Westminster 2019: Judges’ Observations


  • April 08, 2019
  • Westminster Judges discuss this years events

From the March 2019 Issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe.

Westminster 2019: Judges’ Observations

1. Describe the thrill of not only being invited, but actually judging.
2. First or Repeat time judging at the Garden?
3. Breed(s) judged?
4. What were you doing when you received your invitation?
5. What’s different about this assignment than all others?
7. How does Westminster affect the sport?
8. Do you think the televised coverage helps our cause?

 

Douglas Johnson

Douglas Johnson of Bloomington, Indiana, received his first AKC purebred dog, a Clumber Spaniel, as a birthday present from his parents, which has led to a lifetime dedication to the sport of purebred dogs. Breeding under the world-famous Clussexx prefix, he has produced more than 200 champion Clumber Spaniels, Sussex Spaniels, Welsh Springer Spaniels, English Toy Spaniels and Pekingese. He has a passion for breeding dogs and continues to run a top breeding program today. His dogs have won more than 150 Best in Show awards and 14 national specialties across three breeds.

Mr. Johnson has produced two Westminster Best in Show winners and is the only breeder to have bred Westminster BIS winners in two different breeds: in 1996, the Clumber Spaniel Ch. Clussexx Country Sunrise (‘Brady’) and in 2009 the Sussex Spaniel Ch. Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee (‘Stump’). Stump, at ten years old, was the oldest dog to ever win BIS at Westminster.

Mr. Johnson was awarded American Kennel Club’s Sporting Breeder of the Year award in 2005 and was a Judge of the Year Nominee for 2017. His kennel was awarded the Winki Award for Breeders of the year in 2018. He is a member of the Santa Barbara Kennel Club, Hoosier Kennel Club, The Bloomington Indiana Kennel Club, and is a lifetime member of the Clumber Spaniel Club of America.

This was my second group assignment for the Westminster Kennel Club. It is always a fun and exciting time. Breed(s) judged: Sporting Group

There is an excitement and energy that comes with this show. The venue and the city that never sleeps brings a high level to the thrill of judging. The lights, the green carpet and the breed signs, the live telecast and the announcer all work to stimulate all of the senses. It is a like no other show in so many ways. I am always grateful for the privilege of an assignment there.

What was I doing when I received your invitation? The invitations come out of the blue really especially so this year as the previous times they came much later in the year. I was simply checking the mail.

This assignment was especially important to me as it was to judge the group I have worked in for over 35 years. I still breed and show in this group of dogs so being asked to adjudicate this group becomes very personal. Additionally, I am very familiar with the breeds in great depth so I hold a higher bar for quality than the average judge. Having won breeds in the group for over 20 years, I know what it takes to get to this level of competition. I also know the type of dog I want to see win this group. A dog who represents the best his breed can be. I was fortunate on that night to have a few examples who are the very definition of their breed. 

How does Westminster affect the sport? The affects of the WKC on our sport are deep and long lasting. It is the public’s opportunity to see our sport. The exposure is wonderful and this telecast was better than ever thanks in large part to the addition to Dr. Donald Sturz.

Do you think the televised coverage helps our cause? Without question the coverage is beneficial to all of us who work to protect and preserve our individual breeds.

 

Pat Trotter

Patricia Craige Trotter registered her first litter of Vin-Melca Norwegian Elkhounds in 1951 and her most recent litter this year. Her breeding program has produced the Top Sire and Dam in the breed’s history as well as the breed’s top winners. Vin-Melca Elkhounds have won an incredible 11 Hound Group firsts at Westminster, all 
owner-handled.

When Ch. Vin-Melca’s Vagabond became Top Dog All Breeds in 1970, he was the first amateur handled dog to achieve that honor. Pat handled her own dogs to Top Ten All Breed status on ten different occasions while holding down a full-time teaching job. Her Elkhounds were regular winners of Top Hound honors and Quaker Oats awards.

