If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that everyone who’s seriously interested in dogs and dog shows should go to Crufts at least once in their lifetime. There’s no other place that dogs play such an important part in the general life of the human population as they do in England, and nowhere is this more evident than at Crufts. The scope of the thing is really hard to grasp until you’ve experienced first-hand what a mammoth event this is, covering acres of ground in the vast halls of Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre and incorporating, for four very hectic days in March each year, over 20,000 dogs. (The press material announces that there were actually 28,000 dogs at the show this year, including also those participating in agility, obedience and other events not directly related to the conformation judging.)
Let the experts argue about which one is the greatest dog show, Westminster or Crufts – I don’t think you’re ever going to get an unbiased answer. Each is wonderful in its own right, and it’s best not to even compare them, but simply appreciate each for the characteristics that make it unique: Westminster is where the elite meet and greet, Crufts is more like a giant folk festival with dogs at the center. I’m sure a lot of visitors never realize just how big the show is, because once you get to “your” breed ring you tend to get stuck there all day, because in most breeds the size of the entries is so large that judging takes all day and you never have reason to venture into any of the other halls. But for those of us who want to watch many breeds there’s a lot of walking involved, and I don’t know how many miles I covered during the first day of the show, trying to catch as much breed judging as I could…
Thursday was Terriers and Hounds, and it may give you an idea of the size of the show that the Terrier Group alone, with 2,242 dogs entered, was bigger than most of our AKC all-breed shows. There were even more Hounds, with a total of 2,731 entered. Biggest breed in the Terrier Group were Staffordshire Bull Terriers, with 389 entered, and biggest Hound (and third biggest breed at the entire show) entry came from the 416 Whippets. Each breed, of course, had separate judges for dogs and bitches. Naturally, I spent many hours glued to the Whippet ring and must say I was impressed by the quality, which was much higher now than just a few years ago. The dogs aren’t as flashy and glamorous as most of our American show winners, but they had solid virtues that would impress any breeder-judge… and I know I was not the only American visitor to think so.
Breed judging was not over until past 4:00 p.m., so I saw only little of the “entertainment” program in the large arena, with tiered seating to the roof, where the finals were held. Crufts, unlike Westminster, puts great store on all the “extra” activities… and I know a lot of spectators love flyball, agility, dancing with dogs, and the like, but it’s not really my thing. However, there was one very interesting competition that perhaps we could imitate in the U.S. Each year at various shows there are qualifying events for Best Junior, and 10 successful youngsters are selected to compete in what’s called the “Kennel Gazette Junior Warrant Winner of the Year” finale. Judged by Jeff Horswell, partner in Zena Thorn-Andrews’ famous Drakesleat Mini Wire Dachshund kennel, it was an impressive display of future greats, eventually won by the stylish Pointer Sh. Ch. Wilchrimane Ice Maiden JW. (Sh. Ch. means Show Champion and is a title afforded to Gundogs that have not (yet) achieved field qualifications for the full Champion title. The last two letters stand for Junior Warrant, a sort of Junior Champion title that is very popular among British exhibitors.)
The Terrier Group was judged by Paul Wilkinson, who as a handler had won Reserve BIS at Crufts in 1995 with the Welsh Terrier Ch. Purston Leading Lady at Wigmore. He had a very international collection of Best of Breed winners to go over: there were at least five or six who had strong American connections in so far as owner, breeder, handler or ancestry was concerned. Others came from the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway or Canada and one was Brazilian-owned. The final cut of eight four that were owned and/or bred in the U.S., one from Canada, and one from Sweden… but first place went to the Skye Terrier Ch. Salena The Special One, who as far as I know is of all British breeding. Second place was the Lakeland Terrier Am. Ch. Iron van Foliny Home, imported from Belgium and shown by Gabriel Rangel for Mr. Malzoni of Brazil. Third was the U.S.-bred Irish Terrier bitch, Ch. Fleet St Fire and Ice, and fourth was the Border Terrier Ch. Toftahill Game On from Sweden.
The dogs that today’s two American judges sent forward were also in this Group: breed specialist David Merriam officiated for both Bull Terriers and Miniature Bull Terriers, and Peter Green judged Welsh Terriers. (Peter, of course, hails from Wales, but has lived in America for so long now that I think we can count him as one of our own.)
The Hound Group was also very international, but much less heavily influenced by American dogs: although I know some of the BOB winners were of U.S. breeding, as far as I could see only a couple of foreign visitors: one from France, one from Spain, and one from Australia. The judge Ben Reynolds-Frost was brought up with Basenjis and Ibizan Hounds but chose as his winner the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen that was Great Britain’s Number 1 Dog of all breeds last year, the extroverted showgirl Ch. Soletrader Peek A Boo. She’s of course born and bred in the U.K. but unless I’m mistaken her sire is from Holland. Group second was the beautiful red brindle and white Whippet Ch. Shalfleet Simply A Lord, who looks “all British” in the catalog but in fact has quite a lot of Canadian and American blood further back in his pedigree. Third place went to a Miniature Wire Dachshund, Stargang Czarina, bred in England but with a Russian sire, and fourth was the Norwegian Elkhound Ch. Kestos Ispy at Graythor, who I am pretty sure is all British-bred in spite of the fact that his sire, also from Kestos, is both an American and an English champion.
There’s so much else I’d like to write about… but that’s it from Day One at Crufts!