Interview with Non-Sporting Group Judge Sandra Lex
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a judge?
Sandra Lex: I live in Metropolitan Toronto, in the same house since childhood. I could be a historian for the neighborhood. I’ve only worked for three companies in my lifetime, with my last association being with The Aluminum Company of Canada for 39 years, serving in administration, sales, and finally, accounting, a job given to me to develop, and I did, being responsible for receivables, deductions, and maintaining pricing in the system. (Invoice price was never the final price, trust me.)
I was fortunate in having my “other” life on the weekend and that, of course, was the dog world. A true “360” when you think about it. I called it “fantasyland” because reality hit the road on Monday morning. The downturn in the 2008/09 economy made me the perfect candidate for retirement. I’ve been asked, “How long did it take you to get used to retirement?” My response? “Twenty-four hours and I’ve never looked back.”
Today, I have a very active life. I still have more than a few dogs. Gardening is a huge passion and I’ve re-landscaped the property into a design garden. I entered the world of ikebana, Japanese flower arranging, 10 years ago and, of course, there’s my judging. All in all, a very full life.
How many years in dogs? How many years as a judge?
Sandra Lex: I have been involved for more years than I can count. My mother bred dogs, ever since I was 10, so it could be said that I kinda’ fell into it. Even now, I still breed, though not much, and I exhibit. I’m an all-breed judge here in Canada, judging for 28 years; however, 23 years ago, I decided to apply under the AKC system and I currently have the Sporting, Toy, and Non-Sporting Groups, and my new venture into Terriers with eight breeds. During those 23 years, I took an 11-year hiatus from applying for various reasons; however, I was still judging.
What is my original breed? What is/was my kennel name?
Sandra Lex: My original breed was the American Cocker Spaniel for 25-plus years, with showing only Blacks and Black & Tans. I still have an infinity for those colors, no matter the breed. Then, 21 years ago, the Affenpinscher came into my life and my only regret is that I never started earlier. This is a heartbreak breed and there is a reason why we are 159 or so out of 200-plus in AKC listing. In Cockers, my kennel name was Lesan’s, and in Affens it is Hilanne’s.
Can I list a few of the notable dogs I’ve bred? Any performance or parent club titles?
Sandra Lex: The one Cocker I bred and loved to bits was Am. Cn. Bd. CH Lesan’s Just One Kiss, a Group and BIS-winning bitch. I had taken her to Kyle Robinson to finish her American title and, lo and behold, I got an entry for the summer national in Cincinnati where she was one of 40 Open Black bitches. Largest entry ever. Those were the days of huge entries. All I wanted was to make the first cut, but she made the cut and won the class. Long story short, she went on to be BOW that year. That had to be my thrill of a lifetime. Kyle did an amazing job with her.
In Affens, I will never overpopulate the world, trust me. But with my limited breeding, I’ve won BOS at the National twice, Winners Bitch & BOW twice, Winners Dog & BOW once, Reserve Winners Dog once, and two Awards of Merit. I will be forever grateful to Jerome Cushman for giving me my start in the breed. I really do breed for myself.
What are some of the qualities I most admire in the Non-Sporting Breeds?
Have I judged any Non-Sporting Breed/Group Specialties?
Sandra Lex: I’ve judged a number of Frenchie Specialties and Supported Entries; also, Poodle, Shar-Pei, Tibetan Terriers, Tibetan Spaniel, Keeshond, Boston Terrier, and Löwchen Specialties.
Can I speak to the overall quality of the more popular Non-Sporting Breeds/Varieties; Bulldog, French Bulldog, and Standard & Miniature Poodles?
Sandra Lex: Bulldogs are certainly a specialized breed and one that will test you. I believe this breed is in really good shape; beautiful specimens that make you sigh. A Bulldog winning the Group is not the exception anymore, nor should it be; a breed that the exhibitors all clap for, no matter who wins. They are very supportive of each other. The French Bulldog is a breed that I’ve judged more than a few times. Recently, I did a regional specialty and the quality was high. There were certainly choices. For a breed that is fighting the designer colors and popularity issue, the breeders have done an exemplary job in maintaining the quality. Poodles have dominated this Group for years; the panache, the attitude, their personality have all contributed to making it difficult to beat. Nothing makes me happier than watching all three varieties at Poodle Club of America (PCA). However, going back to function, these were retrieving dogs among other things. Their conformation today, however, lends itself to straight shoulders, no prosternum, and ewe necks. When you find one that possesses the correct front, you say to yourself, “It can happen.” Of course, this is one component of the overall dog, but it would sure be nice to have this happen more often.
What about the overall quality of the more “vulnerable” breeds; Coton de Tulear, Finnish Spitz, Löwchen?
Sandra Lex: These vulnerable breeds are, yes, few and far between, but they have maintained their hallmarks very well. When Cotons came on the scene, I had attended the World Show in Helsinki where there was a large entry, so I was able to get a good feel for the breed. It has held to its origins! I’ve placed more than a few in the Group. Finnish Spitz is a breed that I feel should be in the Hound Group because of its function. It is definitely in the wrong Group, at least for me. By and large, this breed is very localized but it has maintained its silhouette, its hallmark gait, and its head. Entries may be small, but what is shown is, by and large, fitting the standard.
The Löwchen is my sweetheart breed. I love this breed and it should be recognized far more often than it is. This breed is part of the Bichon family and the one endearing component common to all is that lovely, soft, and beguiling expression. This is the breed. Again, it is a breed that is high in quality. My only concern is size. They were carried around by the ladies of the court, though some today would wear the arm out very quickly. I judged them in Australia before COVID and I could have stolen my Group winner in a nanosecond. All of these low-entry breeds should be given equal consideration for placing in the Group. Are they?
Would I have any advice to impart to newer judges of the Non-Sporting Breeds who come from other Groups?
Sandra Lex: Take your time. Each breed is so unique and is deserving of your attention to the hallmarks that make these breeds their breed. I think judges coming from the Sporting, Working, and Herding Groups will perhaps have their judging tested because nothing is the same, whereas in those other three Groups, a lot of the breeds have the same structure. Just my opinion.
In my opinion, how do today’s exhibits compare with the Non-Sporting Dogs of the past?
Sandra Lex: Hard to say because many breeds have evolved, and what once was is not what is today. Yes, there are past dogs that could stand the test of time today. I hate looking backwards, but there are certainly lessons to be learned from the past that need to be implemented again today.
Why do I think Non-Sporting Dogs can become such outstanding Show Dogs?
Sandra Lex: I don’t think this is an issue with just the Non-Sporting Group. It pertains to all Groups. There are breeds in each Group that excel and just make great show dogs.
If I could share my life with only one Non-Sporting Breed, which would it be and why?
Sandra Lex: I’m not going to settle for one. Löwchen, for sure, which I’ve explained previously, and Tibetan Spaniels. I became enamored, say, 20 years ago, when I was deciding between Affens and Tibbies.
Just for laughs, do I have a funny story that I can share about my experiences judging the Non-Sporting Group?
Sandra Lex: Nothing comes to mind quickly, though I’m sure I will think of something down the road.