Interview with Working Group Judge Gay Kuehnel-Hisatake
My involvement with purebred dogs dates back to the 1960s when I acquired my first Alaskan Malamute. I began actively showing in the 1970s and finished my first AKC champion at the Mideast Area Specialty in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Since that time, I have bred and/or finished championships on over 50 dogs, many obtaining wins at specialties as well as being awarded ROMs, Grand Championships, and Top 20 contenders. Several of my dogs have also been titled in Obedience and Agility.
I am a lifetime member of the Alaskan Malamute Club of America. I was the Chair of Public Education for many years, and had booths at the Javits Center and at the Piers during Westminster weekend. I also did a presentation at the AKC Museum of the Dog. I am currently Assistant to the Chair for Judges Education for the Alaskan Malamute club.
My judging career began in 2000, starting, of course, with the Alaskan Malamute and followed by the Siberian Husky. I was approved to judge the Working Group, after much preparation and study, in 2015. In 2019, I became eligible for the Non-Sporting Group. I am also approved to judge Best in Show and Juniors.
I have judged numerous Specialties in the US as well as abroad. These include the Alaskan Malamute Mideast Area Specialty, a Malamute Club Specialty in Michigan in 2015, two for the Siberian Husky (the Connecticut Valley and Seneca clubs), a Cane Corso Regional Specialty, the Black Russian Club of Northern NJ, and two Boston Terrier Specialties (the Lenape and Minute Men clubs). I judged specialties for the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Alaska, the Great Dane Club of Mat-Su Alaska, and Rottweilers for the American Rottweiler club in Alaska in August of 2020. In November 2021, I judged Chinese Sharpeis for the Berkshire Spur Chinese Sharpei Club.
Several years ago, I flew to Australia to judge Alaskan Malamutes, and had my hands on many wonderful dogs. In 2016, I had the honor of traveling to Europe three times to judge Malamutes. First, I went to the Czech Republic to judge the Czech Northern Cup 2016. Next, I went to France to judge the French Alaskan Malamute National. And finally, I flew to Southern Spain for another Club Malamute and Northern Breed Specialty. These were very exciting and rewarding shows for me to officiate, and the people I met were wonderful. Finally, in 2018, I had the ultimate honor of judging the Alaskan Malamute National here in the US in Orlando, Florida. I can’t begin to describe what an experience that was!
In addition to Alaskan Malamutes, I have also owned and bred Schipperkes since 2000. I had the Number 10 All-Breed Bitch in 2007 and a Top 10 stud dog in 2016, as well as a top-producing brood bitch. Currently, I have two Schipperkes as housepets, and my son, Klynn, lives with a 10-month-old Alaskan Malamute puppy.
Klynn participated in Junior Showmanship as a youngster, and has shown a number of Alaskan Malamutes. He recently handled his 9.5-year-old bitch, Kendra, to her Bronze Grand Championship. They also won numerous Best Veteran in Sweepstakes at local area specialties during these competitions. Needless to say, he is a proud owner and he loves his Malamutes!
My educational background includes a Bachelors Degree in Sociology from New York University, and a Masters Degree in Social Work from Hunter College School of Social Work. I hold a license as a Clinical Social Worker, and worked for many years for the City of New York in the field of Child Welfare. I have additional experience working in Residential Treatment Centers with adolescents, Child Protective Services, and with mentally ill adults. I retired in 2010 from a Catholic agency as a Program Director for seven community-based group homes, and was also the Clinical Director for the agency’s Residential Services. One year after my retirement, I returned to work as a Clinician for a community-based mental health agency, providing services to children and their families. During my final year, I also did psycho-social evaluations for Family Court, providing clinical impressions and recommendations for child custody cases, as well as to evaluate the safety of a child’s living situation. I continued to work there until I officially retired in 2019, and relocated to New Jersey to be closer to my son. I have promised myself that my days of working are definitely, and forever, over!
I am active and try to remain busy. I love to travel and have been all over the world. My most recent and unforgettable trip was a safari in East Africa. I belong to four all-breed kennel clubs, enjoy going to local shows as a spectator, and I co-own several Malamutes with trusted friends. I enjoy decorating my newly purchased home, taking walks along the Delaware River with my dogs, and going to an exercise class three times a week. I find Tuesday afternoon movies relaxing, as well as reading a good book or one of the many dog publications that I receive. But best of all is when I have the opportunity to judge a good dog. I love it when I find one that takes my breath away!