Names such as Vagabond, Howdy Rowdy, Nimbus, Smuggler, Calista, Marketta, Silver Shadow, Top O’ The Mark, and more recently “Duffy” are amongst the legendary hounds produced by this family. Thirty-eight Vin-Melca Elkhounds have accumulated all-breed BIS honors to date. Today’s dogs represent untold generations descending from that 1951 litter. Personal honors include the ProPlan Hall of Fame, two Fido awards as Dog Woman of the Year and AKC’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

First or Repeat time judging at the Garden? the was a repeat judging assignment

Breed(s) judged: Hound Group

It was super exciting to have such a glorious group; I felt honored.

The difference between this assignment and others is in addition to the marvelous tradition of the Westminster Kennel Club itself, there is the excitement and magic of Madison Square Garden too.

Yes, I believe the televised coverage helps our cause.

 

James Moses

James A. Moses has been involved with dogs all of his life. His mother bred Miniature Poodles from which Jim won his very first best in show. His father gave him his first dog, a German Shepherd when he was nine years old. Jim finished his first champion by the age of 13 and by 19, handled the number one dog all breeds in Canada. Jim has handled dogs to over 1000 best in shows. Over the years, Jim has been honored to have won some very notable shows including the AKC Centennial show and the Westminster Kennel Club with CH Covy Tucker Hill’s Manhattan. He has handled four dogs in the “100 Club” including the number one dog of all time, CH Altana’s Mystique. Jim and Mystique won 275 BIS and 30 BISS. In 1999, Jim was inducted to the Dog Show Hall of Fame. Jim has handled many other breeds to best in show and specialty wins. In addition to handling, he has been the top herding group winner with several German Shepherds he has bred under the Kaleef prefix.

The past few years have seen several Kaleef dogs take the Grand Victor honors at the Canadian and US German Shepherd Dog Nationals. Jim’s love of dogs and the sport has been the focus of his adult life. Jim is also an avid sportsman and outdoorsman and is enjoying balancing breeding, judging and retirement.

First or Repeat time judging at the Garden? Repeat

Breed(s) judged: I only judged the Working Group

It is always a humbling experience being asked to judge, as well as an honor to judge these beautiful dogs presented to me.

Westminster has always been a great way to educate the public on purebred dogs, as well as bringing new blood to our sport.

Do I think the televised coverage helps our cause: absolutely! We are at war with animal rights activists, and it is important that the public is well educated to keep our sport alive.

 

CHRISTINE ERICKSON

She lives in Mesa, Arizona and was raised in Burbank, California. She has been involved in the sport of purebred dogs all her life. Her parents bred and showed Bedlington Terriers and as their love for the sport grew, they began to handle for others, specializing in Terriers. For decades both were multiple AKC Group judges each judging at Westminster Kennel Club making Chris the second generation to judge at Westminster.

Ms. Erickson shared their love of Terriers and began showing and breeding Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers in 1975. Over the years she has owned, bred and exhibited Australian Terriers, Bedlington Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, Smooth Fox Terriers, Silky Terriers, Welsh Terriers and Wire Dachshunds. Her Miniature Wire Dachshund won the variety at Westminster back-to-back in 2010 and 2011. In addition, she served for many years on the Board of Directors for the Great Western Terrier Association, which her mother founded and was Show Chairman for the Scottsdale Dog 
Fancier Association.

She began judging in 2002 and at present is approved for the Terrier and Hound Groups, along with several Toys, Poodles and Best in Show.

Ms. Erickson has judged at Montgomery County Kennel Club, Morris & Essex Kennel Club, and the 
Dachshund National.

She is a retired Human Resource Director from AT&T and is very active working retail as a Client Specialist at Talbots Women’s Apparel and as a Real Estate 
Sales Consultant.

This is her second judging assignment at Westminster.

Repeat time in judging Westminster. In 2014 I judged six Terrier breeds: Airedales, Smooth and Wire Fox Terriers, Miniature Schnauzers, Soft Coated Wheaten, and Welsh Terrier.

Describe the thrill of not only being invited, but also actually judging: absolutely fabulous! When you open the invitation you are not sure what is inside. Your emotions are all over the place. This is what you have worked for your entire life in this sport. When I received the Terrier Group invitation I broke down and cried. I just sat there thanking my parents who guided me on this journey and I certainly felt their presence on the floor Tuesday night.

