If you show in conformation, you daydream. The dreams start small – maybe I can at least be second out of my class of three! And then, dreams grow – maybe I can win my class! Maybe I can get the points or even someday go BOB. With time, the dreams take on a life of their own – what if I won a regional specialty or went BOB at Westminster? And some day, somehow, what if I won my National Specialty or an all-breed Best in Show? What if I did all that as an owner-handler? Or maybe, in my wildest dreams, what if I did all that as a breeder/owner-handler?
Not many of us will be so fortunate to have all of that come true, but hard-working Gretchen Milke and her stunning homebred Beagle, ‘Mason,’ have made it all the way down the list. Here is their story.
Gretchen started off showing Arabian horses. When her daughters came along, their activities took center stage. The girls were off to college in 2006, and Gretchen decided to get a dog.
“My husband had wanted a tri-colored 13-inch female Beagle since he was a young boy. When he was growing up, a neighbor had one called Sniff who used to make the rounds of the neighborhood every morning, looking for handouts, of course. He thought she was the cutest thing ever. When we started looking at puppies, a female Beagle was the only puppy he wanted. So Beagles it was.”
Enter the start of Gretchen’s dog addiction. “Daisy was purchased from a kennel out of Texas. Her registered name is Ch. Bugle’s Fancy That Miss Daisy RN. Her breeder on her papers is Carolyn Fricke, although the breeding was a joint venture between Carolyn and Jim Wood and Allen Williams of Willwood Kennels. Carolyn was listed on the papers as the breeder as she whelped the litter as Allen was very ill at the time.” Daisy arrived in upstate New York and livened up Gretchen’s life in many ways. “The more I looked at her, the more I liked her. So off to handling class at the local kennel club we went. Everyone confirmed she was very nice, so dog shows entered my life.”
Daisy finished her championship, and Gretchen decided to try breeding her. Daisy was bred to Ch. Einstein’s Speed of Light, also known as ‘Dash.’ Dash was bred by Elizabeth Lundwall of Einstein Beagles and is owned by Alice Rehm. The breeding was successful, but not quite all that Gretchen had originally hoped for. Her first litter was a bit of a trial by fire for a novice dog breeder.
“Mason was born on October 6, 2010. He caught my eye right away, as he was the only puppy in the litter. Daisy’s milk never came in, and I tube fed him for the first three days. During that time I almost lost him three times. On the third day I took him to a good friend, Mary Cummings, who had a litter of Beagles born the day after Mason. Mary’s bitch fostered him until 7 weeks, at which point I brought him home. I decided to keep him until 12 weeks and evaluate him at the point. At 12 weeks I was not thrilled with what I saw, so I made the decision to sell him, but my husband was attached. I agreed to keep him. I am very thankful to my husband!” Mason does seem to have a lucky streak about him.
Mason’s show career has gone very smoothly, according to Milke. “My first big win was a Best in Specialty Show at the Southern California Beagle Club in Palm Springs, Calif., in January 2012. The judge was Mr. David Hiltz. At the 2012 National Beagle Club of America National Specialty, Mason won the 15-inch Best of Variety and then went in against the 13-inch BOV winner, who is a very good friend of mine, and won Best of Breed. The judge was breeder-judge Barbara Scherer-Kidwell. Mason was also the 15-inch BOV winner at the 2013 Westminster Kennel Club under judge Doug Johnson. The only time there is a Best of Breed winner in Beagles is at a specialty – at all-breed shows, the 15-inch never compete against the 13-inch directly.”
Then on April 14, Mason and Gretchen added an all-breed BIS at the Rhode Island Kennel Club show in Warwick, R.I. The breed judge was Dr. Richard Hilderman. Mr. William Usherwood did the Hound Group, and breeder-judge Mrs. Barbara Keenan did Best in Show. Mason didn’t stop there. As Gretchen adds, “He also took BIS at the Central New Jersey Hound show this Spring. Breed was judged by breeder-judge Michelle Sager, and the Group judge was Ms. Joan Goldstein. I am not sure if this is called a BIS, a BISS or a Best in Hound Group though!”
Wow! What an amazing record for a breeder/owner-handler! Gretchen offers some advice for those who hope to have similar “fairy tails” come true.
“My main advice to is to watch and listen to the people that are successful in your breed and out of your breed. Listen to the advice everyone offers, digest it and then make a decision as to what you want to apply to yourself. There is always something to learn from someone. Secondly, dress and act professionally. If you want to be successful against the professionals, then you need to look and act professional. Lastly, be open to the critique of your dog from the long-term breeders in your breed and don’t take it personally. Every dog has his faults and can be improved.”
Mason is more than just a show dog, however. His fans often get treated to photos of Mason in mud, Mason sleeping upside down on the couch, Mason in a “Beagle pile” with Daisy and Gretchen’s rescue Beagle. And, of course, photos of Mason with his secret vice – toilet paper! “Mason’s most favorite thing in the world is toilet paper! I swear I could use it as bait in the ring! I am forever picking up shredded rolls in my family room. Hotel toilet paper is good stuff too! The bait I do use in the ring is chicken. He will not eat liver or hot dogs. Who ever heard of a finicky Beagle?”
Mason has achieved all his accomplishments with Gretchen as his handler and no financial backers and no big-time advertisement campaign. “In my ‘real’ world, I am a mortgage underwriter for Citimortgage, and am very lucky to be able to work at home. In addition, my husband and I own several businesses.” Mason often appears in photo ops at the businesses as well. After all, who can resist a cute Beagle?
Gretchen’s parting words: “Lastly, I always like to mention that I am very thankful and grateful to the breeders behind Mason and all my friends who have supported me. There are many breeders who have spent decades developing their breeding programs, and I was lucky enough to benefit from that. In addition, I have had many mentors and friends, and without everyone I wouldn’t have the dog I do, be the person I am and have had the successes I have had.”