Each year Poodle fanciers from around the world make way to their breed's ultimate extravaganza, the Poodle Club of America's National Specialty. Although the location has travelled over the years to various East coast locales, and despite a gradual calendar shift, the event seems to have settled nicely into its small-town America home in Salisbury, Maryland late April. This year marked the show's 77th anniversary and boasted an entry of 800+ Poodles across the three varieties with Standards leading the way in terms of numbers, followed by Toys and Minis respectively.
There were entrants from many countries including the UK, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Canada and Brazil amongst others, and acknowledging this the Club provided a Foreign Visitor's Reception throughout each of the three days offering coffee, tea, soft drinks and snacks as well as the chance to sit down and catch up with friends. It seemed that the Poodle rings at WELKS must have been less crowded this year with so many Poodley Brits enjoying the scene at PCA. Spotted ringside were Anita Bax, Peter Young, Drew and Debbie Elrick, Phillip Langdon, Susan Crummey, Sandra Dennison, Kay and Audra Cornwell , Mike Gasdby and myself to name a few. The show's venue is the Wicomico Civic Center, and is held entirely indoors with plenty of space for grooming. As is typical at the American shows, dogs are permitted to remain in the building over night. A security guard was on hand to stay in the building until the doors opened each morning at 6.
The show ring itself was spectacular and provided the perfect setting for this most-glamorous of breeds. Although the show is held indoors, the giant ring is laid with real grass and surround by white fencing. Huge floral arrangements grace all four corners as well as giant white
Poodle topiaries made of carnations. So while it made for a fabulous backdrop for the week's proceedings, the natural footing was ideal for handlers to exhibit their dogs the best way possible.
Wednesday was the start of breed competition with Standard dogs being judged by Donald Sturz of NY. Dr Sturz has a long association with Golden Retrievers and more recently top winning black Minis. Still young, he is emerging as one of America's most respected and admired judges, and has a calm and confident manner in the way he conducts his ring. From 100 males he found his winner in the 12-18 black Jaset's Satisfaction, with Reserve going to the puppy Bred-By winner Aleph American Idol, also black.
Minis were next and it was long-time Poodle authority Richard Bauer of Florida passing judgement. He found his winner in the black puppy Dassin Hillwood Dierks Bentley, and Reserve in Bar King Cinbren Standout. The size of entry in Miniatures tends to be less than that of the other varieties, but for what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in a sizable pool of serious, intelligent and dedicated breeders who consistently maintain a high level of quality in the ring. The Minis in America are often smaller in height and more refined than what we are used to seeing in the UK. And of course in the US the second puppy trim is not permitted in any size variety once a dog reaches 12 months of age. One wonders what some of the UK Mini's would look like in Continental trim with feet and hindquarters exposed.
It’s no secret that the second puppy trim allows for a multitude of sins to be hidden beneath the coat, such as flat feet and straight rears. Seeing them in Continental and Saddle trim separates the proverbial men from the boys, and as some UK exhibitors have noted would make for a more deliberate transition from puppy to adulthood.
At 1 o'clock the Toy judging commenced with established Toy breeder Norma Strait adjudicating. Winners dog was awarded to the white puppy Saratoga Sugar Swirl, and Reserve to Smash JP Close Up. Toy Poodles from Japan have been at the center of international interest lately, and yet again the Smash kennel of Japan made a near sweep in Toys winning Best of Variety, Best of Winners and Best of Opposite Sex. English-bred dogs fared well in the Toy ring, with a white Starwood puppy dog named ''Fair and Square'' winning the 6-9 class handled by Peter Young, and a white puppy champion bred by Anita Bax (Taladayga Lotsmoor Albert) and handled by Martin Gregory of CA winning the 1st Award of Merit in a huge line up of Toy champions. The US standard calls for a maximum height of 10 inches in this variety, making many of our English dogs useless for competition in America and conversely many US dogs would look out of place in a British ring. The latter is unfortunate as the British standard simply calls for ''up to 11 inches'' and does not suggest that 10'' dogs are less desirable. Some of the American breeders I spoke to would prefer to be allowed that extra inch that is allowed by most other standards. Breeders are often regrettably forced to part with quality stock if it stands above the 10-mark. As with the Miniatures, the majority of Toys present were shown in Continental trim. It will be interesting to see in the years to come if this trend finds its way to Britain.
Thursday was designated for the judging of bitches. Once again Standards began first, culminated in Dr Sturz awarding the big one to Alamann Worth Every Penny , a black bitch from the Open class shown in English saddle trim. The bitch was a popular choice with the ringside, and was handled by the young Kirk Hermann who surely will never forget that April day. Interestingly the bitch is a granddaughter of the UK's own Ch Afterglow The Big Tease. Reserve winners went to the the precocious white puppy bitch Brighton Lakeridge Encore, who would later be awarded Best Puppy in Show.
