My First Westminster

Everyone remembers their first Westminster. Whether the initial experience was that of an exhibitor, handler’s assistant or wide-eyed spectator, every dog lover’s first visit to “The Garden” elicits a sense of wonder at the extraordinary variety of dogs that are on display. To the genuine dog person, the illustrious event in the heart of Midtown Manhattan is equal parts Kentucky Derby, Superbowl and Three-Ring Circus. Make that a Ten-Ring Circus with a benching area to rival that of any sideshow.

Memories of my first visit to Westminster are chronicled in my copy of the show’s 1981 catalog. I’d originally read about the legendary event two years earlier in a New York Times story by Walter Fletcher. That year’s winning Irish Water Spaniel, Ch. Oaktree’s Irishtocrat, appeared in several John Ashbey photos that accompanied the article. Those images sparked my interest in the sport of dogs and encouraged me to ultimately attend the show where I’d purchased my first catalog for the princely sum of $10.00. Although the price was steep for a struggling college student, the acquisition was a good investment. The information provided by its 322 pages (names of dogs, sires and dams, breeders and owners) so impressed a 19-year-old dog-crazy undergrad that he decided to give the sport a try. Nearly 40 years later, my well referenced catalog, cover torn and binding split, remains one of my most treasured keepsakes.

The entry at the 105th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was 2,910 dogs with a total of 2,945 entries in 138 breeds or varieties. The largest entry was in Golden Retrievers with 79. Other breeds with big entries were Yorkshire Terriers (74), Labrador Retrievers (66), German Shorthaired Pointers (53), Miniature Poodles (56), Afghan Hounds (45), Old English Sheepdogs (45), Standard Poodles (45), Maltese (43) and Bichon Frise (43). The catalog includes a Schedule of Points for Division 1 that represents the strength of these breeds and others. For example, the following number of dogs and bitches were needed at the time for a 5-point major: Golden Retrievers (45/42); Irish Setters (53/72); Doberman Pinschers (55/68); Great Danes (44/57); and Siberian Huskies (43/52). Sixty-three dogs and 58 bitches were needed to earn a 5-pt. major in Afghan Hounds! Interestingly, five points could be awarded in Labrador Retrievers with “only” 21 dogs and 31 bitches competing.

The 1981 judging panel was headed by the venerable all-rounder Langdon Skarda. Group judges were Haworth Hoch (Sporting), Louis Auslander (Hound), Mrs. G.R. (Eileen) Pimlott (Working), Derek Rayne (Terrier), Mrs. Tom (Ann) Stevenson (Toy), and Mrs. George John (Anna) Wanner (Non-Sporting). Their top choices include many of the sport’s legendary figures. The Group winners brought to Mr. Skarda for his consideration were the Parti Color Cocker Spaniel Ch. Kamp’s Kaptain Kool, bred by Harriet Kamps and handled by Ted Young for Mrs. Byron Covey and Mai Wilson, the Whippet Ch. Sporting Fields Clansman, bred by Richard Sufficool and Bruce Tague and handled by Bob Forsyth for Mr. & Mrs. James Butt and Dionne (Debbie) Butt, the Briard Ch. Phydeaux What’s Happenin’, bred by Mary Lou Tingley and handled by Art Tingley for co-owners Mary Lou and Ira Ackerson, the Tasmanian-bred Smooth Fox Terrier Ch. Ttarb The Brat, bred by Mr. & Mrs. D.G. Bratt and handled by Ric Chashoudian for Dr. J. Van Zandt and Ed Dalton, the Pug Ch. Dhandy’s Favorite Woodchuck, bred by Mrs. W. J. Braley and Mrs. R. D. Hutchinson and handled by Bobby Barlow for Robert Hauslohner, and the Miniature Poodle Ch. J. L. C. Critique, bred by Marie Walstrum and handled by Paul Edwards for Robert Koeppel. The Herding Group was not established for another two years, so only six dogs competed for Best in Show

Spectacular though their performances were, the Group winners were not the only talent in The Garden that year. Among the entry in Junior Showmanship were several youngsters who would grow up to enjoy their own turn in Westminster’s spotlight. Among 1981’s more notable Juniors, Gail Miller is now AKC’s Director of Media Relations and the current “Voice of Westminster.” Also competing was Eddie Dzuik, presently the Chief Operating Officer at OFA. Eddie is also the co-owner of two Westminster Best in Show winning Beagles: Ch. K-Run’s Park Me In First (2008) and Ch. Tashtins Lookin For Trouble (2015). The year’s Best Junior, selected by Ellsworth Howell, was Valerie Nunes. Thirty-five years later, Val would surpass this win with another German Shorthaired Pointer by going Best in Show. In 2016, GCh. Vjk-Myst Garbonita’s California Journey was breeder/owner-handled to victory under Dr. Richard Meen. (Hey, kids! Take it from Gail, Eddie and Val. Work hard, keep on learning and never give up on your dreams.)

