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Westminster 2009
‘Stump’ the veteran sweeps the board

CATCHING THE 8.30am British Airways flight from Heathrow’s Terminal 5 ensures that you can arrive in Manhattan mid-morning, thus missing the dreaded queues on the freeway from JFK, check in at your hotel and still be able to eat lunch at a downtown restaurant.

And that was how Cindy and I started our trip to the Westminster Kennel Club’s 133rd Annual Show held at Madison Square Garden this year. We both love New York and feel at home in this wonderful metropolis which has so much to attract both the first-time and frequent visitor.
There is a plethora of awards dinners and events leading up to the show itself which takes place on a Monday and Tuesday. There had been chaos following a change of date as a result of the Garden being booked for the Annual Grammy Awards some time ago and we had made hotel reservations for the alternative date only to have the original dates re-instated last year. Thank goodness we had not paid in advance for our flights! Because of the uncertainty of the dates the Chronicle Party did not take place on Friday night and so for us the weekend started with an invitation to the William Secord Gallery on the Upper East Side for drinks and to view some of the incredible works of canine art which are available for purchase in addition to launch Bill’s new 456 page book, Dog Painting: A History of the Dog in Art. I have a copy of each of Bill’s superb books on canine art and this latest is a must-have. I think I made a substantial saving being able to purchase a first edition copy in the local currency. He will be at Crufts launching it in the UK and I anticipate it will be a sell-out. Whilst indulging in a glass of fine wine and admiring one of the portraits we struck up conversation with a New York socialite who, to our astonishment, used to live a short distance from us in Ascot and walked her dogs in the same places as we did several years ago. We clearly used to acknowledge each other in the distance and here we were chatting like old friends.

Dogs started arriving in numbers in the city from Thursday onwards as various shows and specialities were being held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at various locations but the ones we visited were all held at the Pennsylvania Hotel right across the street from the Garden. This afforded us the opportunity of meeting up with old friends such as Gilbert Kahn, Peter Green and Beth Sweigart in an atmosphere where conversations did not have to be swift and where you could actually hear yourself talking and did not have to resort to a combination of shouting and sign language! At one of these shows, Cindy assisted a local television crew by providing a detailed explanation of how dogs are judged in the USA and giving a few helpful tips on who to film and who was likely to be placed! Whilst at the Pennsylvania we also exchanged greetings with Mike Gadsby and Jason Lynn, part of the Our Dogs Team in New York. You can read Jason’s article on Westminster elsewhere in this edition.

David Frei, Director of Communications at Westminster Kennel Club, has now been in charge of the Press Office at the show for 20 years and there were two huge chocolate cakes bearing his photograph to help the Press Pack celebrate this momentous occasion. Ranny Green and Linda Duane assist David and the rest of the team and ensure that foreign visitors like me are given all sorts of interesting snippets of information to make our task simpler and nothing is too much trouble for them. I am made to feel like part of the extended Westminster family as soon as I walk through the door.

Judging during the day commences as early as 8am and continues in the 5 or 6 rings until after 4pm when the floor area undergoes a transformation into the Main Ring with additional tiered seats for invited dignitaries and judges along with a large press area for selected press representatives, of which Our Dogs is one that is granted highly desirable seats, and another for photographers. Group Judging commences at 8pm sharp as this is when the event goes ‘live’ across the national television network. This year, for the first time, the show was also broadcast live on the US Forces TV Network. Everyone rises from their seats as the Star Spangled Banner is played to sing along and, when it is over, the noise resembles that of a football stadium as the crowd cheers. I find it bizarre that Pedigree still sponsors the event itself and also on television given its stance here in the UK on pedigree dogs. One of the innovations of the show is that all press are given ‘smart bugs’, which link to the live television commentary, thus enabling us to hear both what is being broadcast to the nation in addition to the ringside commentary. The show has been broadcast since 1948.