As I sit by my window, watching the snow fall, I think, “What a perfect day it is to write about the Working Group; so many breeds that have performed their duties hauling, herding, and guarding in snowy terrain.”
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a judge?
I live in New Jersey, and I’ve been an animal lover since early childhood, having grown up with a family dog of unknown origin as well as a rabbit, parakeet, and several turtles. I developed an interest in horses as a teenager and worked gratis at a stable in the Bronx (yes, the Bronx!) in return for free rides. My first Alaskan Malamute came to live with me at the end of my college days, and the excitement of watching Westminster on TV introduced me to the world of dog shows. I finished my first AKC Champion at the Mid East Area Specialty in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1976, and to date, I have approximately 50 Champion Malamutes and Schipperkes combined. Many of my dogs are also Grand Champions, Specialty Winners, Group Placers, and ROMs. I have been fortunate to also sell puppies to Performance homes, where they have titled in Agility, Obedience, and Rally.
I began judging in 2000 during the days when it was one breed for one breed. This was a lengthy process, and I was finally, officially, approved for the Working Group in 2015!
What is my original breed? What is/was my kennel name?
Gay Kuehnel-Hisatake: I come from Alaskan Malamutes (Owyhee is my kennel name), dating back to 1966, and I understand and appreciate the qualities possessed by this breed that allowed them to survive and flourish in the harshest of conditions: The glorious, harsh, thick double coat; good bone; the proper large, well-furred snowshoe foot; an oblique eye; powerful, purposeful, sound movement; moderate size; and confidence all come together to make the perfect heavy-hauling sled dog. The Alaskan Malamute is truly an awe-inspiring creature of strength and survival. But let me not digress, because awe-inspiring can be applied to many—if not most—breeds in the Working Group.
Can I list a few of the notable dogs I’ve bred? Any performance or parent club titles?
Gay Kuehnel-Hisatake: This is a difficult topic for me. My purpose in breeding is to try and outdo myself. Having the big winner has never been my goal. The majority of my dogs have been owner-handled, and many have finished from the Bred-By Class. I must like what I see when I look outside in my backyard. Breeding a dog better than the last one, and, if not better, then at least equal is what I strive for. Of course, I have had dogs that I have loved and appreciated for different reasons, and some have had very nice credentials.
My first show dog finished at a very large specialty entry in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1976. I have had WD at the National with CH Cupsaw Mtn’s (my early kennel name) Lookin’ Good Tu. His litter sister, CH Cupsaw Mtn’s I’m Good Tu, “Tootsie,” was the #1 Malamute Puppy in 1982, the Dam of a Specialty-Winning Bitch, and a multiple Group-Placing Dog and Top 20 Contender, CH Owyhee’s Ice Coal. “Coal” was a substantial, powerful-moving dog with a great front, heavy bone, and gorgeous feet. When I think of super athletic, effortless movement (correct fronts have been key in my breeding program); CH Owyhee’s Dressed to Kill, aka “Tuxedo,” is at the top of my list. It gave me great pleasure just watching him move around my yard with power and grace, and I am looking forward to using his frozen semen in the near future. GCH Owyhee’s Monday Night Football ROM, aka “Tackle,” a smaller dog who oozed breed type, and again, possessed effortless, ground-covering movement, was another wonderful dog. His litter sister from a repeat breeding, GCHB Owyhee’s Bar-Vic’s Girlz Gone Wild, aka “Kendra,” was the #13 Malamute in the country. Kendra had two outstanding attributes. She was loved by all for her exceedingly sweet and kind temperament, and her exceptional movement was unanimously admired. I have had numerous #1 Area dogs, a Grand Sweeps winner at the National, as well as dogs that have earned their ROM by virtue of the number of AKC champions sired or whelped. And although I can’t take credit for all of the hard work, I have bred several dogs that have done very well in performance events. One who comes to mind is MACH Owyhee’s Spirit Into The Night, aka “Layla,” who was 4th at the 2015 Westminster KC Master Agility Championship, Double High in Trial winner in 2015 and 2017 at the AMCA National Agility Trial, Distinguished Therapy Dog, and so much more. To date, I have 48 Alaskan Malamute champions… with a few more on the way. But they all have to pass my backyard test first!
What are the qualities I most admire in the Working breeds?
Gay Kuehnel-Hisatake: I thoroughly enjoy judging all of the Working Dogs. As a Group, they exhibit strength, courage, endurance, loyalty, and pride. Each and every attribute is to be admired. This group of dogs has a purpose; and intelligence helps them fulfill their purpose. Understanding correct structure is important when judging this Group, and finding the dog that possesses proper front assembly, correct length of neck, required rear angles, proper tail set, and sound movement is rewarding for a judge.
