Mimi Winkler | Judges Choice Bichons Frises: Showsight Interview about her interested in breeding and showing purebred dogs.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Manhattan and grew up in The Bronx, in a neighborhood that lent itself to playing stickball, hopscotch, and staying outside until your mom called you in for dinner. A warm, friendly neighborhood that was home to many future notables. Going to private school in Manhattan, running through Central Park from the East Side to the West Side without a care in the world, is something our children, sadly, will never be able to appreciate.
Do you come from a doggy family? If not, how did the interest in breeding and showing purebred dogs begin?
The answer to this is simple… NO, I do not come from a dog family at all. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t say to myself, “When I grow up and leave this house, I will buy a dog.” And so I did, from Poodles to Dachshunds to Old English Sheepdogs. Then, when I was in Stuttgart, Germany, judging a gymnastics meet, I saw a woman walking two white dogs. I went over to ask her about them. Between my broken German and her broken English, I found out the breed… Bichon Frise. When I got back to the States, I went to a dog show, talked with breeders, learned about the breed, competitions, and commitment. This just sparked my interest. I loved the idea of being competitive, and so I jumped in with both feet.
Who were your mentors in the sport?
Doris Hyde of Dove Cote Bichons. Dear, sweet, patient Doris answered every question I had… and I had many. I asked her where she got her start and who her mentors were. What did showing involve? How does the point system work? What is an owner handler? What is a professional handler? Where do I go to learn how to handle? Will you help me whelp my first litter? How do you keep a Bichon’s face white? And the ultimate question…. how do you housebreak a Bichon?
Then there was Mim Barnhart, “Granny Mim” as she was called, of Miri Cal Bichons. She said to me, and I quote, “Sit yourself down in that chair, take out your pedigree, and I will not only teach you how to read this, genotype, but I will also tell you what each dog looks like, their phenotype, their strengths and their weaknesses.” And write I did, generation after generation… tall, short, good leg, no leg, level topline, good underjaw, weak underjaw, good backskull, so-so pigment, great pigment, great temperament, good coat, good tail set. She explained that doubling up on one side of said pedigree would not produce what I wanted, but doubling up on the other side had a much better chance. She painted such a vivid picture of each dog that I could visualize them. It was then that I realized if I wanted to go forward, I had to look backward. To this day I write notes about every dog in my pedigrees; their strengths, their weaknesses. One must not be kennel blind, though. An honest evaluation will only enhance your
The Judges Choice Bichons are widely known, highly successful and well respected. What breeding philosophies do you adhere to?
First, let me thank you for saying this about my program.
After listening to my mentors and learning from well-respected breeders, I decided a few months after buying my bitch to look for a foundation dog that would complement Muffy. Back to my pedigrees, I went to look for genotype and phenotype. I was very lucky that there was a litter on the ground that had three males to choose from. One boy just pulled at my heartstrings, Cody, and to this day his profile is still the one I think of when judging dogs. Linebreeding was drummed into my head, so with this in mind I checked the two pedigrees and Muffy’s sire was Cody’s grandfather, a perfect foundation to start my breeding program. And as I started with linebreeding, it is still my program of choice. If I have to go out, I will only breed to a tightly linebred dog, so I know what to expect. I know those breeders care as much about their line as I do mine. At my age I don’t like surprises. And as much as we try, there are sometimes surprises anyway.
How many dogs do you currently house? Tell us about your facilities and how the dogs are maintained.
Facilities is an oxymoron in my case. I live in their house. I have five dogs: Ch. Judges Choice Who Knew, aka Oops. (I guess you can figure out the name.) Her daughter, Ch. Judges Choice On The Edge Of Glory, aka Gaga; her daughter, Ch. Judges Choice Good Golly, aka Molly; and my two boys, Ch. Judges Choice In Pursuit, aka Chase, father of Molly; and my new puppy just starting out, Judges Choice A New Twist, aka Oliver, a Molly son. Four generations of happy, healthy, linebred dogs that I am still trying to housebreak! They get groomed every three weeks and brushed every day. They share everything I have: food, bed, love… well, everything except my wine. I considered ending my breeding program, and while this will sound dramatic, I just couldn’t do it. I kept thinking, ”That really great one could be in the next litter.”
Who were/are some of your most significant Bichons, both in the whelping box and in the show ring?