During the course of the day we bumped into Judy Cartwright from the UK who was taking in judging of Bouviers Des Flandres before going on to Las Vegas in the company of another Bouvier enthusiast, formerly resident in the UK but now residing in Australia, Lesley Walsh, whose affix was Leskips, whom I had not seen for almost 15 years. We came up to speed rapidly before exchanging cards, hugs and kisses and promising to make contact when we both got to our respective homes. We also spoke briefly to Liz Cartledge who was waiting to see Pembroke Corgi judging as she had bred one of the dogs entered. Ch Ryslip History Boy was subsequently declared BOB beating into BOS the Top Herder of 2008 and Liz was absolutely delighted.
Blast from the past.

Best in Show 2008 at the Garden was ‘Uno’ the Beagle and he made a farewell appearance to rapturous applause. ‘Uno’ has appeared in the Macy’s Parade in addition to representing dogdom at a myriad of events during the past 12 months and has been an ambassador for Angel On A leash, the principal charity with which David Frei is involved. I still have a photograph of ‘Uno’ in the Press room at last year’s show and his owners, Eddie Dzuik and Jon Woodring, were amazed to see it when we met them over dinner following Best in Show. On television, David Frei was assisting Mary Carillo, a tennis player, and he was able to answer all those Ben Fogle-type questions that we are used to cringing at here at home with aplomb. It is interesting to note that all breeds are numbered individually in the catalogue and that they all start at number 5, one of the reasons being that Numbers 1, 2, 3, 7 & 4 are all associated with major Group Wins and there is no possibility of a dog being subsequently described as No. 1 at Westminster (who would dream of misrepresenting their dog here in the UK?)

The first group to be judged was the Hound Group and the judge was Patricia Trotter, a charming lady, famous for her Norwegian Elkhounds. From a total of 26 dogs she shortlisted 8: a Basenji, Basset Hound, Bloodhound, a Mini Smooth Dachshund, Greyhound, Irish Wolfhound, Saluki and Scottish Deerhound. The Saluki, Aaron and Easter’s Ch Excelsior Yousef Areli intrigued me as his sire, Ch Ariel Zephyrus of Excelsior, died 20 years ago and he was a product of frozen semen. The Winner was the Scottish Deerhound, Ch Gayleward’s Tiger Woods; ‘Tiger’ is a 6-year-old dog owned by Gayle Bontecou. Group 2 was the Irish Wolfhound, Sam Houston McDonald and Joe M. Rowland’s Ch Dun Myrica Speaker of Eagle. Group 3 was the Bloodhound, Susan LaCroix Hamil and Evelyn Jones’ Ch Quiet Creek’s Mi Amor and Group 4 was the Mini Smooth Dachshund, Jason and Sue Hunt’s Ch Grandgables Ms Supernatural, from the UK out of the top kennel in the Republic of South Africa.

A presentation was made by Angel On A Leash to a young cancer victim who was brought into the ring in a wheelchair and also to a young war veteran who had lost both his legs and had his pelvis shattered. Needless to say, the audience showed their appreciation as only Americans can by whooping and cheering and giving them a standing ovation. Looking around Madison Square Garden I was surprised to see quite a few empty seats in the large arena, something which I have never seen in all my trips to Westminster, and I was informed that this was an indication of just how the current financial situation in the USA is having an impact in the canine world. One of my dear friends, Patie Ventre, who founded the World Canine Freestyle Organization, introduced me to a brave young girl aged 13. Claire Kimsey is a cancer victim who comes from a family in California that own three Basenjis. Claire and her family were treated to a trip to New York partly financed by charitable organisations and the Basenji Club of America and this youngster was due to commence another exhaustive bout of chemotherapy immediately after the show. She was thrilled to be at the show and thought it was an honour to be interviewed by a Brit! I’m sure you will join me in sending her our best wishes as she will be getting a copy of this report.

