From the June 2018 Issue of ShowSight. CLICK TO SUBSCRIBE.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in New York City and grew up in New Jersey. My parents fled Cuba after the Castro revolution. My father was an architect and would commute to NYC for work. In 1975 the family moved to Los Angeles when Dad went to start an architectural firm in Beverly Hills.
Do you come from a doggy family? And if not, how did the interest in breeding and showing begin?
I did not come from a dog family, thus my start was slow. My first dog was a Poodle mix. By age 11, I begged my parents for a purebred dog. Not being savvy in dog matters they bought a pet store Siberian Husky. It wasn’t the strongest start for a show hobby, but we had fun. My dog was healthy, but of poor breed quality. Nonetheless, that “pet” ignited my passion to show and breed. He never won a point and we were mediocre in Juniors. Being self-taught is not a fast track for success, but it will test your determination and commitment. I bought the Forsyth Guide to Successful Dog Showing, subscribed to the AKC Gazetteand devoured everything I could read about purebred dogs. Then one day I saw a Kuvasz in the AKC Complete Dog Book and fell in love. It wasn’t just the beauty, but the temperament and character. I knew immediately this was my breed. After finishing college and law school I found my first Kuvasz.
Who were your mentors in the sport?
I did not have a single mentor. It wasn’t easy with a geographically dispersed rare breed, long before the internet came to be. I visited breeders of that era including Claudia Buss, Nancy McGuire, Loretta Ouelette, Mayling Koval, Marla and David Conkey and Sally Ferguson. I think it is also important to have advisors from your breed’s country of origin. My Hungarian friends, the late Paul Yuhasz and Art Sorkin, taught me quite a bit and helped develop my vision.
You have accomplished so much in a relatively uncommon breed. What breeding philosophies do you
I wish I had a sophisticated response, but to me breeding is an intangible blend of science, art and gut instinct. I’ve read all the great books on dog breeding but sometimes those methods aren’t always possible, especially in a tiny gene pool. That quest for unattainable perfection is what ultimately drives us as breeders. I’ve tried my best to blend pedigrees focused on health, temperament, conformation and, above all, type. Breed type is everything and if it is not the altar at which you worship, then nothing else matters. I was taught that if a dog sticks its head through a hole in the fence you should immediately know what breed it is. In regard to Kuvasz, I often say that if you look across the showgrounds and have to do a doubletake as to whether it is a Great Pyrenees or a white Borzoi, then it lacks Kuvasz type.
Our gene pool is small and I’ve found that it is important for Kuvasz breeders to find and work with other breeders whose dogs complement the shortcomings in your own dogs. In my opinion, some of the best breedings in Kuvasz never occurred because of personality conflicts among people. We are as stubborn and proud as our dogs. For me, maturity as a breeder and, ultimately, a person was a process. It meant checking my ego at the door and minimizing the inclination toward kennel blindness. I believe my success has been in the ability to form breeding “cooperatives” with other breeders whom I respect, even those who don’t share my precise vision of the perfect Kuvasz. In fact, I believe I became a better breeder once I stepped out of my comfort zone and incorporated lines that may have been different in style from those I preferred but still had great things to offer.
Discussing and defending your view of the breed standard is an important part of a lifelong educational process. We truly work as a team. Our finest dogs have come about through partnerships with the Kuvasz of Mauna Kea, Glacier Creek and Peachtree.
How many Kuvasz (and now Pumis too!) do you typically keep at Ederra? Tell us about your current facilities and how the dogs are maintained.
We are a small, family-based operation and have, at most, one litter a year. Our home was a chicken ranch and sits on six acres in Silverado, California. We converted several structures into kennels and runs. We typically average six dogs here at one time. The summers get very hot so we have two air-conditioned buildings and a treadmill where dogs can escape the heat and still get exercise.
The Pumi is a new breed to us and a natural transition, given my love of Hungarian dogs. We have three and are expecting our first litter this summer. I was recently elected President of the Hungarian Pumi Club of America and I am excited for this new adventure. My passion has always been for the Hungarian breeds and I would someday like to be a judge, specializing in the dogs of Hungary across the groups: not only the Kuvasz and Komondor but also the Pumi, Puli, Mudi and Vizsla! From there I would love to expand my education to other Livestock Guards I admire like the Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherd.
Who were/are some of your most significant dogs, both in the whelping box and in the show ring?
My first two bitches did not produce well. Although counterintuitive, I actually kept a male from a litter by Ch. Windflowers Sweet Flag x Ch. Lofranco Budavar Prima Megan. I just couldn’t part with that boy and I knew he was special. That pup was “Major” (Ch. Ederra’s Canis Major Arrakis) who became a multiple group winner and one of the top-producing sires in the breed. So I worked the process backwards, starting with a foundation stud instead of a bitch. Instead of gambling with puppy bitches, I was able to lease outstanding, mature and proven bitches and that formula worked well for me. Our first success was “Phaedra” (Ch. Shambala West Phaedra) who produced the famous “Kaffiene Kid” litter with multiple group placers of both sexes.
