Day 4 at Crufts—long awaited, greatly anticipated. For 2012, tongues wagged as much as tails, not just with the veteran ring-watcher’s usual “Who’s Who” and who-is-winning-what predictions, but with a nagging sense of where the show would be headed, and what the effects of the previous day’s announcements had wrought. It would be deceptive not to address the impact of the Kennel Club’s newly announced health schemes, and as mentioned before, for four days during Crufts, conjecture mingled with truth and rumor to form an uneasy atmosphere. Nonetheless, just as Westminster is the driving force behind many an American show campaign, the panache of a Crufts challenge certificate is still regarded by many to be the pinnacle of an English dog’s career.
Doors open precisely at 4:00 p.m., and on Crufts’ final evening the dance card is full from the first moment. One can be forgiven for not remembering every detail, other than through a haze of cheering crowds and barking dogs. International agility raises the first curtain, with teams competing in Small, Medium and Large categories.
Up next is the much-loved Mary Ray, whose unique choreography and intense relationship with her working Border Collies when they perform Heelwork to Music has garnered legions of fans. To many the term “dancing with dogs” has become synonymous with Ray, who first performed at Crufts in 1992 and has been a regular ever since. She has been credited with single-handedly raising the profile of musical heelwork to an international level, and many visitors to the show come specifically to see her routines.
The evening also brought attention to Britain’s unsung four-legged heroes, in the annual “Friends for Life” competition. Five very special dogs were presented to the audience, many of whose members cast votes for their favorites over the previous week. There was ‘Buster’, the 8-year old Springer Spaniel with several tours of duty to Afghanistan as a bomb-detection dog; ‘Obi,’ the German Shepherd Dog who suffered a fractured skull while working last summer’s London riots; ‘Kizzie,’ the Labrador-Golden Retriever service dog and “right hand” for a young paralyzed Royal Marine Green Beret; ‘Ruby,’ the Chihuahua-mix who serves as emotional support and therapy dog; and ‘Libby’, the black Labrador seeing-eye dog and constant companion to member of Britain’s para-Olympic cycling team.
Ultimately it was Buster who took home the final accolades. While in service in Afghanistan, Buster saved countless lives by sniffing out explosive vests, leading to the arrests of two suicide bombers. After Buster’s “Friends for Life” nomination his partner, RAF Police Sergeant Michael Barrow, was redeployed on a tour of duty. Flight Sergeant Phil Brown was present at Crufts with Buster, on behalf of Michael. Buster now looks forward to a long-awaited retirement with Michael’s family, and the return of his best friend. (For a heartwarming video about Buster’s service in the military go to http://thesmellofduty.com/blog/archives/3463. —Editor)
Group judging is the grand finale on Sunday night at Crufts. Terriers were first on the line, judged by 2011 Crufts BIS judge (and 2011 Westminster Best in Show judge as well) Paulo Dondina of Italy. His selection could not have been an easy one; facing him were some of the finest dogs in the world, some handled by legends. Among the legends was Margery Good from the U.S., on hand to present Am. Ch. Blomendal’s Born in the USA at Thunder Road, a son of her 2009 Crufts BIS-winning Sealyham Ch. Efbe’s Hidalgo at Goodspice. Also in the ring, American handler Bill McFadden, who handled the Kerry Blue Eng. Am. Ch. Perrisblu Kennislane Chelsey. It was the Norwich, Ragus Merry Gentleman, who took top billing, however, for owners Lesley Crawley and M. Oddie, with the Kerry coming in Second. Group Third, also well known to North American Terrier fanciers, was Irish Terrier Eng. Am. Ch. Fleet St. Fenway Fan, owned by Antony Barker and Brazil’s Victor Malzoni Jr., whose ownership figures so prominently on many of today’s top Terriers. Cloverwood Royal George, a Dandie Dinmont owned by Mrs. J. Tinsley, picked up the final placement of the evening.
Next up were Hounds, presided over by Keith Thornton. A splendid Borzoi by the name of Eng. Ch. Rothesby Sholwood Snow Hawk was Group First for owner Sue Carter. Group Second was earned by last year’s Reserve BIS winner, Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen Eng. Ch. Soletrader Peek A Boo, breeder/owner handled by Gavin Roberston for co-owners Sara Robertson and Wendy Doherty. ‘Jilly’ is a granddaughter of the 2010 U.S. National Specialty winner, Can. Am. Ch. Soletrader Bjorn Borg.
Third in the Hound Group was the Saluki, Jorjenjo Mirzam of Fernlark JW, handled by a young man whose name I regretfully did not note, but what a superb handling job this lad did! He’ll be a force to be reckoned with in future, I’ll wager, regardless of what breed he shows. Owners are Ms. Steer, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald and Mr. Johnston. Last –but definitely not least –came the Miniature Smooth Haired Dachshund, Eng. Ch. Carpaccio Captain Scarlet JW. Mr. J. and Mrs. S. Hunt claim ownership; the Carpaccio name is a well-known one in these circles, and has appeared previously on the Crufts Group podium.
Four hours flew by as so many minutes before Best in Show judge Frank Kane appeared, to cap the week’s events. A breeder of American Cockers under the “Hirontower” kennel name, the affable and popular Kane attended Crufts for the first time in 1964, and has missed only two since then! He first awarded challenge certificates in 1974 and is now approved to award them in over 100 breeds. His knowledge and experience have garnered him great respect internationally. A widely published author, he is as well-rounded outside the dog world as within; he is a true stockman, particularly interested in hacks, hunters and children’s riding ponies, and has judged at the Royal International Horse Show.
Once in the ring Kane found himself confronted with a true “United Nations” line-up. Ringside comments ran the gamut; the spunky Pomeranian from Sweden was a favorite, as was the Slovakian Newfoundland. Many considered the Irish Water Spaniel a favorite, given Kane’s sporting dog background, but ultimately, his decision rested with the English Lhasa Apso, Ch. Zentarr Elizabeth, who many saw represent Great Britain at the 2011 Eukanuba World Challenge in Orlando, Florida. The Newfoundland, multi-Ch. King of Helluland Feel the Win, lived up to his name by capturing Reserve Best in Show.
Crufts 2012 is over now, and given the health issue situation (if you want to call it that), many have declared they will not be back soon. I personally feel it is just a matter of time before the Kennel Club straightens out the flaws in what is basically a well-intentioned program, and moves forward. Though some appear only too eager to predict the eventual demise of Crufts as residual “fallout,” if you will, I hasten to disagree. At least that’s what I hope, as it would be a shame if such a cornerstone of the world’s dog shows crumbled away, never to return.