In 1981, a Westminster Parade of Winners was held just prior to Best. This event welcomed back dogs with a previous Group and/or BIS win for a celebratory sprint around The Garden floor before an adoring crowd. (Some of the older dogs, however, took a more leisurely stroll!) “The Best of Westminster” winners listed in the catalog include more than a few preeminent purebreds: Skye Terrier Ch. Glamoor Gang Buster (1972 Terrier Group), Wire Fox Terrier Ch. Sunnybrook Spot On (1974 & ’78 Terrier Group); Lakeland Terrier Ch. Cozy Mischief Maker (1979 & 80 Terrier Group); and the Standard Poodle Ch. Rimskittle Ruffian (1980 Non-Sporting Group). Four Best in Show winners are also noted: Sealyham Terrier Ch. Dersade Bobby’s Girl (1977); Yorkshire Terrier Ch. Cede Higgens (1978); and the Siberian Husky Ch. Innisfree’s Sierra Cinnar (1980). Mrs. Anne E. Snelling’s Irish Water Spaniel (BIS in 1979 under all-rounder Henry Stoecker) gave me an opportunity to watch this show dog extraordinaire command attention at Madison Square Garden.

Although a Handler’s Index is not included in the 1981 catalog, a list of Boxholders is. Among the names that appear on Page 37 are Richard Bauer, Keke Blumberg [Khan], Miss Iris de la Torre Bueno, Dr. M. Josephine Deubler, Dr. Samuel Draper, Joseph E. Gregory, John C. Frederick Peddie, Suzy A. Reingold, Dennis Sprung & Roger Rechler, Mrs. Alfred E. Treen and Mr. & Mrs. Porter Washington. How’s that for a “box” of knowledgable dog folk?

Perhaps the most intriguing pages of Westminster’s 1981 catalog are those that were paid for by commercial advertisers. It’s interesting to revisit the dog food company ads to see what it was we were all feeding in those days. Ken-L Ration Biskit, Kal Kan, Alpo, and Milk-Bone Dog Biscuits feature prominently. So too do Science Diet and Purina’s Pro Club which informs members that they can “save substantially at many family fun parks…” Several kennel clubs promote their upcoming shows in the catalog, including the Scenic Circuit of New England (Vermont’s Holyoke, Woodstock, Champlain Valley and Green Mountain Kennel Clubs and the Carroll County and Lakes Region Kennel Clubs of New Hamphire) and the Western Pennsylvania Kennel Association, Inc. and the Greater Pittsburgh Specialty Shows. (This ad prompted me to attend the Greater Pittsburgh English Springer Spaniel Specialty to watch Julia Gasow judge her breed.) The New York School of Dog Grooming took out a full-page ad as did Tiffany & Co., provider of the Sterling Silver bowls awarded to Group winners, and The Manhattan Savings Bank which hosted a post-Westminster exhibition of purebred dogs at their Madison Avenue location for many years.

The most astonishing ad that appears in Westminster’s 1981 catalog is found on Page 13. The half-page proclamation made by The Skyline Motor Inn, complete with Best Western logo and a simple illustration of the Statue of Liberty, offers “Mid-City Convenience…Motor Inn Freedom.” Single rooms are advertised at $58.00/night, $64.00 for a double. At these rates, the General Manager undoubtedly had little trouble filling his establishment’s rooms, restaurants, meeting facilities and pool with out-of-town dog fanciers. Free parking probably didn’t hurt either!

If this year marks your first visit to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show—the club’s 144th—I hope that you enjoy every new wonder that awaits. However, if this is your 64th consecutive showing at the world’s most glamorous dog show, you needn’t worry that you might find the action a little boring. Despite the many changes the show has undergone through the years it has lost none of its luster. And the catalog, in its signature color, is still a useful device for preserving all
those memories. 

  • Dan Sayers covers the sport of dogs with a particular interest in purebred dog history and breed preservation. His articles feature notable icons of the past as well as individuals who work tirelessly to promote purebred dogs today. A self-taught artist, Dan’s work is represented in collections worldwide and his illustrations appear in the award-winning Encyclopedia of K-9 Terminology by Ed and Pat Gilbert. Since 1981, Dan has been an exhibitor of several Sporting and Hound breeds. He’s bred Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix and judged Sweepstakes at the parent club’s National Specialty twice. Dan is a member of the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America and the Morris and Essex Kennel Club.

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