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What's Up Magazine

Best in Show

Feb 03, 2015 04:08PM ● By Cate Reynolds

Kennel Club of Anne Arundel Brings Purebred Dog-Owners Together

By Mary Lou Baker

Q. What do Martha Stewart, Bill Cosby, Mary Tyler Moore, and Stevie Wonder have in common?

A. They all own and show their dogs, with Martha’s Chow a one-time breed winner at the Westminster Kennel Club’s annual version of the Academy Awards.

What dog-lover doesn’t know about the Westminster Kennel Club’s dog show, now in its 138th year and televised since 1948 from Madison Square Garden in New York? Or watched the cult classic movie Best in Show, a realistic and hilarious glimpse of the behind-the-scenes drama involving show dogs and their owners with a supporting case of groomers, trainers, handlers, and judges?

But few know about the Kennel Club of Anne Arundel, a group of dog lovers whose pets “have papers” certifying them as purebreds by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Originally founded in 2007, the Kennel Club of Anne Arundel (KCAA) was finally recognized as a sanctioned club in 2010 by the American Kennel Club. KCAA is now in the process of gaining full affiliation as a licensed club according to AKC standards by holding regular matches in conjunction with other such clubs in the region.

“The American Kennel Club has been working with the Kennel Club of Anne Arundel to meet its requirements to become a licensed club able to hold dog shows,” says AKC spokesperson Lisa Peterson.

Some gung-ho members of the local group recently gathered in a private room at a local sports bar to watch the finale of the 2014 Westminster extravaganza on a big screen TV. Club members Nancy Almgren, Myra Street Nelson, Tom Masog, Dan Strachan, and Colin Ratcliffe, among others, welcomed this reporter to join them in watching the finale of the two-day event, whose history goes back to 1877.
We were riveted by the action, watching carefully as the judges gave each dog a physical once-over to assess bone structure, coats, eyes, and teeth before the handlers put the competing dogs through their paces. “Dog treats” seemed integral to the success of the four-legged beauties, popped into their mouths by their handlers without breaking the rhythm of what resembled a dance contest.

A wire fox terrier named Sky won Best in Show at Westminster that night, continuing the legacy of this particular breed, a 14-time winner. As the winner, Sky rang the bell to open the New York Stock Exchange the next morning and later lunched at Sardi’s. And, in honor of the occasion, the Empire State Building glowed with purple and gold lights, the official colors of the American Kennel Club. No cash prizes are involved—just the cachet of the title and her desirability as a bitch. Although marketing endorsements and magazine covers often follow suit.

“She has the ‘it’ factor,” says longtime Best in Show judge Betty Regina Leininger, as Sky laid a big, wet kiss on her chin and smiled for the cameras.

Members of the KCAA believe their own dogs possess that “it factor,” endowed with special physical and mental qualities that define each breed. Founded to bring together owners of purebred AKC-registered dogs, the club holds several “Match Shows” per year at various locations, the first at the farm of veterinarian Leslie Carr.

“These are ‘practice’ dog shows, set up just like a real AKC dog show, with judges, ribbons, and all,” says member Tom Masog, co-owner with his partner Dan Strachan of a pair of Chow puppies. “Unlike an official AKC dog show, judges do not need to be AKC-licensed. They do it to gain experience and become licensed in the future.”

Dog shows are a process of elimination within each breed, with finalists competing for the coveted Best in Show. There are seven types of dogs represented in all-breed shows, including:
  • Sporting or hunting: Pointers, Retrievers, Setters, and Spaniels
  • Hounds: Beagles, Bassets, Dachshunds, and Greyhounds
  • Working: Akita, Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, and St. Bernard
  • Terrier: Airedale, Cairn Terrier, and Scottish Terrier
  • Toy: Chihuahua, Maltese, Pomeranian, and Pug
  • Non-sporting: Chow Chow, Bulldog, Dalmatian, and Poodle
  • Herding: Briard, Collie, German Shepherd, and Old English Sheep Dog
Nancy Almgren, owner of the herding breed known as Bouvier des Flandres, is an active participant in club activities and enters her dogs at AKC-sponsored shows throughout Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. Her Bouviers have won numerous Best of Shows and twice won Best of Opposite Sex at the prestigious Westminster Dog Show. Almgren and 10-month-old Spencer recently traveled to York, Pennsylvania to compete. “Spencer is still a puppy but seems to have what it takes to be a champion,” says Nancy, who owns another prize-winning Bouvier and a retired six-year-old who was Top Bouvier Bitch in the country in 2011 and 2012. Almgren says she has re-bred Spencer’s dam (“dam” refers to mother of puppies), who is expecting a litter later this year.
Some members of the KCAA are breeders, among them Myra Street Nelson. At one time, she owned 16 mastiffs, a breed that can weigh up to 200 pounds but is known for its gentle nature. She has an indoor kennel and walk-in shower on her property and is active in the AKC’s purebred rescue program. Nelson is down to five dogs, including a prize-winning Norwich terrier named Rising Star. These days, she says she is involved in educating others about how to raise, breed, and show dogs.

The local kennel club is especially proud of Bridget Ratcliffe, age 19 and a full-time student at Johns Hopkins University. The daughter of charter member Colin and Sandi Ratcliffe, she has been handling show dogs since she was a precocious nine-year-old. Her father has a wealth of stories to tell of their travels to 20 states during Bridget’s high school years to show her own beloved Papillon that she named Cookie Dough. He says that Bridget’s skill as a handler became legendary and that over the years she has been in demand by dog-owners wanting to show their breeds to the best advantage.

“Bridget has an uncanny way with dogs, no matter what their breed,” Colin says. “As a handler, she goes beyond the norm—even doing final grooming just before the show.” He tells the story of her first show, when the head judge wanted to disqualify her as “too young,” since the official limit for handlers was age twelve. He changed his mind when Colin quoted an endorsement of her skills from a well-known breeder. Permitted to proceed, Bridget charmed both dogs and their owners with her performance in the ring.

Club members take pride in Bridget’s accomplishments and in those of their colleague Patricia Hertok, who raises English bulldogs and is a qualified AKC judge. Another prominent member of the group is Jo Ann Charnick, a professional handler who raises Akitas, as does Debbie Morgan. One of Charnick’s Akitas is currently the number one Akita in the country.

“Showing and breeding dogs is a sport—like sailing, except less expensive,” Almgren says with a chuckle. “Having a kennel club right here in Anne Arundel County has met a pent-up demand among dog owners—and we invite others to join our club.”

For more information on how to show your dog visit AKC.org for general guidelines. Visit KCAA-MD.com to learn how you can participate locally.