Westminster is the Super-bowl of our sport. I feel most exhibitors put in many long, hard hours every day, conditioning their dogs, with the hope of winning a ribbon 
at Westminster.

Do I think the televised coverage helps our cause: yes, I believe any positive coverage that proves the dedication of pure-bred dog breeders, helps our sport. That being said I did hear the crowd’s negative reaction to “their” choice not being selected and I was incredibly disappointed. Such behavior is totally unacceptable. Although we call this a sport, the crowd seems to now equate it with a “sporting event.” It is a dog show, not a football game!

 

Sharon Newcomb

International judge, owner, breeder, handler over the years. Involved in the sport of pure bred dogs for more than 
fifty years.

First or Repeat time judging at the Garden? Third time judging. First group. Breed(s) judged: Toy Group

Describe the thrill of not only being invited, but actually judging: it is our Super Bowl. The quality was deeper than I have ever had.

What was I doing when I received my invitation: what a rush to pull an envelope out of the mailbox with the Westminster return address.

What’s different about this assignment than all others: it’s a little like being “Queen For A Day.” The many years you see the groups from the boxes and then to be involved with the outcome is heady stuff.

How Westminster affects the sport: stunning how much PR we had this year. The club did an amazing job. There was coverage around the country and New York City was covered with dog pictures and information.

Do I think the televised coverage helps our cause: no question the televised coverage educates and makes friends for the sport of purebred dogs. Lots of buzz.

 

Mark R. Kennedy

This was my third judging assignment with the Westminster Kennel Club. I judged the Non-Sporting Group, on Monday night, February 11, 2019. Judging at Westminster is a very honorable and unique experience. I was getting ready for our kennel club meeting when my invitation arrived in my mail box at home.

Westminster is a different judging experience because of it being held in Madison Square Garden and the major national television coverage. The Annual Masters Agility Championship on Saturday evening is something every dog person should try to attend. The various breeds competing on the course is nothing short of amazing. This year a Bulldog was competing.

The Westminster Kennel Club officers, staff, and members managed the entire venue, from start to finish, with outstanding professionalism, excellent communication skills, and an enhanced devotion to purebred dogs. It is a unique dog show.

 

Peggy Beisel-McIlwaine

It wasn’t until high school that Peggy Beisel-McIlwaine discovered the world of dog shows. After graduating in 1973, she bought her first show dog, an Old English Sheepdog. She continued her education by attending the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay, and showing her dog 
on weekends.

In 1977 Peggy began a three year apprenticeship with Terrier master George Ward, where she discovered her love for Terriers, specifically Wire Fox Terriers. It was also during her apprenticeship with Ward that Peggy met her husband to be, Sandy McIlwaine. They married in 1980, establishing Foxairn Kennels in Ann Arbor, specializing in Wire Fox and Cairn Terriers. One notable handling client, among others in their thriving business, was the legendary Cairn breeder, Mrs. Betty Hyslop, of Ontario, Canada.

Peggy and Sandy have three sons, Patrick, Trevor and Ian, and one daughter-in-law, Cara and most recently their first grandchild, Siobhan McIlwaine. In 1996 she retired from the demands of professional handling and was approved to judge the Terrier Group and Junior 
Showmanship. She is also approved to judge the Sporting, Herding and Toy group, as well as several working breeds and a few Hound and Non-Sporting breeds. She has judged internationally, with assignments in the UK, Australia, Scandinavia, the Philippines, South America, Mexico, Spain, South Korea and China. She has judged at Westminster on many occasions, and in 2006 judged the Terrier group. She has judged at the AKC/Eukanuba Invitational show on a few occasions and judged the Terrier group in 2012 and Herding group in 2017. She has judged breeds at the famous Montgomery County Terrier show on several occasions and in 2010 she was honored by judging best in show at this famous Terrier show. Peggy has been nominated for judge of the year on three occasions.

In her spare time, Peggy’s time is consumed with her family, her home and judging. In addition, Peggy is an avid sports fan, her favorites being the Green Bay Packers, the Detroit Red Wings, Pistons, Tigers and the University of Michigan. She also enjoys reading and movies. Peggy is a member of the Westchester Kennel Club where she serves a chief ring steward. She also belongs to several of their breed clubs. Peggy and Sandy no longer breed Cairns or Wires and now share their home with a colored Bull Terrier named Sport and a white Bull bitch named Lily.

