Interview with Barbara Pessina – 2023 WKC Dog Show Breed Judge
What does it mean to be invited to judge at this year’s historic Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show?
Barbara Pessina: I attended my first Westminster in the mid-70s when I was researching different breeds, trying to find a breed that I could show and eventually breed. It was there that I saw my first corded Puli and knew that it was the dog I was looking for. Through the years, I’ve rarely missed the opportunity to attend Westminster, and I still remember the feelings of anticipation as we looked forward to that time in NYC. It was always one of the highlights of the year.
When I received the invitation this year, I initially thought it was about stewarding, as I’ve stewarded there the past few years. You could have literally knocked me over when I opened the letter and read the invitation to judge not just several breeds, but the breed most dear to my heart—Pulik. An invitation to judge at Westminster is not something that one anticipates, and it is such an incredible honor. In a way, it is life coming full circle, as it’s basically where my time in dogs began.
It was such a privilege to be a part of the beautiful venue that Westminster provided this year at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The members of the Westminster Kennel Club did an outstanding job pulling this show together, and they thought of just about everything possible to make it an incredible experience for everyone. They all deserve a standing ovation for the efforts they put forth.
Can you share your thoughts on your various Breed assignments? Please be specific.
Barbara Pessina: I had nine breeds to judge, of which seven were low entry breeds. The Miniature American Shepherds and Old English Sheepdogs had entries of the highest caliber, and it came down to splitting hairs to make a decision. Judging high-quality entries is always difficult because there can only be one Best of Breed in the end, and there are days you wish you had more ribbons to give out.
We read and hear so much about preservation breeders today. I’d like to acknowledge the breeders of these low entry breeds as they are truly the ones working so hard to protect and maintain their breeds. Few people know how challenging it can be to maintain and improve on a breeding program when choices are so limited. The effort, time, and yes, money they put into preserving these breeds for the future deserves recognition. They so often get overlooked because of their low numbers, so kudos to all of you for the work you’re doing to bring these breeds to the forefront. At Westminster this year, their quality was exceptional and it made for some very hard choices. The low entry breeds—Finnish Lapphunds, Icelandic Sheepdogs, Mudik, Polish Lowland Sheepdogs, Pulik, Pumik, and Spanish Water Dogs—all had beautiful, typey, sound dogs entered, and all with very good temperaments.
Now that it’s over, what are your thoughts on the 2023 show year? Any thoughts on the year ahead?
Barbara Pessina: If the breeds I judged are any indication, I think the Herding Group should be in very good condition in 2023. The quality and condition of the dogs was impeccable, and each of these breeds had a great depth of quality to them. My thanks to the breeders, owners, and handlers for bringing such wonderful dogs to Westminster this year.