Another good producer was “Taylor,” Ch. Lambent’s National Velvet, who produced one of my favorite bitches of all time, “Terra” (SBIS GCh. Ederra’s Terra Nova), as well as Ch. Ederra’s Yosemite and Ch. Ederra’s Haleakala.
Recently, “Lina” (GCh. Glacier Creek Mtn Wildflower) has made unparalleled contributions. Bred and owned by my friend Deb Blank of Glacier Creek Kuvasz, we used 20-year-old frozen semen from “Major” to co-breed a stunning litter of three puppies with the biggest star being our two-time National Specialty winner and MBIS/MSBIS GCh. Ederra Glacier the Power of Mo’Ne. Mo’Ne is exclusively shown and co-owned by 17-year-old Caroline Clegg who I often refer to as my “junior partner.” Caroline’s parents, Brian and Mary Clegg, have decades of experience in Kuvasz and handled many for me through the years. Mary showed a bitch I co-bred with Sue Riipa named “Image” (MBIS/SBIS Ch. Mauna Ederra’s Double Image) to a National Specialty, multiple all-breed Best in Shows and a Group placement at Westminster. But without a doubt young Caroline is the star handler in our show program. Her skill and connection with the dogs
Please comment positively on your breed's present condition and what trends might bear watching.
I’m generally pleased with the state of the Kuvasz. Our breeders have worked hard to improve health and temperament. Twenty-five years ago we had weak rears and a higher rate of hip dysplasia. Pigment overall is very good
and much improved. Our coats seem to be in good condition. I think the overall texture of coats in different lines is very good. If caution is indicated I would say Kuvasz breeders need to be vigilant about front assemblies, heads, tails, and overall soundness and movement. I still see too
many dogs that lack athleticism, that pace or do not cover ground effortlessly. The Kuvasz shouldn’t be short strided or stilted in gait. In addition, a Kuvasz should not be shown at a run. They should be able to cover the maximum amount of ground with the fewest number
The sport has changed greatly since you began as a breeder-exhibitor. What are your thoughts on the state of the fancy and the declining number of breeders?
The “adopt, don’t shop” campaign coupled with increasing governmental restrictions on breeding (especially in my home state of California) has resulted in the decline of breeders. California recently outlawed the sale of purebred dogs in pet stores. While on the surface this may seem like a good thing (since some of these dogs come from puppy mills or less than honorable breeders) the greater implication and problem is that it again reduces the public’s access to purebred dogs. Ideally purebred dogs should be purchased from ethical and responsible breeders, but there are many successful people in the dog fancy like myself whose first purebred was purchased from a pet store or backyard breeder. It is that market we will now lose since the start of these sham “retail rescue” marketers.
Being involved in a rare breed, you may have some very specific concerns. How do we encourage newcomers to join us and remain in the sport?
I believe that we need to think outside the box to get young people involved in our sport before purebred dogs become a thing of the past. We need to utilize social media more effectively to reach the next generation. AKC needs to tell the next generation why “purpose-bred” dogs still matter in a modern world. We need to find those
who possess passion. I am confident that there are millions of kids out there who, like me, weren’t raised in dog families but can become passionate and significant contributors to our sport. They are out there; it is just that we have not figured out how to find them or tap into their enthusiasm. Youth farming organizations like the 4-H clubs are a good place to start.
What are your plans for Ederra in the next decade or two?
Well, I will be quite a “senior” lady in the next decade or two, but assuming I am here I would still like to be breeding Kuvasz and Pumi. I would love for Caroline Clegg to take over my breeding program and I still have a lot of great, historical stud dogs cryogenically frozen. I recently purchased all of the last remaining semen of a wonderful Kuvasz of the 1990s named “Django” (Ch. August Django) and am already planning for some exciting combinations.
Finally, tell us a little about Maria outside of dogs... your profession, your hobbies.
I graduated in 1986 from Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and practiced in Wisconsin for two years before moving to California and taking the bar. I was a senior trial attorney for USAA Insurance where I worked for 20 years before starting a firm with my husband David who is also an attorney. David and I actually met in a deposition as opponents in litigation in a dog bite case. We’ve been married for 23 years and have two wonderful adult children, Jacqueline and Michael.
Other than dogs, I love to hike. I summited Mount Whitney (the highest peak in the contiguous US) in 2013. Other hobbies include travel and golf. I am good at one of these and not the other. In 2012 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent about two years of treatment, including five surgeries and 12 rounds of chemotherapy. As a survivor, I’ve spent time since then counseling other women