Well, its that time of year again, the start of the finals of competitions that have taken place all through last year at championship shows up and down the country. As I have said before, the centre of London, on a week day in the middle of winter, is not the ideal time and place but people and dogs arrived from all ends of the country telling tales of the snow and ice, which by then was probably worse in the south than anywhere else.
When we had exchanged greetings, had coffee and taken our seats we were welcomed by Phil Humpreys, the Commercial Director of Nestle Purina at this, his sixth year at the event, although as he was to tell us later this was to be his last as he was moving to Switzerland the home of Nestle - as a chocoholic I envied him. He also told us that in future the brand name would be Purina Pro Plan, it is hard to remember who owns what nowadays.
After a brief introduction he handed over to Bernard Hall who was minus wife Rosemary but who had an excellent stand-in with Pam Blay, who organises most, if not all, of this final.
Before this years final started we were reminded of last years winner the Tibetan Terrier Ch. Araki Pick up a Penguin for Afterglow, who did a lap of honour handled by his breeder Ken Sinclair as his co owner Mike Gadsby was busy with this year's entry. The presentation was made of the Rossut Jasmine Trophy in memory of the Beagle bitch who won in 1973. Unfortunately Pat Sutton was unable to be there.
There were 31 dogs qualified but unfortunately three were missing, two due to the bad weather and the Great Dane due to the sad death of his co-owner.
As is the usual form all the dogs came into the ring one by one as Bernard introduced them and then the judge Valerie Foss was introduced and came into the centre to give them a quick once over before they all left and the first three came back for the judging. Most people present knew Valerie as not only was she a name in Gundogs with her English Setters and Golden Retrievers but she now concentrates on her judging and General Committee work for the Kennel Club and was the prime mover behind the new Art Gallery and Museum.
The first three dogs in the ring awaiting their turn were the Standard Poodle, Vanitonia High Profile, one of two of this breed to qualify. The Pekingese Yakee One of the Boys, again one of two to qualify both owned by the Easdon and Martin partnership who won this final in 1999. The Shetland Sheepdog Ellenyorn Maid to Love who had travelled down from Fife in Scotland, some journey in the winter!
Other breeds that doubled up were the Miniature Schnauzers of which there were three, two Afghans,two Dachshunds albeit a Min. Wire and a Longhaired. Two Whippets owned by Editha Newton who as regular handler Nev was away on a cruise had to enlist the help of a handler, as Bert Easdon had to do with the Peke bitch.
The final followed its usual format with all dogs being handled and walked in the green baize ring under the oak beams in the Whitbread Brewery, not the most ideal of sizes for some of the larger breeds, but very impressive all the same. When all had shown - some a bit overawed, some with style which made you think they would certainly get their titles this year, and some, especially the larger breeds which were in that inbetween stage where they needed leaving at home until they matured or got their full coats - all were invited back into the ring again for Val to give them the final once over. Even with three missing they filled all four sides of the ring and stewards Ann Bliss and Simon Parsons only just got everyone into place before Val walked around twice and then made her shortlist of ten.
These were: the Bouvier Kanix Hedda owned by Kari Wilberg but shown here by co-breeder Fiona Lambert as Kari was handling husband Sigurd's Dachshund. Hedda had qualified at National Working under Betty Flavell and was following in the family tradition as her dam and grand dam had qualified.
The Peke male Yakee One of the Boys, qualified at U.K. Toydog the second heat of the year under Brenda Banbury who was present to see him after having a terrible journey back from a very snowbound Copenhagen.
The Norwich Terrier Ch. Ragus The Inquisition was the only one already a champion and had been strongly tipped earlier in the day, he was there as a runner up as the winner of the heat at Bath under Andrew Brace the Min Wire Dachs now lives in Norway, Bodie was runner up in the Junior Stakes finals in October.
The German Shorthaired Pointer Malmelsa Dusky Dallas of Knabynnus qualified at South Wales under Mike Stockman and Denys Simpson and was a qualifier for the South Wales dog of the year.
Minarets Secret Sensation the Min Poodle qualified near the end of the year at Buba, she has been best puppy bitch at a number of shows with her litter brother beating her for best puppy on each occasion, so this time she obviously got ahead.