The second Group to be judged was the Terrier Group and the judge was Peter Green, who is set to judge Best in Show at Crufts. Peter needs no introduction here and is a highly-respected and loved handler and judge of repute in the USA. He considered it an honour to be asked to judge this group at such a prestigious show. 28 dogs entered the ring and two were excused before judging began. It was not clear to the television audience why this happened and, indeed, the next day someone speculated that the judge had been bitten but the real reason was that there might have been a perceived conflict of interest as the Best of Breed Airedale Terrier and Best of Breed Cairn Terrier were being handled by Ernesto Lara who had been part of the famous Green Team of professional handlers headed by Peter himself. Ernesto has been handling dogs now for 30 years. This was a very strong group and Peter selected the white Bull Terrier, Dandie Dinmont, Smooth Fox Terrier, Irish Terrier, Lakeland, Miniature Schnauzer (yes, you are not seeing things), the Norwich, Scottish and Sealyham Terriers for further consideration. It was highly entertaining to watch Peter judge as over my earpiece came whistling, duck-quacking impersonations and whoops… all designed to get the best from the dogs he was examining. Speaking to him afterwards he was oblivious to the fact that he was providing such entertainment. One of the dogs not shortlisted was the Skye Terrier co-owned by Gene Zaphiris and Matt Stander, proprietors of the American publication Dog News, who are associated with Our Dogs.

It was clear to those of us watching that it was going to be a close call between two dogs and this proved to be the case. Group 1 was the Scottish Terrier, Amelia Musser’s, ‘Sadie’ Ch Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot, handled by Gabriel Rangel, another of the USA’s top professional handlers. Group 2 was the Sealyham, Margery and Richard Good and Sandra Middlebrooks’ Ch Efbe’s Hidalgo at Goodspice, handled as always by Margery. This dog has previously been a Eukanuba Invitational Winner as well as having been BIS at the World Show in Sweden last year. Group 3 was the Norwich Terrier, Caroline J. Dodwell’s Ch Skyscot’s Poker Chip, who was bought as a result of a win in a poker game! Group 4 was the Miniature Schnauzer, Rachael and Karen Hoffmann’s Ch Earthsong Remedy For the Blues. Our homebred Warren Bradley made a surprise appearance in the Main Ring handling the BOB West Highland White Terrier, owned by John Low MD and William Matthews III MD. Gabriel Ranger was listed as the handler but he clearly had another client involved in the Group and so asked Warren with whom he was staying to handle. We always say how we live in a small world and next day over lunch with friends Cindy and I were introduced to John Nain, a breeder of goats who lives in both California and Vermont. He told us that he had contracted Lymes Disease over 20 years ago and had been successfully treated by Dr. John Low who he had not seen since then but, having watched the Terrier Group judging, telephoned him only to find that he was actually in New York and had been delighted at the high standard of handling of none other than Warren!

The third Group of the night to be judged was the Non-Sporting Group judged by Mrs Charlotte P. Patterson. Like our Utility Group this is a comparatively small group and there were an initial 18 dogs to be seen prior to the shortlisting of the Bichon Frisé, Bulldog, French Bulldog, Miniature Poodle, Standard Poodle and Tibetan Terrier. Group 1 was the Standard Poodle, Toni and Martin Sosnoff’s Ch Randenn Tristar Affirmation. ‘Yes’ is the Top Non-Sporting Dog in the USA. Group 2 was the French Bulldog, Alexandra Geremia’s Ch Lebull’s Midnight Confessions, whose claim to fame is that she lives at home with a herd of buffalos! Group 3 was the Bulldog, Joan L. Fisher, Robert D. Speiser and Barbara Wolfe’s Ch Kepley’s Showbiz Razzle Dazzle.

