Breeder interview with Dr. Adam King, Asking Havanese.
Where did you grow up?
Dr. Adam King : I grew up in Boonville, Indiana, which is a small town in the southwest corner of the state. After bouncing around the country for vet school (Raleigh, North Carolina), my rotating internship (Seattle, Washington), and my ophthalmology residency (Fort Collins, Colorado), I settled in Elburn, Illinois, in the far western Chicago suburbs.
Do you come from a doggy family? If not, how did the interest in breeding and showing purebred dogs begin?
Dr. Adam King: While I didn’t come from a doggy family, my parents instilled a love for animals in me from the start. Like many who didn’t grow up in the fancy, my first exposure to the purebred dog world was watching the Westminster Kennel Club dog show on TV. I was immediately fascinated by all of the different breeds and knew I wanted to become a part of that world. At the time, I would regularly stay the weekend with my Grandma King, a retired English teacher. We would always start with a visit to the local library on Saturday morning and then I would spend the rest of the weekend reading the stack of books (always centered around animals) I had procured. It was at the Boonville-Warrick County Public Library that I stumbled upon The Nicholas Guide to Dog Judging by Anna Katherine Nicholas (the 1970 edition!). I checked it out nearly every time we visited the library (I’m fairly confident I was the only person who ever checked it out), and while it wasn’t the most obvious reading choice for a 12-year-old, that book absolutely changed my life. I was fortunate enough to meet Ms. Nicholas in 2003 when she was accompanying Marcia Foy on a judging assignment in Indiana, and I was able to tell her what an impact she had on my life.
Mind you, my parents weren’t exactly on board with adding a dog to a household that already included a veritable menagerie of pets, but that didn’t stop me from spending hours reading every book, magazine, and website I could find about purebred dogs and dog shows. After researching every possible breed, I decided that the Havanese was the perfect breed for me. My Grandma Stafford had a Shih Tzu that I adored when I was growing up, and the Havanese reminded me of that breed—with less intimidating grooming. Not yet fully AKC-recognized and still relatively uncommon, I joined a Yahoo e-mail list of Havanese owners and breeders to learn more about the breed. While many didn’t take me seriously, I was fortunate that Rita Stern of Silverdale Havanese recognized how much I loved the breed. She took a heartfelt interest in me. Rita ended up contacting my parents (as I was 15 at the time) and asked their permission to gift me a Havanese puppy for Christmas. This puppy became CH Silverdale’s For Pete’s Sake (Pete), my first champion and my Junior Showmanship dog. I was smitten with the breed immediately, and when we won WD for a point under Michael Dachel at our very first show, I was hooked on dog shows. With my parents’ support, I shortly thereafter added a bitch puppy from the same breeder who would become my foundation bitch, CH Silverdale’s Amazing Grace ROM (Gracie).
Who were your mentors in the sport? Please elaborate on their influence.
Dr. Adam King: I will be forever grateful to Rita Stern for giving me not only a really good puppy to start me in the breed, but also a great bitch sired by her top producer, Katrina’s Charmer of Manfred ROMX (Fievel), arguably one of the most influential sires in the history of the breed. Rita’s dogs weren’t the fanciest, but they were typey, sound, and healthy, and I was fortunate to have Gracie as the foundation of my program.
Jan Stark (or Grandma Jan as I called her) of Starkette Havanese was the other major influence. She was one of the few breeders who took me seriously from the start as well. Though she was in her 80s at the time, we bonded immediately and became e-mail pen pals. Jan took it upon herself to teach me everything about dog shows, breeding, and evaluating dogs. Some of my fondest memories are sitting with her at dog shows and just “talking dogs.”
Both Rita and Jan had extremely strong personalities and butted heads with many Havanese breeders (even with each other at times!). They were straight shooters who sugar-coated nothing, but they were exceptionally kind to a teenager who didn’t know much, but who shared a love for their breed and was eager to learn. Without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am today. They both stressed the importance of objectivity when it comes to breeding decisions and puppy evaluations. They taught me that if you can’t honestly evaluate your dogs’ strengths and weaknesses, and acknowledge them in others’ dogs, you will never improve your program.