First or Repeat time judging at the Garden: repeat, seventh time judging, second for a group. In 2006 I judged the Terrier group. Breed(s) judged: Herding group

Describe the thrill: tough to put into words. To judge at Westminster is obviously a huge thrill. Generally top notch exhibits in terrific condition is a judges dream. It allows you to get down to the nitty gritty of the breed standards. Tough decisions, but it is a very good tough!

My invitation came by mail, so I was at home.

What’s different about this assignment than all others: nothing like judging really good dogs.

I am amazed at the non show people that watch the show and even attend the show, this kind of exposure is terrific especially when we promote the fact that while we love all dogs, it is the purebred that is most predictable.

Televised coverage definitely helps. Donald Sturz was a great asset to the evening coverage and the daytime with Kim and Jason is also fantastic.


Michael Canalizo

First or Repeat time judging at the Garden? My First and it was a “Doozy”.

Breed(s) judged: Afghan Hounds, Basenjis, Basset Hounds, Grand and Petite Bassets, All Poodles, English, Gordon and Irish Setters and Golden Retrievers!

Describe the thrill of not only being invited, but actually judging: after attending the WKC for over 50 years being asked to officiate really brings everything “Full Circle” to me and the Garden.

What was I doing when I received my invitation? I was home opening my mail that sat for a few days while I was out of town. Just seeing the envelope on the pile was all it took.

To anyone in the Dog Sport there is no denying the Westminster Kennel Club has the respect of the fancy on every level...to show there, to be a spectator and to see some of the greatest canines in unmatched performances become life long memories.

There is probably no other canine event that has impacted the public audience for awareness of Dog Shows. If you were to ask anyone on the street to name a dog shows...WKC would be it!

Do I think the televised coverage helps our cause? Absolutely! The more the public see Pure-Bred Dogs along with good sound commentary...the sport benefits.

 

Debra Thornton

Since 1983, Debra has been breeding and showing dogs. She has bred approximately 150 Champion Newfoundlands. These include a number of Best in Show, Best of Breed (at the Newfoundland Club of America’s National Specialty Show) and a number of #1 Nationally Ranked dogs under the Cypress Bay Kennel prefix.

In addition to Newfoundlands, Debra has also bred a number of Champion Portuguese Water Dogs and is currently breeding a new AKC breed, the Pumik.

In 2000, Debra began judging for the AKC. She started with her beloved Newfoundlands and now judges the Working group, the Hound Group, the Sporting Group, and the Terrier group, in addition to Pumik, and Toy Manchesters. She also judges BIS, and the Misc. group.

Debra has judged all over the United States, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Columbia, South America, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Germany, Italy, China, Spain, Poland and most recently South Korea and Mexico. It has been her pleasure to meet dogs and people from all over the world. She was honored this year to judge at the Westminster Kennel Club Show.

She resides with her husband Marv, in Scottsville, Virginia. She is the past president of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Kennel Club and past Treasurer of the Hatboro Dog Club in Hatboro, Pennsylvania. She recently accepted a position on the Board of the American Dog Judges Association. She is the Founder of the Animal Care Association of Mexico. This charitable organization rescues and neuters street animals and educates the good people of Acapulco of this growing problem.

Westminster, did you say Westminster? This was going through my mind when I received a call asking me if I would like to judge in 2019. I tried to act cool and replied that I would love to judge. Then the regular stuff was discussed about the assignment; that I was not supposed to announce it to my friends until after the official announcement was made. I was in my car, heading down my driveway. I will never forget that moment. Westmister, yes!

This was my first assignment at Westminster (still love that name). I was thrilled to find out that I was going to judge the Hounds, in addition to some wonderful sporting dogs and of course, my current breed, the Pumi. How exciting, how scary. I was nervous but excited to get into the ring.

American English Coonhounds, Redbone Coonhounds, Bluetick Coonhounds, Treeing Walker Coonhounds, Black and Tan Coonhounds, Bloodhounds, Plotts, American Foxhounds, English Foxhounds, Harriers and Bloodhounds are all popular in my area of Virginia. The night hunts I attended also allowed me to appreciate these 
special breeds.