In Minis Mr Bauer gave the nod to a great moving white in continental trim called Aery's Intuition, from the Open class. She was breeder/owner/handlled by Richard Bohannon. The reserve was awarded to a sparkling black puppy named Bar King Fair Isle Poppy Seed. It was the second Reserve of the week for this well-known prefix.
In the late afternoon Toy bitches began. The first 2 placements in Open were kennel mates from Japan. Repeating her win as a puppy from last year was the black Smash JP Mama Mia, who came back all grown up in continental trim to defend her title by going Winners. Although bred in Japan her pedigree boasts a variety of English black breeding. Second in Open went to the white younger sister of the famous ''Win A Victory'' a bitch called simply Smash JP Win. Win is also a former PCA points winner to give you an idea of the level of competition in bitches! The Reserve went to the youngster Paperbirch Miley Cyrus, handled again by Kirk Hermann.
The final day of the show is devoted to the Champion classes and intersex/variety competition. It is important to note that prior to Wednesday's judging there were several performance events held by PCA, including a tracking test, a working hunt test, a retriever test as well as an agility competition and regular obedience classes, all reflecting the breed's incredible versatility and working gundog roots. There were also a variety of educational seminars on health, breeding and judging held early in the week. Not oblivious to the challenges facing breeders,
there were walk-in health test clinics for heart and eye amongst others. And the vast hall of vendors overflowing with Poodle art and kitsch as well as top-class grooming supplies and equipment were certain to have something for everyone.
The Variety classes are probably the most visually stunning of the week. Imagine a sea of meticulously trimmed Poodles lined up and moving in unison around a giant manicured grass ring. It is truly a sight to behold regardless of what size you are drawn to. The Mini classes began the morning on Friday and from a spectacular assortment of champions.
Richard Bauer found his winner in the ultra-stylish black Ch Campostela The Perfect Storm. Best of Winners went to the class dog, and Best Opposite to Leslie Simis' white CH Durandel Fashionista.
In Toy competition the famous white CH Northwell Chako JP Platina King, a former Top Dog All Breeds in America, came out of retirement to win Best Veteran, earning him the right to compete for the Variety win. In a beautiful line-up Mrs Strait awarded the Variety to the States' current big winner Ch Smash JP Moon Walk, a white son of the World Show winner ''Talk About.'' He is handled by master-presenter Kaz Hosaka. Best of Opposite was another white, CH Smash JP Rock N Roll, handled by Mr Smash himself Toshi Ohmura. Platina King won an Award of Merit.
A massive entry of Standard champions was dealt to judge Don Sturz. In the same decisive manner displayed all week he narrowed the competition down layer by layer, and in the end proclaimed the black bitch Ch Randenn Tristar Affirmation as Best. ''Yessie'' was last year's PCA BIS winner, and has had a spectacular career that includes nearly 100 all-breed BIS earning her the title of top winning black of all time.
Best of Winners went to the class male, and Best Opposite to the upstanding black CH Bar None Dawin Travellin Man. It may interest readers that a dog bred in the UK by Margaret Kendall, CH Magin Driving Me Crazy, captured a coveted Award of Merit in the final.
Judge Jordan Chamberlain was assigned the envious task of declaring Best in Show. To the suprise of the ringside and I dare say his handler, the Mini ''Perfect Storm'' was selected Best. Then all 3 Best Opposite bitches were called into the ring to challenge for Best Opp. This made for a particularly embarrassing situation for the breeder/handler of the Toy, who had been so immersed in watching the afternoon judging that he forgot to have his bitch prepared in the event she would be called back in. After several minutes that must have felt like hours to those involved, a perky albeit disheveled white Toy bitch entered the ring with a single band in her flowing top knot. In the end it was the Standard Yes who claimed the title.
When you speak to people about PCA there is a unique sense of reverence surrounding the show that is unlike anything I have experienced before in dogs. PCA is a near religious experience, and the trek draws followers from around the world to that tiny Maryland town ,an hour's drive from the nearest major airport. In a breed which brings presentation to its highest level there is a genuine respect and admiration for those who excel at their art. It is a wonderful place to people watch and to study the finest presenters create their master works. It is a place where the statesmen and women of the breed are paid homage, and the younger generation is acknowledged and encouraged. It is a place to study the best the breed has to offer from around the world. PCA is truly a celebration of all things Poodle in all of its forms. The breed's many loyal and devoted students will hopefully keep the passion and excitement burning strong for years to come.
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