Aside from my Havanese mentors, there were many other exhibitors who supported me in my early years in the sport. Jamie Keller let me show her daughter’s old retired champion Australian Shepherd to several Group placements before Pete was old enough to show. Doris Clark taught the handling class I attended as a complete novice. Brenda Hulsey gave me every magazine that she received as a judge (and I still have them!). Renee Reiherzer helped my mom and me whelp Gracie’s first litter. Barb and Michele Johannes let me co-own and special their Havanese, Buster. Daryl Martin and Harry Bennett took me more seriously and were kinder to me than most other handlers in the Group ring. Deb Gibbs became my “dog show mom” when I traveled with her and specialed her Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers. Mari-Beth O’Neill let me intern at the AKC Raleigh Office for four summers. Lynn Curtis campaigned several early dogs I’d bred. The list is truly endless, and each person influenced the dog person I am today.
The Askin Havanese are widely known, highly successful and well respected. What breeding philosophies do you adhere to?
Dr. Adam King: First and foremost, Havanese must have cheerful and gregarious temperaments. They are supposed to be “small sturdy dogs of immense charm” and I have zero tolerance for a shy or aggressive dog. While many people are attracted to the Havanese because of their appearance, it is their endearing and ebullient nature that creates lifelong devotees of the breed.
Being a veterinarian, health is also very important. Every day at work, I see the result of indiscriminate breeding, and I believe that it is up to breeders to ensure that they do everything possible to decrease the frequency of genetic disease in the purebred dog population. The Havanese is, overall, a relatively healthy breed, but it is important that breeders keep it that way by breeding only health-tested parents, and not making excuses for dogs that don’t pass.
I like to keep a small number of dogs. So, in order to keep numbers down, I have to keep a puppy only when I think it has exceptional promise. To keep a dog, it needs to exhibit the six critical elements of Havanese breed type; outline, topline, gait, expression, coat, and temperament. If a puppy doesn’t exhibit virtues in all six areas, I will place it in a perfect companion home that will cherish it. A pretty head is key for me, because if I can’t be charmed by a Havanese expression, it doesn’t need to stay in my breeding program. I also won’t forgive short or crooked/bowed legs; prevalent problems in our breed that are often hidden by coat. Though I’ve had a relatively limited breeding program, I’ve earned the Breeder of Distinction award from the Havanese Club of America.
I tend to mainly linebreed, particularly on descendants of two early influential stud dogs; CH Starkette Pride of Wincroft ROMX (Buster) and CH Los Perritos Wee Pantaloons ROMX (Pan), both of whom were grandsons of the previously mentioned Fievel. I had remarkable success breeding my two Buster daughters to a Pan son (CH Harbor’s A Light In The Night ROMX) bred by Connie Field, which helped set the style of Havanese I aim to breed.
How many dogs do you currently house? Tell us about your facilities and how the dogs are maintained.
Dr. Adam King: For Havanese, I currently have two bitches of breeding age, a young dog, a puppy bitch I’m showing, and two older, spayed girls. Additionally, we have a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and a Miniature Bull Terrier. We don’t have a “kennel” in the traditional sense; the dogs are all in our house. Fortunately, Havanese are gregarious by nature, and so during the day, the cut-down girls all hang out in the house together (generally on the back of the couch, the favorite spot of every Havanese). Any Havanese that is in coat gets supervised playtime with the others, but otherwise they’re in individual exercise pens in a four-season room at the back of our house that opens into the dog yard. At night, everyone sleeps in their own kennel, aside from our 11½-year-old “bed dog.” Puppies are whelped and raised in our finished basement.
Who were/are some of your most significant Havanese, both in the whelping box and in the show ring?
Dr. Adam King: The most significant Havanese in the whelping box was, undoubtedly, CH Askin Breakfast at Tiffanys’ ROM (Holly). Holly was the one and only puppy that the bitch I owner-handled to BOB at Westminster (CH Los Perritos When Sparks Fly) ever produced from three attempts at breeding. Holly produced eight champions and five Group-placing offspring, including two Group winners. Her two daughters that I kept have gone on to produce beautifully, each producing a BOW/Best Bred-By at a Havanese Club of America Regional Specialty.
A significant sire I bred that my good friend, Connie Field (Harbor Havanese, a truly masterful breeder), owned was CH Askin Geek in the Pink ROMX. While I never bred to him (I had his full brother from a repeat breeding who is the sire of the previously mentioned Holly), Connie managed his stud career wonderfully and he was utilized by Havanese breeders to much success, siring a multiple BIS winner and multiple specialty winners.
I think that we are fortunate to have some truly beautiful examples of the breed currently winning at the top level, and I am hopeful that both judges and breeders alike are able to use them to set Havanese breed type in their mind.