Have I judged any Working Group Specialties?
Gay Kuehnel-Hisatake: I have had the pleasure of judging many Working Dog Specialties both in the US and abroad, and have experienced only one disappointment; my recent inability to judge Alaskan Malamutes at the World Dog Show in the Czech Republic, due to pandemic restrictions. However, it is best for me to remember my many other wonderful assignments. Two of my early assignments were Siberian Husky Specialties. I have judged numerous other Working Breed Specialties, including one for Black Russian Terriers, the Cane Corso Regional, and Great Pyrenees. More recently, I judged Specialties in Alaska for Bernese Mountain Dogs, Rottweilers, and the Great Dane of Mat-Su Club. My overseas assignments have included a Malamute Specialty in Australia, the French Alaskan Malamute National, an Alaskan Malamute and Northern Dog Specialty in the Czech Republic, and another Malamute Specialty in Southern Spain. Judging my own breed is always an exciting experience. I have officiated at several Area and Regional Specialties for Malamutes, and in 2018, I was given the honor to judge our National. What exciting times these all were!
Do I find that size, proportion, and substance are correct in most Working breeds?
Gay Kuehnel-Hisatake: Proportions must also be considered. When a standard asks for a square profile, such as in Boxers, Danes, and Dobermans, any deviation lessens what the breed standard is asking for. Sound movement is critical in Working breeds, although there are some differences within this Group, depending on the specific purpose of each breed. For example, it is acceptable for the Neapolitan Mastiff to pace, rather than have a flashy endurance trot. His movement is slow and lumbering. His function as a guard dog requires that he lay in wait for the intruder. Then he moves quickly and powerfully over a short distance to intercept his victim.
Is breed-specific presentation important to me as a judge? Can I offer some examples?
Gay Kuehnel-Hisatake: Breed-specific presentation is important, as it helps to identify correct aspects of each individual standard. Emphasizing elegant length of neck in a Great Dane is one example. Alaskan Malamutes often drop their tails when relaxed. It is acceptable for the handler to gently hold the tail up so that the judge can see the plume over the back and the correct tail set. Presentation of full dentition is also important in breeds that have teeth DQs such as the Rottweiler, Doberman, and Black Russian Terrier. Head proportions, and specific expression, are required in many Working breeds such as the Dogue de Bordeaux, Cane Corso, and Boxer, and therefore, should be correctly emphasized and presented to the judge during evaluation.
What are my thoughts on cropping/docking the Working breeds?
Gay Kuehnel-Hisatake: My thoughts on cropping and docking are mixed. Perhaps we are moving in a direction where this is an inevitable outcome in our sport. If keeping breeds natural is what will be required in order to continue having dog shows; then, of course, I will support this. However, would I prefer to leave things the way they have always been? Yes, and perhaps this has to do with my age, and preferring not to have things change. I hope I will continue to do the best that I can as a judge, no matter what decisions are made.
Are the Working breeds in good shape overall? Any concerns?
Gay Kuehnel-Hisatake: My impressions of the Working Group today are generally positive. There are numerous excellent dogs being exhibited in many breeds. However, it is unfortunate that entries have dropped, and some breeds are not seen in sufficient numbers. Recently, more Akitas have been shown, and the quality has definitely improved. The Doberman breed appears to be in good shape, and I always have several excellent dogs to choose from. There is, generally, a nice entry of Mastiffs in the ring, and I have been impressed with the gains made in this breed, both in depth of body and in movement. Although we don’t see too many Neapolitan Mastiffs or Kuvasz, the few that are being shown are of excellent breed type. Hopefully, the trend in larger entries and continuing improvement in all breeds will be on the upswing.
In my opinion, how do today’s exhibits compare with the Working Dogs of the past?
Gay Kuehnel-Hisatake: There are always some great dogs being shown, whether it be in the past or the present. Styles change, but the good ones will always be found.
Just for laughs, do I have a funny story I can share about my experiences judging the Working Group?
Gay Kuehnel-Hisatake: Judging can be a daunting and serious business that does not always make room for laughter. I can’t think of one particularly funny incident that stands out for me, except when I judge puppies. Who does not melt when you meet a happy, silly puppy that is just having a grand time in the ring? They don’t stand still; they wiggle, and they often try to give kisses. That always puts a smile on my face, and reminds me why I love judging!