Interview with 2022 AKC National Championship Hound Group Judge Gayle Bontecou
Can you describe your reaction to receiving an invitation to judge the Hound Group at the AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin?
Gayle Bontecou: The invitation was absolutely a thrill. I appreciate it very much. It’s one of the top shows in the country and I’m delighted to have been invited.
What does it mean to judge a Group at the only all-breed show organized directly by the American Kennel Club?
Gayle Bontecou: Being an “only” show doesn’t mean that it isn’t a wonderful show—and I think there are probably too many shows across the country. So, when the opportunity comes to have this kind of event and this kind of production, it’s a thrill!
In your opinion, how does this show differ from other AKC events?
Gayle Bontecou: One of the highlights of this show, I think, is that the audience, the spectators, and the visitors have an opportunity to not only view the judging at ringside but also to have the opportunity to touch the dogs, go through the “benching,” talk to the breeders and the exhibitors, and get a hands-on experience that you obviously don’t get to this extent at a lot of shows.
I believe there were just about 200 breeds represented, and that certainly is a wonderful opportunity for everybody—judges to novices to little kids. It’s a great opportunity to be there in person and to be able to go over the dogs; and there aren’t that many shows of this quality.
What were you thinking or feeling moments before you stepped into the center of the Hound Group ring?
Gayle Bontecou: I was thinking that I just can’t wait to put my hands on all those wonderful, little/big hounds, from the Wolfhound to the small Dachshunds. They all looked great from the outside of the ring, and I couldn’t wait to go over them. It was an exciting opportunity. And there again, I also thought, don’t forget to smile.
Was there a heightened energy coming from the dog and handler teams? Did you feel the energy of the spectators?
Gayle Bontecou: Oh, absolutely! There again, it is such a production with the lights and the crowds and all the carrying on. The dogs really feel it, and they reacted in a very positive way. Both handlers and dogs were very “turned on.”
How challenging was this assignment? Can you share your selection process?
Gayle Bontecou: Okay, because there are 10… well, there’s four to go over, the selection process was easy and it was difficult. The nice thing is that there were so many very, very deserving, lovely representatives. The downside is that they only give you four ribbons, and I could have used 10 First Place ribbons. They were really beautiful representatives.
Do you have a word or two about your Group winner? About the dogs that placed?
Gayle Bontecou: Obviously, I’ll start from fourth place.
The Whippet was a wonderful example of a quality working hound that had muscle tone, a topline, was in wonderful condition, and was beautifully presented.
The Harrier was a lovely, lovely example of the breed. There again, in beautiful condition and looked like it could run all day; had a lovely head, four great legs, enough depth of body and rib to give it running room.
The Treeing Walker is, again, another beautiful, beautiful hound; clean, wonderful outline, strong, in very good condition and moved effortlessly.
And the Bloodhound, I can’t say enough about. He is absolutely a beautiful representative, moved fantastically and had the right personality. He was a Bloodhound through and through; loved being there and enjoyed the crowd. Just a wonderful dog; I’d love to take him home.
A dog show of this magnitude is a monumental undertaking. Is there anything you’d like to say on behalf of the AKC and the show’s sponsors?
Gayle Bontecou: I certainly want to thank the AKC. I definitely want to thank Michael Canalizo and his entire crew for doing a monumental job. I can’t imagine how much work is put into this show, even from the flowers to the cleanup to the ring presentation. The rings were all beautifully set up and it was easy to get around. The job was well done by all the workers, Michael and his crew, and the AKC.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting on this event.
Are there specific ways in which this show furthers the cause of purebred dogs?
Gayle Bontecou: Absolutely. Once again, not only were purebred dogs doing Conformation work and allowing people to see what they’re supposed to look like, but then there was the Agility which really gave the dogs a meaning to what they’re supposed to do. They could run, they could jump, they could turn. They could carry on to what they’re supposed to do. If they’re supposed to catch a rabbit, they could turn, they can go-to-ground, they could whatever. And plus, outside, there was coursing and there were outdoor events as well. It was a show that covered the gamut of what all of these dogs are for and what they’re supposed to do. So, kudos to the Show Committee.
Now that it’s over, what are your thoughts on the 2022 show year? Any thoughts on the year ahead?
Gayle Bontecou: Well, the 2022 show year, I thought, did miraculously well considering it had to play catch up, and in some cases, was very handicapped and had to follow protocol that was still lingering from COVID. So 2022, I thought, went well considering the obstacles.
I think 2023 is going to be an easier show year for the shows themselves, simply because it’s a year later and a lot of the wrinkles have been ironed out.