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Garden Breeds & Varieties | Owner-Handled Dogs Are Among WKC Best of Breed Winners

Garden Breeds & Varieties | Owner-Handled Dogs Are Among WKC Best of Breed Winners : This year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will long be remembered for its unique summer setting at Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, New York. Equally memorable in the hearts and minds of many dog show enthusiasts will be the names of owner handlers—and breeder/owner handlers—who piloted their beloved companions to a particularly memorable win at this year’s once-in-a-lifetime event. Among the seven handlers in this year’s Best in Show line-up were five (five!) professionals who have dedicated themselves to the presentation of their homebred dogs to the highest degree possible. Not to be outdone, however, were this year’s amateur owner handlers who also presented their quality-handled dogs to a Best of Breed win. Their victories have reinforced the belief that the sport of dogs remains accessible to anyone with a competitive spirit, a dedication to excellence—and a good dog.

So, how does it feel to win at Westminster? Let’s find out from a few of the owner handlers whose dogs were showcased among this year’s WKC Best of Breed winners.

WKC Best of Breed

Curtis Freeling

WKC Best of Breed

Helena, Montana
Ibizan Hound “Fleury”
GCHS CH KingsCrest Star Of The New Year FDC CGC

“It was truly a dream come true—something all breeders strive for at Westminster.”


WKC Best of Breed

Rebekah James

WKC Best of Breed

Boiling Springs, South Carolina

Swedish Vallhund “Grayson”

GCHS CH KingsCrest Star Of The New Year FDC CGC

“It was just so awesome. I felt so blessed. It was such a wonderful experience to show at Westminster this year! We really enjoyed the experience. As Grayson’s breeder and owner, it was just plain awesome to win! We are so proud of our boy and all he has accomplished.”

Grayson is the culmination of years in the breed, and he is the best, Rebekah feels, that she has ever produced. According to Rebekah, Grayson is not only correct and typey, he also has a great show attitude.


WKC Best of BreedZoë Keffer

WKC Best of Breed

Jacksonville, Florida

Rottweiler “Marge”

GCHS Big Beach’s Powered By Starbucks

“Being awarded Best of Breed as an Owner Handler at Westminster was pretty breathtaking. The Rottweiler ring is tough and there are many professional handlers. Winning the breed was a very big accomplishment for not only me as an owner, but also for the dog and her breeders. I was grateful to be able to participate in the breed judging, and winning it was definitely the cherry on top of it all. I am very thankful to win Best of Breed, especially as an
owner handler.”

Zoë Keffer has been handling since she was 9 years old. Her first experience was in the Rottweiler breed ring before she became a Junior. (Actually, Zoë told a professional handler that she was in her spot!) The last time she showed at Westminster, she won Select with her bitch, Lux. Marge and Zoë are currently the #2 NOHS Rottweiler team, and they finished #2 last year as well. Zoë was the #2 Working Dog Junior and the #2 Rottweiler Junior for the past two years. She is also the #2 Golden Retriever Junior this year and is regularly on the Top 10 Overall Junior list. Marge received an Award of Merit at the Colonial Rottweiler Club specialty, and was recognized as a Top 20 dog and the #6 Rottweiler at the American Rottweiler Club National Specialty.


WKC Best of Breed

Kathy Kraft

WKC Best of Breed

Pleasant Valley, New York

Belgian Tervuren “Grimmy”

CH Riverside’s Grimnir of Timberwind, HIC

“It was one of the best days of my life! I was so surprised I almost felt like the moment was surreal. It was an incredible honor to be awarded this by a very respected longtime Belgian Tervuren breeder as well. I have been wanting this award for many, many years—and it finally came true. To be able to represent my breed in the Group at the most prestigious show in the world… it proves that owner handlers can be competitive even among the professionals!”

Grimmy is from Kathy Kraft’s breeding program, out of a female that she bred. He is the grandson of her most incredible male GCH Tangterr’s Texas who was her “dream boy.” Grimmy has been an amazing dog; not only does Kathy say that he embodies the Belgian Tervuren breed standard, but he possesses a wonderful, outgoing, silly temperament—and he loves to show off!