The Scottie Mayson Musetta qualified at Darlington under Terrier expert Bill Browne-Cole and has only been shown four times although owner Susan Gaskell is no stranger to these events.
The Whippet that Editha handled, Nevedith Eefa Empress, was also following in the family tradition as her dam was also a qualifier. June Freeman had sent her through from East of England.
The second Standard Poodle came through from City of Birmingham judged by Denise Courtney, Afterglow Jamaica Me Crazy was handled by Mike Gadsby his co owner and last years winning handler was history to be repeated?
The second of the three Min Schnauzers in the running order was Risepark Smart Fella for Tamberg bred by Peter Newman (a previous winner of the Tom Horner Award of Excellence) and Barry Day and owned by Gill and Cliff Ogburn, who have had great success in the past with their Standard Schnauzers.
Andrew Gullick handled the Norfolk Jaeva Party Politics who is owned by himself, Martin Phillips his breeder and Kate Tate. What a first show he had as well as qualifying under at SKC August under Stephen Bardwell he won RCC and BP in breed, some start!
The second Afghan to qualify was Black Pepper from Karnak bred by Brenda Thornton and Peter and Jean Wright. He qualified at Richmond under Derek Smith and is owned by Chris and Julie Amoo with Brenda. If you are superstitious you will like this, as he was born on the same day of the year as Ch. Viscount Grant, a previous winner of this competition and a Crufts BIS winner, he qualified at the same show and that was the third time he had won a days heat, spooky or what possums?
Val had a long look at all of them again and then shortlisted down to five, the Scottie, Norwich, Min. Schnauzer, Peke and Afghan and they went around the ring in that order, one final look and the handshake went to the Min. Schnauzer Jack, followed into reserve position by the Afghan Pepper. The remaining three left the ring to applause and a gift from the sponsers as had the previous finalists and the photographers and camera teams came into the ring. Both dogs only nine days apart in age behaved like seasoned pros and took it all in their stride while both owners had smiles from ear to ear as they were presented with their prizes of beautiful crystal.
Ann Bliss who was unable to stay for lunch after all her hard work was given a gift in the ring and we all adjourned to the bar for pre-lunch drinks, very civilised. If we had been at home I am sure most of us there would have been stuck with a cup of tea and cheese sandwich.
After an excellent lunch of goats cheese followed by stuffed lamb and lemon tart, Phil Humphreys standing in for the managing Director took to the mike to thank us all for coming, congratulate the winners, spoke a bit about the company, thanked his team, none of it too long to be tedious, the sign of good speaker. He then introduced Ronnie Irving, the Chairman of the KC who started by having a bit of a go at the dog press but then followed it with advice he had been given "that it was better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than open it and prove it". Reading from his notes he then in his own words gave us a bit of a Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the KC which included the fact that there were now 1.7million people living alone so that meant less dogs. He reitarated the fact that there are fewer dogs being registered although he referred to Rose Smart to confirm that this trend was levelling out. He seemed a little suprised that there had been criticism of the KC and its policy on open shows, I am sure he heard the mumblings from the audience at this stage.
Feffie Somerfield was the next to speak and she gave a spirited account of the old days, dogs and judges but seemed to feel that all was not lost yet; I, like many listening, hope that she is right otherwise we will all have seen the best of dogdom. Feffie congratulated Pam Blay who has put so much work into the competition for 16 years since taking over from Tom Horner who with Catherine Sutton thought of this competition 31 years ago. She presented the winners with their prize after which Marion Spavin presented the runners up with the Dialynne Trophy. The judge also received a gift of crystal and then Kerry Williamson the Managing Director of Dog World was called upon to present the Tom Horner Award of Excellence which this year went to someone from the world of administration. Miss Sybil Churchill until recently a member of various KC committees including Chairman of Crufts, only having to retire due to the age rule, still the Secretary of the LKA, someone who does not suffer fools gladly. A breeder and exhibitor of Cairns and Border Terriers, a lover of hats, and someone who celebrated her 70th birthday in a hot air balloon, a lady of talents and suprises!
After a little more dog talk out into the cold afternoon London streets we went, some only taking local trains, others having many hours travelling ahead of them but all looking forward to another new year of dogs, dog shows and pleasure, meeting up with friends and sharing a common interest, I wonder whether we will all feel the same this time next year or will even more of the fun have gone, only time will tell!