A Gentleman Gets the Dog
With plenty of Best of Breeds and a smattering of Group placements behind them, Larry Johnson really felt it was time to let a professional handler take Charlie. The Johnsons chose Bill Trainor to take their beloved pet because he seemed genuinely interested in the dog’s well being, he had good manners and he seemed kind. Westminster Best in Show-winning handler and UKC executive vice president Mark Threlfall apprenticed under Bill Trainor during this period and traveled extensively with him. Of Trainor Threlfall says, “He was the most principled man I have ever met. If faced with a dilemma — take advantage or do what is right — he would always do what was right. That’s why he was so successful. He was a kind, thoughtful person and a real man of his word. Dogs always came first in his book but people were important, too.” Agreeing with Threlfall’s thoughts on the late Bill Trainor, Ann Johnson said, “Bill was a good person. He was a total gentleman, the father of all the people that he touched. As novices, we were watching all these handlers at the show and they were not all good people.”
During the Philadelphia Kennel Club show, after Charlie and Larry won the breed, they approached Trainor and asked him to take Charlie into the Group ring. Bill agreed. Later Bill told Ann, “We placed, but Charlie is young and full of himself.” Six months later, the Johnsons again asked Bill to show Charlie, this time for the Eastern Regional Golden Retriever Specialty which was adjacent to an all-breed show over a hill. Bill agreed to show Charlie, but the Johnsons didn’t want to leave the dog with Trainor. Taking their VW bus on yet another excursion, the family camped on the showgrounds and kept the dog with them. “We said we’d bring him over and drop him off at Bill’s setup” says Ann, which is what they did. “Larry had done the grooming on the dog but Bill said he’d still have to work on him a little.”
Leaving Charlie behind, the Johnsons went up to the ring to watch judging and were horrified to realize that Best of Breed was already in the ring. Judging that day was legendary all-rounder Louis Murr. As he went over dog after dog, the Johnsons hearts lodged in their throats. “Where are Bill and Charlie?” they wondered. Suddenly, they saw a man running down the big hill, pulled by an exuberant Golden Retriever. Murr had every right to not allow them into the ring, but he did. When Charlie walked into the ring with Trainor, the Johnsons’ eyes almost popped to see their dog’s transformation. Bill had been late because he had been grooming Charlie. Trainor’s masterful talent in the grooming tent was evident.
In the ring that day was the top Golden Retriever for 1973, Ch. Wochica’s Okeechobee Jake. A solid, well-made dog, ‘Jake’ was handled by none other than Bobby Stebbins. Louis Murr already had them lined up in front and Stebbins was putting on a real show, and Jake, who was all heart, was wowing the crowd. Still, Murr wanted to see Charlie. He walked over and put his hands on this new dog, running them down the smooth shoulders, now feeling between the dog’s front legs, now running them over the dog’s impressive prosternum, now up on the back, sweeping across the topline, stopping to measure the relationship between spring of rib and length of loin. Finally Murr ran his hands over the rear, stopping to notice the well-developed muscle and sturdy second thigh, ending with a lift and feel for proper tail rudder before stepping back to gaze at the beauty he had seen with his hands. While Murr stood staring, Trainor free-baited his dog and the Johnsons’ hearts thumped loudly in their chests. Finally, Murr asked for a down and back. Watching the big dog float across the lawn caused Murr to stand with chin in hand. “He was in deep concentration,” says Johnson. With the down and back complete, Murr looked for expression, finally releasing them for a once around the ring and back into place. Murr stood still, watching the dog. With one eye on the judge, Trainor baited Charlie into another stack and held his gaze just like Bobby was doing with Jake. Time seemed to stand still and the Johnsons’ hearts were racing wildly.
Finally, Murr gestured to Bill to pull Charlie to the head of the line, in front of his rival, and ringside screams filled the air. Sending them around the ring, everyone was clapping and as Mr. Murr said, “Best of Breed,” and pointed as Charlie gaited by, cheers rang out all around. With this win, the Johnsons realized their belief in the dog was warranted. “We were stunned,” said Ann. “Charlie had won his first specialty. We had been right all along. He really was an excellent specimen.”
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