Irish Wolfhounds once graced my kennel. They are one of my heart breeds. The lbizan hound is fun to judge because of their special way of moving, not to mention their love of life. The Cirnechi del’Etna is an interesting breed. One of the oldest breeds, it was great having the opportunity to see more than a couple in my ring. The Norwegian Elkhound is a beautiful dog. My mentors have always been generous in educating me, but I love 
the breed.

Last, but not least, I was able to judge Pumi. This is my breed now and I was happy to see what we had to offer. It is a wonderful breed and I was very excited to 
see them.

This brought me to the end of day 1. Exhausted but happy, I looked around to realize that I was indeed at Westminster. Monday night, groups and then Tuesday—another special day.

 

Elaine J. Lessig

Mrs. Elaine J. Lessig of Clinton, New Jersey bought her first Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in 1987. That purchase changed her life forever. By 1999 when she began judging, she had bred, owned, and handled many of her dogs to their championships, group wins, and a national specialty win too. Winning Best of Opposite Sex in a large entry at Westminster in 2001 was truly memorable. She continues to breed her Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and English Toy 
Spaniels, have them shown, and to enjoy their successes. Currently, Mrs. Lessig judges the Sporting, Toy, Non-Sporting groups, and best in show. Her life in dogs includes judging here and abroad, writing for a dog publication,and being an active club president and show chair. Decorating and collecting vintage clothing, especially hats, are personal passions. Mrs. Lessig and her husband, Dr. Marvin Lessig, recently celebrated their fiftieth anniversary. Mrs. Lessig was thrilled to enter the ring at Westminster for the first time this year.

First or Repeat time judging at the Garden? Delighted First Timer. Breed(s) judged: Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (my breed!), Italian Greyhound, Japanese Chin, Maltese, Manchester Terriers, and Miniature Pinschers

What is more beautiful than a large, green ,carpeted ring surrounded by excited spectators cheering as the ring fills with breed after breed of outstanding dogs and their handlers? All are as eager to win as the judge is it to knowledgeably and thoughtfully make the hard decisions? The thrill comes with the satisfaction of doing the 
job well.

What I was doing when I received my invitation: I was at the reproductive vet’s office. When I returned to the car, I noticed a phone message was on my cell phone.

Mr. Helming, show chair for the Westminster Kennel Club, asked me to return his call. I did while I sat in my car in the parking lot. As a first timer, he was calling to inquire about my interest in judging at the 2019 show. He told me the breeds I was being invited to judge. Honestly, after Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, my heart was racing so fast, I did not comprehend another word. I said, “Oh, yes, please. Thank you for the honor.” Stunned, I sat in the car and cried. I shook the whole way home, trying to drive carefully with my pregnant bitch comfortably settled in her crate. I will never forget it! It was not until the actual invitation arrived that I read the names of the other breeds I would judge.

Westminster is second oldest continuous sporting event in America. It is where showing dogs in a competition began. To be a piece of that history brings an overwhelming sense of respect and responsibility when you enter the ring.

For a few amazing days, our sport comes into the forefront of spectators in New York City and those from around the world. It introduces and reintroduces pure bred dogs in conformation competition to this enormous community along with performance events, agility and obedience,which are part of the Westminster Dog 
Show too.

All of these events highlight the significance of the human/canine bond for millions of viewers. What could be a more positive way to showcase our community?

Do I think the televised coverage helps our cause? Were there no televised coverage, the spirit of competition inherent in these events could neither be enjoyed nor become the inspiration for others to partake in them. Introducing the varied events we offer in the sport, recognizing the charitable contributions of the Westminster Kennel Club, and seeing the positive effect they have 
is beneficial.


Michael J. Dougherty

I started with my family in purebred dogs in 1961 with Miniature Schnauzers, acquiring my own first Whippet in 1963. By 1974 I was approved by the AKC for a limited handler’s license, attaining all-breed handler status in 1977—teaming with my father, Jack. In 1985 I retired from professional handling to pursue a dog judging avocation, again following in Dad’s footsteps.

