An interview with Wayne Ferguson President Of Morris & Essex Kennel Club by Showsight.
Photo above is from Morris & Essex Kennel Club website.
Do you come from a doggy family? If not, how did the interest in breeding and showing purebred dogs begin?
Wayne Ferguson : We had dogs growing up for as long as I can remember, but they were all mixed breeds, never purebreds. In 1948, my father started the SPCA in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the home of Rutgers University. At age 21, I went on a call to rescue a Saint Bernard bitch that was trapped in water. She died six months later from all the abuse she had suffered, but that started my interest in Saints. My first dog show was the Sand & Sea Kennel Club’s match in Lakewood, New Jersey, in 1965. My Saint Bernard placed third out of three, but I still have that ribbon, and I got hooked. For many years, I bred and showed Saint Bernards under the Cherrybrook prefix.
Who were your early mentors in the sport?
Wayne Ferguson : My first mentor in dogs was Alan Levine, the professional handler. Alan saw me at a show in 1966. He told me, “You have a nice dog, but you need to get a better lead.” So I got a better lead, and then Alan said, “Now you need to present him better!” Needless to say, Alan became the first handler I used, and I did so for years. In 1980, he showed my “Dexter” to No. 1 Saint Bernard (he accomplished this feat for three years), No. 3 Working Dog, and No. 11 All-Breed. Besides Alan’s expertise in the show ring, he had great knowledge of dog health and first aid.
Al Saba was a big handler in Saints at the time and he became an important mentor.
I also learned so much from the great judge Alva Rosenberg. In those days, the Cherrybrook booth was situated close to the Group rings, and Alva would spend time in the booth before going off to judge. We became good friends.
Professional handler Bill Trainor was another friend and valued mentor.
What was your earliest association with Mrs. Dodge’s famed Morris & Essex show? How did the dream to resurrect the club and restore the show come about?
Wayne Ferguson : Although I did not get to attend the show, I was certainly aware of Morris & Essex. People still spoke about the M&E shows with great affection when I was asked to join the Board of St. Hubert, Mrs. Dodge’s shelter. In 1997, one of the people at St. Hubert told me to go up into the attic of the building and take a look around. I could not believe what I found there! Marked catalogs all the way from 1927 to 1957. Wooden, hand-painted signage. Trophies. All had been meticulously saved by Mrs. Dodge, and here was this treasure trove of memorabilia, 40 years after the last M&E show. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
A few days later, I was attending Kate Seeman’s annual party after the Ox Ridge Kennel Club show, and started telling people what I had seen in the St. Hubert attic. More and more people gathered, and I found myself speaking louder and louder to a growing crowd of interested dog people.
I soon started making phone calls, to people like Ralph and Blanche DelDeo, Bob and Jane Forsyth, Desi Murphy, and many others. Everyone was enthusiastic about restoring the club and the show. We put together our first Board, with people like Chet Collier, Ron Menaker, and some of the folks already mentioned. An old Terrier man, Freeman Ayers, became our first President. It took about 2-1/2 years to organize our first show, in 2000. Far from being an East Coast event, California was the fifth largest state in terms of entries at our 2000 show.
What elements of the show had to remain authentic to Mrs. Dodge’s original vision?
Wayne Ferguson : History, tradition, and continuity were so important to Mrs. Dodge, and they remain so to the club. It’s important that the show stop at precisely 12 noon. A bell is rung, and everyone can enjoy a civilized lunch hour; judges and stewards as well as exhibitors. The bell is rung again at 1 pm. It is a welcome change from the speed of typical shows held today.
Dressing in the fashions of the era is another special feature we kept from the start.
Every Best of Breed winner is presented with an 8-1/2 inch pewter bowl, another tradition that Mrs. Dodge established. Rosettes are plentiful, as are flower arrangements around the rings.
One judge has commented, “I know I’m at Morris & Essex because I am handed a pencil to use, never a ballpoint pen!”
What added challenges did you face with the Covid pandemic?
Wayne Ferguson : As everyone knows, the 2020 show was cancelled. We simply would not consider downsizing or taking away from the show in any way. Our 2021 premium list is a record 89 pages!
Are there any features of the October 2021 show that you are especially excited about?
Wayne Ferguson: We know the show will be every bit as special as the exhibitors, judges, and the fancy are expecting. We will have several more rings, different vintage vehicles, and $15,000 worth of flowers. Truly a great day, and not far off.