I guess the obvious one has to be JR, Best in Show winner at Westminster. I bred his mother, his grandmother, his great grandmother, and his grandfather. And, of course, JR goes back to Cody and Muffy, my foundation dogs. This question really made me think. Yes, I have had some very good dogs, including some males that were great in the ring and never produced what I expected. On paper, they should have, but those are the surprises and disappointments. I had two littermates, both champion bitches, one a multiple Group placer while the other couldn’t have cared less. Guess who was the better producer? But I digress. Who stands out in my mind? Ch. Judges Choice High Ridge Right On ROMX, Reno, winner of three five-point majors, all at specialties, multiple Group placer, sire of 28 champions with more on the way, the new one being my puppy. Judges Choice Diamond Jim, DJ, sire of 17 champions, multiple Group winner, Best of Winners at the BFCA National under Annie Clark, and sire of BOS at Westminster, with me handling, Ch. Judges Choice Purple Rain, daughter of Muffy and Cody, mother of Girlfriend, BOW at the BFCA National, and great-grandmother of JR. Finally, my Jenny, Ch. Dreams Came True Jennifer ROMX, dam of 12 champions, winner of Best in Sweeps at the BFCA National. The very first Bichon I imported from Brazil. Thank you, Cristine. And yes, she, too, was a linebreeding for me. She and Muffy had the same grandfather, which would be great-grandfather to Cody. Linebreeding… if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Please comment positively on your breed’s present condition and what trends might bear watching.
As Judges Education Chair for the Bichon Frise Club of America, I start my seminar by stating that the Bichon is a breed of illusion. A talented groomer can enhance any dog and make them appear more balanced. I think, today, our dogs are better balanced although I do not want to see them get more short-backed and up on leg. I also do not want to see them running the Indianapolis 500. Our standard calls for free and easy movement; a faster dog is not a better dog. Maybe it’s because of my gymnastics background, but free, easy movement, extension, and a sense of “self” mean so much to me.
Let me answer this question from another angle. I would like breeders today to establish their own breeding programs. I would like to see pedigrees that contain the same kennel name for three generations. I think, in addition to judges’ education, perhaps breeders’ education offered at a National Specialty would be so worthwhile; “old-timers” sharing their knowledge, filling in the gaps, sharing the phenotypes of dogs in the pedigrees from years ago. Going back to the beginning is a concept I like.
The sport has changed greatly since you first began participating. What are your thoughts on the state of the fancy and the declining number of breeders? How do we encourage newcomers to join us and remain in the sport?
Yes, it has changed so much. Years ago, you could look in the ring and know which dog came out of what kennel. You knew lines, you knew lineage, and you knew progeny. I will tell you this story to illustrate my point. A few years ago, I was sitting ringside at Westminster watching Bichon breed judging. This woman leaned over and asked me how it felt, after all these years, to have nothing of mine in the ring. I said, “You can’t be talking to me… BOB and BOS are both my grandchildren.” That lack of knowledge would have never happened years ago. She had imported her dogs; she had no mentor. She asked me what I meant, so I explained and told her to call me. I have since taught her to read and understand pedigrees. Knowledge and sharing adds another layer to our sport; it stimulates the mind. We have to encourage new people by sharing our love and knowledge. I would beg new breeders to pick our brains, to ask us questions; we would love to share. As they say, “Reach out and touch someone.”
Tell us a little about Mimi outside of dogs… your profession, your hobbies.
I am the mother of four wonderful children who have produced five delicious grandchildren. I also share my home with two birds, Malibu the Macaw and Harvey the African Grey, who has been talking (and cursing) this entire afternoon.
In addition to judging dogs, I have been a gymnastics judge since the late 1970s. I have had the honor of judging Olympians both here and in Europe.
My life is full. I have always had the belief that my glass is not half empty or half full. If I am not happy, I simply get a new glass and start over.
Finally, where do you see your breeding program in the next decade or two?
I see the most beautiful show ring, adorned with flowers, the audience filled with notables, officiated by the best judges to have ever entered a ring. My dog, of course, will be owner-handled… and the rosette will read, “Best in Show, Pearly Gates Kennel Club.”
Thank you for letting me share this with your readers.
Mimi Winkler | Judges Choice Bichons Frises: Interview about her interested in breeding and showing purebred dogs.