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A New Dog Sport “Legend” Is Born

Seven dogs compete for the ultimate title of Westminster Best in Show, but only one can come out top dog.

Seven dogs compete for the ultimate title of Westminster Best in Show, but only one can come out top dog.

Dog shows in today’s media are considered a quaint pastime, a hobby for a devoted group of dog fanciers, or quirky events that attract strangely passionate dog fanatics a la the popular film Best in Show. Once upon a time, however, dog shows were considered more than a quaint hobby but more like professional sports; and they were covered in the country’s leading newspaper, The New York Times, by a regular columnist by the name of Walter Fletcher. Fletcher wrote for the Times for over sixty years and covered the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for forty years. Fletcher died in February 2000 on the first day of the Westminster show.

Like sports fans, dog-show advocates are obsessed with statistics, and no kennel club keeps stats better than Westminster. Winning a Group or a Best in Show at the Garden guarantees a dog’s name goes down in history, and fanciers are fixated on which dog is the first of its breed, its sex, its color, and so forth to claim such a win. The Club itself rightly refers to its Best in Show winners as “Legends” in its own catalog and anoints the winner “America’s Dog.” Last year’s Best in Show Legend, GCh. Foxcliffe Hickory Wind, was the first Scottish Deerhound to ever win Westminster as well as the first Grand Champion (a new AKC title last year). Falling short of professional sports, dog shows have yet to retire a handler’s (armband) number or to hang a dog’s name on a jersey (or collar) at the top of Madison Square Garden arena. Likewise, the canine athletes (and their handlers) are paid considerably less (or nothing) to compete in their chosen sport compared to Brady, Jeter, or A-Rod.

Nonetheless, Tuesday night’s dog show continued with the Sporting Group, but the sport in question is hunting not football or baseball! Judging the Sporting dogs was Mr. W. Terry Stacy (Chapel Hill, NC) who began as a Junior Handler in the early 1950s showing his own Cocker Spaniel. He worked as a professional handler for 15 years prior to joining MBF Dog Shows at a superintendent and then went on to work for the American Kennel Club, where he helmed important projects to improve the quality of judging. He and his wife Jackie breed the highly regarded Tamarin Affenpinschers.  This was Mr. Stacy’s  first time judging a Group at Westminster.

That the stadium at Madison Square Garden was filled to near capacity speaks well of America’s love affair with purebred dogs—a perfect outing for Valentine’s Day in New York City, not to mention a fun and affordable evening of entertainment (much cheaper and somewhat less campy than Priscilla Queen of the Desert and many more laughs than Porgy and Bess!).

From the Sporting Group, the German Wirehaired Pointer, Labrador Retriever, English Setter, Irish Setter, English Springer Spaniel, Irish Water Spaniel and Wirehaired Pointing Griffon made Mr. Stacy’s first cut. His choice for Group 1 was the Irish Setter, GCh. Shadagee Caught Red Handed, handled by Adam Bernardin. “Emily,” as she’s known to her friends and fans, was the Top Sporting dog of 2009 and number three all breeds. Her show career was on hold last year when she whelped a litter of 15 puppies. Group 2 was German Wirehaired Pointer GCh. Mt. View’s Ripsnorter Silver Charm; Group 3 was the English Springer Spaniel GCh. Wynmoor Champagne Supernova, and Group 4, the Irish Water Spaniel GCh. Whistlestock’s Riley On Fire.

The Working Group was judged by Ms. Betty Regina Leininger (Frisco, TX), originally of Newfoundland, Canada, who made her mark  as a Doberman Pinscher breeder and exhibitor. Ms. Leininger began her professional handling career in 1971 and became a judge in 1983. She has judged shows on five continents and previously judged the Non-Sporting Group at Westminster in 2004.

The eight dogs the judge pulled were enormously popular, including the Alaskan Malamute, Bernese Mountain Dog, Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, Rottweiler, Samoyed, Standard Schnauzer, and Tibetan Mastiff. Ms. Leininger’s choice for Group 1 was the Doberman Pinscher GCh. Protocol’s Veni Vidi Vici, handled by breeder-owner Jocelyn Mullins; followed by the Boxer GCh. Winfall Brookwood Styled Dream, who has placed Group 2 at Westminster for the past two years;  Group 3, the Alaskan Malamute GCh. Catanyas Latin Lover,; and Group 4, Standard Schnauzer GCh. Pepper Tree Zorro V Morgenwald. The Doberman, “Fifi,”  was a recent winner of the national specialty and is currently the nation’s Top Dog.