The final Group was the Herding Group judged by Robert H. Slay. This is a Group with which I am associated and I had a few Best of Breeds in particular for which I was routing. Fortunately for me all three were pulled out in the total of seven for further consideration. They were: the Belgian Tervuren, the Bouvier Des Flandres, the Briard, the Cardigan Welsh Corgi, the Rough Collie, the Old English Sheepdog and the Puli. Group 1 was the Puli, Sue Huebner and Jackie Beaudoin’s Ch Cordmaker Field of Dreams. ‘Conrad’ was co-bred by Alice & Steve Lawrence, the breeders and co-owners of my own American imported Corded Havanese. Group 2 was the Bouvier Des Flandres, Aaron Gomez, Kayla Kurucz and S. & T. Digiorno’s Ch Voodoo Slam Dunks Susants. ‘Colby’ was handled superbly by Larry Fenner, who you may recall handled the Australian Shepherd which won BIS at Crufts. I spoke to co-owner Kayla over drinks after Best in Show and remarked (well, enthused if I am totally honest) on what a super dog she has. Someone told her of my future Crufts judging appointment of the breed and her comment was that her dog has cropped ears and so she would not be able to compete under me! Group 3 was the Rough Collie, Dr. Cindi Bossart, Connie Dubois and Nancy Comparato’s Ch Sylvan Simply Irresistible. Group 4 was the Old English Sheepdog, Kay Richardson and Jere Marder’s Ch Lambluv’s Daydream Believer.

It was a beautiful, clear night when Cindy and I left the Garden in the company of Vince Hogan, MD of Our Dogs, who had been working hard all day on the Our Dogs stand in the Benching Area greeting familiar faces from all over the world in addition to making new friends and attracting some new advertising clients as only Vince can. We went to a nearby bar for a drink and, looking upwards, we gazed at the Empire State Building lit up in purple and gold - the colours of Westminster. After reflecting on the night’s judging over a beer and some chilled white wine, we parted and made our way to our hotels shortly after midnight. As it was such a clear night Cindy and I decided to visit the observation platform on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. I can highly recommend it for a panoramic vista of New York’s skyline at night, an added bonus being that on that occasion there were less than 20 people ‘up top’ so there were no queues to buy a ticket or ride the fast elevators which make your ears pop. From the time of entering the marble lobby where there was an impressive Westminster pictorial display we were building-spotting less than five minutes later, before even Vince was stepping out of the elevator at his nearby hotel.
Griffon hotly tipped

Day 2 came as a pleasant surprise as it was yet another warm day. Only a couple of years ago we had been ploughing through 28 inches of snow and, only two days earlier, we had been sitting outside in Central Park having lunch on the terrace watching some New Yorkers walking their dogs wearing t-shirts and shorts! We popped down to the Benching Area before judging commenced at 8.30am to say hello to our American friends who were exhibiting Havanese before it got busy. Someone called out our names and we looked up to see Julie McEvoy of the Ballata Affenpinschers who was visiting Westminster for the first time. One visitor who took quite an interest in the corded specimens was a young actor called Dominic Nolfi who we saw a few days later playing Tommy DeVito in the Broadway production of The Jersey Boys. The professional handlers and their teams were putting the final touches to their charges and tornado dryers were blasting dogs dry whilst others were lined up, production-line style, waiting their turn to be transformed into elegant show dogs.

Who should we bump into at the Vizsla ring but Moray Armstrong and John Thirwell? In such a huge crowd we were surprised to encounter our friend from Bill Secord’s gallery viewing at the same ring. It transpires that she also owned a show Vizsla for some years and had commissioned one of the modern American artists to paint her after seeing her work at the gallery. It was slightly more crowded than Day 1 and crossing the main floor area took some time because of the people gathered around the rings watching their favourite breeds. Luck must have been on our side as none of the breeds we wanted to watch clashed and we were even able to have a leisurely sit-down lunch in the restaurant with a glass of chilled wine to quench our thirst.
In the evening there were only three Groups to be judged and this time the Junior Showmanship Finals took place preceding the Group Judging. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that a lot of attention was being paid to a little lady who was sitting in the crowd a few rows up from the Press Area. I recognised her as Dr. Ruth Westheimer. ‘Dr. Ruth’ as she was known, was a regular guest on chat shows in the UK in the 80s & 90s and gave advice to people on sexual problems. One of the many facts I picked up during the show is that no breeder/owner/handler has gone Best in Show at Westminster since 1983 and that honour went to Chris and Marguerite Terrell’s Afghan Hound Ch Kabiks the Challenger. According to some television polls the dog tipped to take the top spot was the Griffon Bruxellois which was placed 2nd in the Toy Group at last year’s show and this dog had also had a substantial sum of money placed on it by gamblers throughout the country.