WKC Best of Breed

Lori Peznowski

WKC Best of Breed

Gowen, Michigan

Leonberger “Jarvis”

GCHS Tsavo’s I Just Wanna Have Fun TKA

“As I posted later that day on my Facebook page: “Wow. Did this really happen?” Such a feeling of incredible joy and so rewarding to know that Jarvis and I did this together! Little did I know when, at 14 months old, Jarvis started winning Best of Breeds that it would lead to this! So thankful to Judge Dr. Elliot L. More for judging the dogs, as BOB and BOS were both

Lori Peznowski started handling her Newfoundlands with some success about 26 years ago. She got her first Leonberger a few years after that and started handling him in rare breed shows (before Leonbergers were AKC registered), which are very relaxed. Lori says that it was a great place to learn. Jarvis has been awarded two G1s, two G2s, a G3, and a few G4s, all being owner-handled in the regular Groups. Lori adds that only four points are needed to finish Jarvis’ Grand Champion Gold, then they will semi-retire.


WKC Best of Breed

Susan Thibodeaux

WKC Best of Breed

Cocoa, Florida

Toy Fox Terrier “Gemma”

CH Kallmee Gems N Jewels

“It didn’t exactly ‘go down’ like that. I finished two puppies out of my Barnum–Sparkles litter, completely from Bred-By last summer in Greenville, South Carolina. I could only show one as a special after they’d both finished, so despite Gemma taking Breed from the classes twice, I chose to special her littermate, Flyer, because he’d learned to show faster. Stacking wasn’t really Gemma’s thing for the longest time! Flyer did exceptionally well, breeder/owner-handled; he’s a Group winner (uncommon for Toy Fox Terriers—especially owner-handled TFTs!), has multiple Group placements, and BOB at the Royal Canin AKC National Championship Show. Flyer finished 2020 as the No. 2 Toy Fox (even though he wasn’t old enough to show the first few months of 2020), so he received an invitation to Westminster. But when they announced the WKC Dog Show would be outdoors, I knew I had to enter Gemma too. She’s a beautiful mover and she’s just a tad more up-on-leg than Flyer, so I knew she’d look pretty in the grass. Still, I couldn’t handle two at the same time, so for the Breed competition I’d asked my handler friend, Renee Rosamilia, whomq I was traveling with to New York, to show Gemma in Breed. Gemma was in standing season and I wasn’t going to saddle anyone else with Flyer who was just in lust for her. I did state that if either of mine won, I was going in the Group with them.

When the judge pulled Flyer from near the front of the line, and Gemma from the rear, to move around the ring together, my heart soared! Ms. Gregory had found my littermates! At the end, Gemma was Best of Breed and Flyer was Best of Opposite, and I was tearful and smiling and hugging Renee, and just overwhelmed that my dream had come true. I was going to show in the Group at Westminster on television—which I was thrilled to see that WKC did such an awesome job making it look and feel just as if it had been in The Garden. It was only Gemma’s 11th show; she finished in eight shows and then showed one weekend last October as a Special, so she was a bit inexperienced in the Group ring. I thought, overall, she did quite well in the Group considering those factors, and I don’t think I ever stopped smiling while we were in there. To win at Westminster is an honor most exhibitors never get to experience. To do it with dogs that I bred, own, and show is a thrill that I will never forget. I’m still smiling!”

Susan Thibodeaux has been showing dogs since 1978. In 2013, Susan decided to segue from Sporting dogs into Toys and she now has Toy Fox Terriers and two Toy Manchesters. She is Vice President of the American Toy Fox Terrier Club, a Brevard Kennel Club Board Member, is Chairperson for ATFTC’s Meet The Breeds, Judge’s Education, and Facebook page, and she’s the Legislative Liaison for BKC. Susan is a Past-President and Training Director for the Brevard County Dog Training Club and has been an active member of other clubs over the years. She stewards for two Ring Steward Associations and enjoys judging matches and sweepstakes.


Garden Breeds & Varieties | Owner-Handled Dogs Are Among WKC Best of Breed Winners (Photos provided by Owner Handlers)