Historically, the Terrier Group at Westminster has been one of the most competitive, and more dogs from this Group have emerged Best in Show than from any other Group. The Terrier Group judge was Mr. William F. Potter II (St. Louis, MO), whose background is in Irish Wolfhounds and Smooth Fox Terriers and more recently Norwich Terriers, all of which he has bred and owned. As a handler, he won national specialties with both the Wolfhounds and Smooths. He became an AKC-licensed judge in 1990, and this is his first Westminster Group assignment.

The Cesky Terrier was the newcomer in the Terrier Group, joining the Miniature Schnauzer as the only non-British or Irish breed in this Group of 29 breeds or varieties. Mr. Potter’s role tonight was to sort through a marvelous collection of dogs whose feelings of self importance and intelligence far exceeded the humans in the ring. His first cut included the American Staffordshire Terrier, Australian Terrier, Border Terrier, Smooth Fox Terrier, Kerry Blue Terrier, Scottish Terrier, Skye Terrier, and Welsh Terrier. The seventh dog to compete for Best in Show tonight was Kerry Blue Terrier GCh. Perrisblu Kennislain’s Chelsey, handled by Bill McFadden, this year’s Best Professional Handler. In 2003, Mr. McFadden won Best in Show with another Kerry here, “Mick,” Ch. Torums Scarf Michael. Group 2 was the Smooth Fox Terrier, GCh. Slyfox Sneak’s a Peek, last year’s Group winner; Group 3 went to the Skye Terrier GCh. Cragsmoor Buddy Goodman; Group 4 was the American Staffordshire Terrier GCh. Castle Rock’s Bigstaff Mad About You, a Hungarian import who won the famed Terrier show Montgomery County Kennel Club in 2010.

The seven dogs contending for Westminster Best in Show entered the big ring—representing  the Sporting Group, the Irish Setter, selected by Mr. Stacy; the Hound Group, the Wirehaired Dachshund, selected by Ms. Laurans; the Working Group, the Doberman Pinscher, selected by Ms. Leininger; the Terrier Group, Kerry Blue Terrier, selected by Mr. Potter; the Toy Group, the Pekingese, selected by Mr. Catterson; the Non-Sporting Group, the Dalmatian, selected by Mr. Garren; and the Herding Group, the German Shepherd Dog, selected by Mr. Clark. 

Judging Best in Show this year for the first time at Westminster is Cindy Vogels , a Long Island native now living in Greenwood Village, CO, whose claim to fame has been her top-winning and producing Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, of which she’s bred over 100 champions. Mrs. Vogels and her mom Jacqueline Gottlieb were among the original breeders whose dedication to the breed led to its AKC recognition in 1973. She judged the Terrier Group at the Garden in 2005. Mrs. Vogel has been active in her breed’s national parent club, for which she serves as past president, as well as with Take the Lead and the AKC’s Canine Health Foundation, for which she is the chairperson. She and her husband David also breed, raise and show Morgan horses, and in Mrs. Vogels’s spare time, she runs marathons.

The crowd was rowdy and vocal for all seven Group winners, so no matter which of the seven dogs Mrs. Vogels chose to turn into a “Legend,” the crowd approved, or rather most of it! Of the seven dogs in the ring, three breeds have never won Best in Show at the Garden: the Dalmatian, Irish Setter, and Dachshund, and it shall remain that way. By Mrs. Vogel’s choice, the 136th Annual Westminster Kennel Club’s new Legend was the Pekingese GCh. Palacegarden Malachy, handled by David Fitzpatrick. An English import, Malachy was last year’s Group winner and the Top Toy for 2011. He is owned by Iris Love, Sandra Middlebrooks, and David Fitzpatrick and was bred by Jim and Jean Smith. Mr. Fitzpatrick has been showing Pekes for decades and is the nation’s most successful handler specializing in this unique Oriental breed.  Malachy became the fourth Pekingese ever to win Westminster, with the last winner being Ch. Wendessa Crown Prince in 1990.

And so the tradition of Westminster continues, a new Legend is born, and we have a new “America’s Dog” to boast until 137th show in 2013. Long live Malachy, the Peke!!

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