head, straight back and fur.”
Josie, registered as Montana Twins Josie Wales, is a one-year-old rookie.
Originally the twins showed bulldogs starting 15 years ago. In 2011, they switched to Pekinese.
“We’re getting older and the bulldogs were harder to transport,” Carlene said. “We decided to go with the littler Pekinese breed because Darlene showed them before.”
They also show a young Portuguese waterdog, a pitch-black, high-energy pup named Blizzard, for another owner. Blizzard travels with the Pekinese in the same van.
Steep travel and lodging expenses aside, Carlene and Darlene pay up to $30 entry fee per dog per show.
“People think we make money, but we pay money to show,” said Carlene. “It’s an expensive hobby.”
In an intriguing switcharoo, they previously showed Persian cats. They were easier to show because the handlers did not have to prance them, dog-like, in the show ring for the judges. Extra grooming paid off with several Champion and Grand Champion Persians.
Next they compete in Enumclaw, Wash., in August and Helena in September. Even as retirement looms, the twins still stick close together.
They are “very connected,’’ said their sister, Merri Pasquinzo. “They always have been. It’s almost like they think the same. I deliberately sit between them; otherwise, they forget about me.”
Darlene lives in Opportunity with husband Mike. Carlene lives in Butte with husband Randy. But their closeness is evident in the ample identical bulldog tattoos they share.
“They are great,” said Dustin Donaldson, who gets a kick out of his colorful aunts. “They’re very close-knit – our whole family is. They’re tied at the hip.”
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