One of the most significant Havanese that I handled and co-owned was CH Starkette Pride of Wincroft ROMX (Buster), bred by my mentor, Jan Stark, and owned by Barbara and Michele Johannes. Buster was actually the first Havanese I ever met in the flesh when my parents drove me over to the Louisville dog show so that I could “meet” a Havanese. After I finished my first Havanese and realized he wasn’t going to be a special, Barb and Michele asked if I wanted to handle Buster. He and I clicked immediately, and the rest is history. He placed in many competitive Midwest Toy Groups and we even went to Crufts where we went Reserve dog! Aside from his successes in the ring, he is one of the most influential sires in the breed’s history.
GCHG Askin Steppin’ To The Bad Side (Thunder), owned by Dr. Ernest and Lynn Curtis and handled by Andy Linton, is the biggest-winning dog I’ve bred. His coloring (solid silver) may not have been as eye-catching in a ring of black partis, but his head, outline, and movement were just stunning. I think he was a dog ahead of his time, and is still one of my favorite Havanese of all time.
While he’s just starting his career, I believe CH Askin Backstage Romance (Christian) will be a significant winner. He’s the grandson of both Thunder and Holly through their daughter GCH Askin Wait Until Dark, a corded bitch that did some very nice winning in her short career, and sired by a Havanese that needs no introduction, GCHP2 Oeste’s In The Name of Love (Bono). Christian is the firstborn Bono puppy, and I think he’s already making his sire proud. In four weekends total of showing, he finished with two specialty majors, a regional specialty win from the Bred-By Class, and won five placements in very competitive Toy Groups. He is just starting, but I am so excited for what the future holds!
Please comment positively on your breed’s present condition and what trends might bear watching.
Dr. Adam King: I think that we are fortunate to have some truly beautiful examples of the breed currently winning at the top level, and I am hopeful that both judges and breeders alike are able to use them to set Havanese breed type in their mind. For the most part, coat texture, size, and temperaments are pretty good in the breed (though I have seen some shy Havanese in the ring, which is extremely contrary to breed type and should never be tolerated).
The most concerning trend is exaggeration of breed characteristics; an upper arm that is so short that the front reach is restricted, a markedly rising topline (often accompanied by short and/or crooked front legs), a bouncy gait lacking any reach, and a dog that is significantly longer than it is tall. Moderation is key! Unfortunately, correct heads and expression are also becoming more difficult to find, with round eyes rather than the desired large, almond shape, and muzzles that are too short and lacking the desired breadth. This gives a more generic “toy” look rather than the desired charming and mischievous Havanese expression.
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?
Like many, I am concerned with the attrition rate in our sport and the lack of interest from people in becoming preservation breeders. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is, likely because there are a multitude of reasons why people don’t stick with breeding and showing dogs.
I think one of the major things we need to do is to be kinder and more welcoming to newcomers. These are the people who may become our future breeders, and if we drive them away with nasty behavior, soon we won’t have anyone else to carry on with our breeds. Being welcoming to newcomers extends to parent clubs and all-breed clubs as well. Clubs should be doing everything they possibly can to build membership and make people feel like they belong. So many clubs complain about the lack of new members or willing workers, but then shoot down anything new or different in the next breath.
Where do you see your breeding program in the next decade or two?
Dr. Adam King: I plan on continuing to breed, hopefully working toward breeding a better Havanese with each generation! Even though I’m greatly enjoying my foray into judging, I am a breeder at heart and plan to continue my program for many years to come.
Finally, tell us a little about Adam outside of dogs… your profession, your hobbies.
Dr. Adam King: The only thing I ever wanted to be growing up was a veterinarian. When I took my first two Havanese for their eye certification exams, I was instantly fascinated with the specialty of ophthalmology. I was fortunate enough to get accepted into an ophthalmology residency right after my rotating internship, and I am a practicing board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist. I’ve served as the chair of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists’ genetics committee, and frequently participate in OFA health clinics. I am a member of the Havanese Club of America’s Health Committee and Judges’ Education Committee, have worked on the new JE presentation, and I am currently working on our new illustrated standard. After many years of being a breeder/owner-handler, I applied to judge Havanese in 2017. Since then, I have been approved for the Toy Group (currently the youngest AKC Group judge, actually!) and a handful of Sporting, Terrier, and Non-Sporting breeds. I’ve greatly enjoyed my foray into judging, and am eager to continue learning about additional breeds. I was selected to judge the 2022 Havanese Club of America National Specialty, an assignment I am very much looking forward to!
Outside of dogs, I enjoy traveling, great restaurants, and theatre. My husband and I purchased 85 acres of wooded land last year, and have just hired an architectural firm. We will begin designing our new home during the second quarter of next year. It’s going to be a project that will take several years to complete, but I’m looking forward to building our “dream” home!