Getting to Know Your 2022 German Shepherd Dog National Specialty Judges – Gloria Birch
Judging the Bitch Classes and Futurity/Maturity Dogs at our 2022 National Specialty is lifelong breeder, handler, exhibitor, judge, and above all else, enthusiast of the German Shepherd Dog, Ms. Gloria Birch.
When Gloria attended her first dog show in Phoenix in 1962, she was hooked; after seeing Jack La Rou handle Ch. Arap v Wallenstenpark (owned by Anton Korbel) to Best in Show, she thought to herself, “I have to do that… it was a sight to behold and the start of my love affair with German Shepherd Dogs.”
Gloria then bought a six-month-old female with her friend from Bob and Betty Hamilton, and after a “strong desire to own and show German Shepherds,” she met Sally Holcomb and found her way to Dallas, Texas. Once there, she purchased Obernauf’s Daemon and Chickwood’s Gilly, and bred them together to produce her first litter and the “love of her life” Ch. Kovaya’s Contessa CD, ROM. Contessa is actually where the famous “Covy,” and later, “Covy-Tucker Hill” kennel name stems from, as Gloria named her “Covy.”
Gloria Birch bred, raised, and handled dogs in Texas until 1969, when she then moved to Cotati, California, and joined forces with Cappy Pottle. Together, they bred Contessa to BIS Ch. Lakesides Gilligan’s Island ROM, which produced Ch. Covy’s Felita of Tucker Hill CD, ROM, whose brother, Flanagan, was bred to GVX Ch. Covy’s Rosemary of Tucker Hill ROM, who was Gloria’s second love.
Rosemary then produced Westminster BIS winner, Ch. Covy-Tucker Hill’s Manhattan ROM. This is only a small fraction of the dogs that Gloria bred, owned, and handled, and the fact that her foundation bitch Contessa was an ROM herself and produced many generations of ROMs is a testament to the Covy and Covy Tucker-Hills breeding program that has had a lasting impact in the breed.
Who better to ask about the state of the breed and sport than our breeders?
Gloria Birch, being one of the most influential breeders of our time, has undoubtedly seen how German Shepherds have changed through time, and when asked this question, Gloria’s reply was that “change is normal and inevitable, some of it is good, some not so much—it depends on what you like and want in a dog. For some, they want dogs so extreme that they are not balanced; I think coordination comes from being well-balanced and well-structured, and as a breeder, that is so important to keep in mind.”
She goes on to state that “many dogs have lost our standard’s view of proportions, with backs that are much too long and croups that are too short and/or steep.” To add onto how the breed has changed for both the better and the worse, Gloria notes that “German Shepherds are more angulated in both front and rear than they were 20 years ago, which can be an asset or a curse; it’s a joy to see a side gait with all four feet close to the ground with suspension, but they need to be clean coming and going while exhibiting such suspension in movement.”
Gloria’s emphasis on the need for dogs to be sound coming and going is important, as it is an area of the breed that she urges needs improvement: “It is still a problem that we must address and overcome.”
For Gloria, this problem lies in the hands of breeders and judges alike; she states, “If judges don’t start faulting this kind of movement, nothing is going to change. Exhibitors and breeders begin to start thinking to themselves, ‘That one has a lot of angles and it’s winning, so that’s the type of dog that I have to beat, so I need to breed for more angles… and that cycle just continues on and on.’”
Gloria has a unique perspective on this issue, as she is a breeder, owner, former handler, and current judge; she has seen every facet of this breed and is continuing her work of bettering the breed from both a breeder and judge’s eye. She notes that, “There is no perfect dog, so as a breeder I’m still trying, and as a judge I’m still looking for that ‘perfect’ one—one that is as angulated as possible while remaining sound.”
When discussing what she would like to tell the fancy, Gloria once again focused on our breeders:
“Be a student of our fabulous breed, study pedigrees, and make sound choices in breeding.” Objectively speaking, there are too few people breeding dogs anymore and we see the effect it’s had within our breed. Had it not been for the breeding aspect of the sport, Gloria might not have even been involved as much as she has, as she stated that “there’s nothing like breeding a female, raising the puppies, and seeing them develop into the animals they become. Nothing competes with that feeling and I think that’s why I’m still involved in dogs.”
She additionally emphasized the importance of open-mindedness and kindness:
“To our exhibitors and handlers, have a good time gently training youngsters, be generous with your time, be a good sport, be helpful and kind.”
When asked how she felt being on a panel with fellow longtime breeders and handlers, Gloria eagerly replied, “I think it’s wonderful! We know how important these qualities (proportions, sound temperaments, coordination, balance, etc.) are because we wouldn’t still be breeding dogs if we didn’t have sound ones. Fads come and go, but we have some stability here and that’s important.”
She also reflected on how Michel, Jim, and herself are now the mentors and leaders who are in the same position as those whom she looked up to: “I reflect every time I judge on my mentors; Bob & Betty Hamilton, Steve & Janice Herchek, Sally Holcomb, Cappy Pottle, Connie & Dave Beckhardt, Sam & Marion Lawrence, Ralph & Mary Roberts, Peggy Douglas, Helen Miller Fisher, Jane & Tom Bennet, Ann Mesdag, and Ernest Loeb—amazing breeders, handlers, and judges who make me feel so fortunate to have known and had them close in my life.”
The history packed into Gloria’s answers throughout the interview is extraordinary—she herself is not only a German Shepherd icon, but to have been surrounded by so many knowledgeable and history-making people and have them as close friends and mentors is awe-inspiring.
I’d also like to emphasize how much her quote regarding how the stability of the breed relies on our breeders. As a young breeder/owner/handler, I find this particular quote especially resonant and insightful, and I hope the fancy feels the same way.
Thank you, Gloria Birch, for taking the time to chat with me and discuss our wonderful breed!