The first Group to come into the Main Ring was the Sporting Group and the judge was Robert D. Ennis. Before judging started David Frei admitted some bias towards the Brittany Spaniel as he has two at home called Ty and Belle, in addition to a more recently-acquired Cavalier King Charles Spaniel called Angel. This Group consists of 28 dogs which were whittled down to seven, the German Shorthaired Pointer, the Golden Retriever, the Labrador Retriever, the English Setter, the Clumber Spaniel, the Sussex Spaniel and the Welsh Springer Spaniel. Group 1 was the Sussex Spaniel, Cecilia Ruggles, Beth Dowd and Scott Sommer’s Ch Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee. ‘Stump’ was Top Sporting Dog in 2003, won the Group in 2004 and almost died following a short illness in 2005. Now at the age of 10 he had been brought out of retirement especially for this show. If ever there was a crowd-pleaser this was the one. Group 2 was the Golden Retriever, Pamela and Jerome Oxenburg, Carolee Douglas and Jane Bares’ Ch Toasty’s Treasure Island, who had been featured in an article in the New York Times. Group 3 was the English Setter, Pat and Don Coller and Eileen Hacket’s Ch Chebaco Blames It On Trabeiz and Group 4 was the Labrador Retriever, Magdy Caban, Cecilia Martinez and Mary A. Weist’s Ch Beechcroft Study’s Top Secret.
The second Group to be judged was the Toy Group and the judge was Fred Bassett. With a name like that (and no, it was not changed by the American equivalent of Deed Poll) he had to have a career in dogs! 23 dogs made up this Group and there was quite a buzz whilst judging took place as it was felt that two dogs were in close competition. Mr Bassett shortlisted seven: the Affenpinscher, the Griffon Bruxellois (the top contenders), the Smooth Coat Chihuahua, the Pekingese, the Pomeranian, the Pug and the Yorkshire Terrier (minus box as they are not shown this way in the USA). The Winner was the Griffon Bruxellois, judged in the breed by Beth Sweigart, M. & E. Gregory and A. & H. Jahlelka’s Ch Cilleine Masquerade. ‘Lincoln’ was bred in the UK by Denise Barney and was handled by Paul D. Catterson and won to roars of approval from the crowd. Group 2 was the Affenpinscher, Phil and Patty Smith’s Ch Tamarin Tug. ‘Taser’, the No. 1 Toy Dog in 2008, is named after their son who invented the weapon of that name and was handled expertly by Jorge Oliveira who is now established as one of the top handlers. Group 3 was the Pekingese, Sascha M. Rockefeller’s Ch Pequest Match Point, sired by Bert Easdon and Philip Martin’s Ch Yakee If Only. Group 4 was the Pomeranian, Margo Koga’s Ch Velocity’s Shake Ur Bon Bon.

The final Group was the Working Group and this was judged by Mrs Paula Nykiel. The Working Group was made up of 26 dogs and, making its appearance for the first time was the Dogue de Bordeaux. Fifteen were entered and we watched breed judging and were impressed with the construction and movement of virtually every exhibit. Mrs Nykiel reduced her line-up to eight: the Alaskan Malamute, the Boxer, the Doberman Pinscher, the Giant Schnauzer, the Newfoundland, the Portuguese Water Dog, the Rottweiler and the Tibetan Mastiff. Group 1 was the Giant Schnauzer, Mary Hayes and Joe & Carla Sanchez’ Ch Galilee’s Pure of Spirit. ‘Spirit’ was handled by Bill McFadden’s wife Taffy and is the Top Working Dog of 2008. Group 2 was the Boxer, D. McCarroll, M. Fagan, Mrs J. Billhardt and S. Tenenbaum’s Ch Winfall Brookwood Styled Dream. Group 3 was the Alaskan Malamute, Sandar D’Andrea, Dr. Stephen and Susan Rich and Grant George’s Ch Nanuke’s Still the One and Group 4 was the Richard W. Eichorn and Michael & Linda Brantley’s Ch Drakyi Gold Standard, whose sire was BOB last year when the breed made its first appearance at Westminster.

