ONE OF the things I love about Sheila Atter’s writing is that she writes from the heart and with great passion. And she is entitled to because Sheila has been there and done that. She is an exhibitor with an enviable track record and her reputation as a breeder of winning dogs is equally as impressive. So when Sheila says this years Crufts was one of the best in a while you know that must have been the case.

I promise that next week we’ll move on from ‘the world’s greatest dog show’ but for the moment we’re still basking in the glory and here’s Sheila’s take on all that went on.

Ricky and his Team (dwuk)

Now that Boston and Manchester are qualifiers for the upcoming Crufts, rather than for the following year, the problem of whether the greatest dog show in the world is the start of the new season or finishes the old one is surely solved for good. After all the ‘bests’ have been decided it just remains for Crufts to put the final gloss on the old year. And what a gloss it was this time. After Ricky’s spectacular successes throughout 2013, we waited with baited breath to see if he and Jason could bring their show campaign to a fitting conclusion or whether some young upstart would take the green carpet by storm. In the end there could be no denying their success. It’s a cliché to claim that a dog ‘owned the ring’ but that surely is the only apt description of Ricky that Sunday evening.

Pawscars awards

I do think that this has to be one of the best Crufts that I have been to. Admittedly it started in gala fashion with the Pawscars on Wednesday. It’s slightly surreal seeing all our well-known doggy friends and acquaintances done up in their finery – we do all scrub up quite well! It was a lovely evening, and a great spirit of camaraderie ran through the whole event. Perhaps I can take a leaf out of Baron Killick’s book. In another place, he refers often to the footman below stairs – and I’d like to congratulate my ‘below stairs’ mate Steven Seymour on his well-deserved Pawscar for ‘journalist of the year’. To see the standing ovation for Liz Cartledge on her award of judge of the year was truly inspiring and it was a privilege to be seated at the same table as Gavin Robertson’s mum – she was one very proud lady when Gavin too received a standing ovation as he spoke so movingly about his visit to Great Ormond Street Hospital to present the cheque for the money raised from Jilly’s Jolly Jaunt.

Thursday it was back to normal with four dogs to get ready for the breed on Friday, and what a Friday it was. We started off well, as the benches could not have been closer to the ring – and what a difference that makes! No fighting through the crowds to even get into the class, although to be fair, by the time we finally got into the ring the crowds had thinned somewhat anyway. I was not expecting any major awards – the dogs I was showing aren’t perhaps quite the judge’s type – but they performed well, and we got pretty much what we hoped for. There were several dogs I had bred that had come from overseas so we had a bit of a party to while away the time before judging and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves – in fact the hotels have already been booked for next year! Our judge was a young man that some in the breed have known since he was in his early teens and it was great to see that the KC can occasionally pick a judge that isn’t already past it – so often at Crufts we have the sorry spectacle of a once greatly respected expert dithering and doddering as they try to remember what they are supposed to be looking for!

All I ask from a judge is that they carry out the task with confidence and dignity, respecting the exhibitors and their dogs and making their choices with integrity. If they have read the breed Standard that’s a bonus, if they have remembered and understood it that’s even better, and if they actually like the breed then, win or lose, I am a happy bunny. So Crufts Friday was a good day!

Saturday was a pretty relaxing day. I had the hard task of choosing between two equally promising puppies – time will tell as to whether I picked the right one – and then a pleasant evening with friends, celebrating a significant birthday. On Sunday it was back to Crufts and I was delighted to learn that Professor Peter Bedford had been awarded a lifetime achievement award – thousands of dog breeders have great reason to appreciate Peter’s hard work on their behalf over the years. Next I had the privilege of handling in the Breeders’ Stakes final – what a spectacle it is to see the many teams lined up in the main ring, surely British breeding at its best. Then it was back to pick up my new puppy – and a chance to watch the stunning BIS line-up on television, before finally returning home.

New contenders
So it’s all over for another year. For we terrier folk our next big date is a month away when the year really starts in earnest with the National Terrier show. This is the day when we might just catch a glimpse of some new hopefuls – the dogs that will be in contention for the group placings during the summer. It’s likely that some of last year’s stars will still be making the running, but doubtless there will be some new ones waiting to excite us. The toy group has UK Toy just a week before, and there too I’m sure that there will be some interesting new contenders for top honours.

But it isn’t all about group wins, exciting as these may be. No true dog person could fail to appreciate Ricky’s quality as he powered round the ring, then posed to perfection, seemingly at one with Jason, joined by the thinnest of threads and the power of communication. But there were nearly 22,000 other dogs at Crufts – each of them a winner in that they had qualified to enter the show. Without them there would be no Crufts. So let us give ourselves a big pat on the back. We the exhibitors have a lot to be proud of. We all contributed to the success of Crufts, whether it was by winning at group level, taking our first ever Crufts rosette, or even leaving the ring unplaced. Who knows, by just being there we may have inspired someone to take up this wonderful sport of dog showing. Our happy, friendly show dogs might just have tipped the balance in favour of the purchase of a well-bred pedigree puppy from an ethical breeder as opposed to an expensive mistake from the local puppy farm or persuasive internet website.

As the new show season starts there will be much to celebrate. For some this will be the first year that they win a CC, or make up their first champion, or maybe they will qualify for Crufts for the very first time or win their first ever prize card. For others it will be the same old routine as before. But no one can fail to be optimistic – it’s the hope of success that keeps us going from show to show. Some may have their first judging appointment – at an open show, giving CCs, judging a group. We hope they will approach every assignment, at whatever level, with integrity, giving each exhibit the same consideration, and placing the dogs in order of merit as they see it, no matter who is on the end of the lead.