I am approved by the AKC to judge Best in Show, the Hound Group, the Terrier Group, some Non-Sporting and Toy breeds, and Junior Showmanship.

I have been in the public relations and publishing industry for over 40 years, representing such luminaries as Maya Angelou, Gore Vidal, Tom Wolfe, Joseph Wambaugh, Robert Ludlum, Larry King, Sidney Sheldon, Judith Krantz, James Clavell, Christopher Isherwood, Nancy Reagan, M. Scott Peck, William Manchester, Timothy Leary, Arianna Huffington, and Howard Fast, among hundreds of others. Michelle, and I reside in western North Carolina.

I am honored to say that this was my seventh Westminster assignment, including BIS in ’13 and the Hound Group in ‘07.

In 2019, I judged five Non-Sporting Breeds and seven Terrier Breeds (including my family’s initial breed in 1961, Miniature Schnauzers).

Judging anytime at any level at Westminster is most exciting due to the overall level of quality entrants. All the best dogs come together to compete. It is pure joy to sort through those assembled before you. With regard to judging BIS at Madison Square Garden, nothing can compare for a judge—great dogs, a fantastic arena audience overflowing with dog people and dog lovers, live coverage going out to the world—history, pageantry, and amazing energy fills the Garden. The 2019 event was especially meaningful as I wind down my judging ‘career.’

I remember it like it was yesterday when I received my invitation to judge the 2013 Best in Show. I picked up the mail like we all do and started thumbing through it one envelope after another. Suddenly I came upon one from the Westminster Kennel Club and couldn’t imagine what it was about. Before I gingerly opened it I was thinking maybe they were inviting me back to judge some Terrier breeds or maybe even the Terrier group. I opened it and there it was: An invitation to judge Best in Show 
in 2013!

I remember being stunned. I thought to myself that this did not happen. It is nothing you could ever dream of. I walked down the driveway and into the house and told Michelle, ‘Honey, you have to read this.’ I remember her saying, ‘Oh, my!’ and we kissed and hugged. We basked in the glow until the next day. The following morning I received a phone call from show chairman Tom Bradley officially inviting me to accept the assignment. It isn’t supposed to happen that way—the phone call is supposed to come first, followed by the letter. When I told Tom the letter arrived yesterday, he said, “Oh...” Then I cracked, “Tom, you are not calling to take it away from me, are you?” And he laughed, “No, I am just here to tell you we 
want you.”

What’s different about this assignment than all others: there’s only one Westminster.

How does Westminster affect the sport: It gives everyone something to aspire to and is a grand pageant for the general public showcasing the best the sport has 
to offer.

Television exposure shows non-show people beautiful, happy, healthy specimens of all the breeds. It’s the next best thing to being at the Piers and Garden.


Vicki Seiler-Cushman

Vicki Seiler-Cushman of Beavercreek, Ohio began showing dogs when she was 12 years old, winning a group fourth at Westminster when she was 14 with her Siberian Husky, Ch. Lobo Rey. Vicki became a professional handler guiding many top winning dogs in all seven groups including winning the Working Group at Westminster in 1990 with Giant Schnauzer, Ch. Skansens I Have a Dream. During the span of her career, she has won more than 200 Bests In Show. Vicki is on the Board of the Dayton Kennel Club, Member of the Doberman Pinscher Club of America and Giant Schnauzer Club of America.

Vicki is a Procter and Gamble retiree and judges 29 breeds over five groups.

First or Repeat time judging at the Garden? First time judging. Breed(s) judged: Chinese Shar Pei, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Great Danes, Siberian Huskies, Rottweilers, Akita and Weimaraner

Definitely a huge thrill to judge at Westminster. I was so pleased, honored and grateful to receive the invitation. The recognition encourages me to continue to study and do my best work in judging dogs. I am so appreciative to the selection committee for recommending me to be on the panel. The quality was rich, it was pure joy to have so many beautiful dogs to choose from.

We should be very grateful to the Westminster Kennel Club members for the hard work and money they contribute to being a voice with excellent on-target messaging to the dog loving public. The Social media efforts, the Television broadcast, and the PR team had best-in-class ideas and, in my opinion, very successful.

 

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