During an extended break and probably television news time the Main Ring was laid out for the Best in Show competition. The Best in Show judge was Mrs Sari Brewster Tietjen and she was escorted into the ring by Peter R. Van Brunt, President of Westminster and Thomas H. Bradley III, Chairman of the Dog Event Committee. Behind us the seven Group winners were assembled and the lights were momentarily dimmed, which was the signal for the crowd to start cheering, before they came into the Ring: the Scottish Deerhound, Ch Gayleward’s Tiger Woods, the Scottish Terrier, Ch Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot, the Standard Poodle, Ch Randenn Tristar Affirmation, the Puli, Ch Cordmaker Field of Dreams, the Sussex Spaniel, Ch Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee, the Griffon Bruxellois, Ch Cilleine Masquerade and the Giant Schnauzer, Ch Galilee’s Pure of Spirit. If I had had a decibel meter with me I am sure that the reading would have been off the scale as each dog was gaited. I wonder how many of our Top Dogs would cope with this and would not be fazed when faced with such rapturous support?

A hush fell over the crowd as each dog was moved once again and Best in Show was awarded to the Sussex Spaniel, Cecilia Ruggles, Beth Dowd and Scott Sommer’s Ch Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee, also known as ‘Stump’. With no Reserve Best in Show, all the other competitors sportingly congratulated the winner before leaving the Main Ring. I caught up with Jackie Beaudoin, the co-owner of the Puli to say how well Conrad had performed before going on to speak to the handler of my own personal tip for the top, ‘Sadie’ the Scottish Terrier, owned by Amelia Musser and handled by Gabriel Rangel. I was introduced to Gabriel’s wife Ivonne and also to Mr Dan and Mrs Amelia Musser. She told me that she had been persuaded to have a Scottish Terrier as her kennel manager bred them and she was eventually brow-beaten into relenting to have one, or as she put it ‘my one and only’! She went on to tell me that she had been in dogs for over 40 years and owned West Highland White Terriers, Wire Fox Terriers and Jack Russell Terriers, now Parson Russell Terriers. She has held the Breed Record in Westies since 1976 with Ch Bardine Bryo, the sire of many champions in the breed. She asked Gabriel to empty his pockets to show me something and told me that it was Bardine’s lead and that Gabriel was carrying it only for the second time as a lucky charm. I was so impressed I asked if I could hold it myself as it obviously brought success with it. A truly delightful tale from a most charming lady.

Once the official photographs had been taken in abundance we retired to the Press room to say our fond farewells to the team and to listen in to some of the official interviews with the winner of Best in Show. Once we had heard what his favourite food, his favoured relaxation method etc. were we decided to make our way to the Affinia Hotel for the post-BIS drinks party. Everyone who is anybody was there and it was extremely crowded although it was possible to get to the bar to order drinks, unlike here in the UK where it requires almost military precision to reach the barman. After chatting with various friends both old and new we retired to the dining room where Lisa Croft-Elliott (one of the official Westminster photographers and also my personal Our Dogs photographer) had booked dinner for a small group consisting of Carrie Russell-Smith, Vince Hogan and myself and Cindy for some time after midnight. We eventually sat down around 1am after greeting fellow diners, Liz Cartledge, the Flyckt-Pedersens, Paolo Dondina, Peter Green and Beth Sweigart at another table. Dan and Amelia Musser accompanied by Gabriel and Ivonne Rangel and Warren Bradley arrived shortly after us and a succession of people dropped by our table to say hello to Lisa and to have a chat. We finally finished dinner at 3am bringing to an end a truly memorable and enjoyable Westminster. Roll on 2010.

Click here to see images from the show

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