In the 15 months I’ve been with Best In Show Daily, I have had the good fortune to interview many people whose passion for dogs is contagious. Inevitably, I leave the conversation all amped up to try some new sport or with a renewed sense of appreciation for my canine companion, Max.
When I have the chance to “get nosy” with someone I’ve never met, I don’t always know what will come of it. Most people aren’t accustomed to being interviewed and, often, initially, are a little tight-lipped and cautious. Who can blame them with the reputation much of the media has today? But typically, once they’ve gotten over the fact that I’m going to ask them pretty much everything about their dogs – breeds, names, ages, etc., even about their “first” dog – and their involvement in dogs – performance events, public service, veterinary research – and themselves, which is often the most difficult, they start to open up. I can tell in their tone of voice when the transformation has taken place.
First they ooze affection for their own dogs, then they ooze passion for whatever it is they do that’s brought them to my attention or to that of my editor-in-chief at or the founder of Best In Show Daily.
It makes me smile just rememberingthe passion and affection I’ve heard in their voices, so I wanted to look back at a few of them and share my personal take on our conversations.
Some of my most recent interviews were for an article about how handlers manage their dogs’ dental care. I’ve edited and read lots of stories about how important brushing dogs’ teeth is, followed by survey results saying only a small percentage of dog owners actually do it. So, I was curious about handlers whose lives are incredibly busy, whether they are professionals with a whole team of assistants or owner-handlers who do almost everything themselves.
While the methods for preserving canine health, pun-intended, were all a bit different, it was how devoted they were to the cause that impressed me.
For example, Bill Shelton of Coventry Corgis said that when he worked in a veterinary clinic when he was younger, he did a lot of dental procedures. “Dentals are a result of poor care. It was because people did zero dental care” at home, he said. Mandy Tyler of Kerryarc Irish Wolfhounds said there’s “really no excuse” for a dog having dirty, uncared-for teeth. And Tray Pittman of PaRay Shelties and Bichons said, “It affects their daily health and happiness. I think it’s an afterthought for many people. I believe that with all my heart.”
Of course it’s in every breeder and handler’s best interest for their dogs to have clean, healthy teeth, but, nonetheless, the vehemence of these handlers’ opinions struck me.
I was also shocked that all three mentioned that not all show dogs have clean teeth.
Upon finishing the article, my resolve to brush Max’s teeth was mighty. I have yet to do it…
This next story wasn’t really a profile, but I was stunned to hear how far some people who like dogs – not breeders or dog show people or performance competitors– would go to help some canines in need.
Fred and Jo Miska and their daughter and son-in-law spent the first night of their vacation trying to locate a 24-hour veterinary clinic near their vacation camp in the mountains of Pennsylvania to treat two Siberian Huskies that had been “quilled” by a porcupine. After finding an open practice, Fred and his grandson, a medical student, drove an hour and a half over “winding mountain roads in darkness and rain except when it was lightning,” Fred said. When it turned out the dogs’ owner couldn’t afford the $700 veterinary bill, Fred paid it himself.
I’ve helped dogs in trouble, of course, and I’d never leave a stray dog to find its own way home, but I’ve also never footed a bill like that for a stranger’s dog…
Jan Rothwell cares about Bloodhounds – not just her own, but all Bloodhounds. And she thinks they should all benoses with dogs attached. “My passion is that Bloodhounds are still one of the breeds you can take out of the show ring one day and put in the harness the next,” she said. “There aren’t two types. I think that is one of the most valuable things we can keep doing.”
In that cause, she’s been putting trailing titles on her dogs since 1991, became a judge in 2002, and, three years later, the chair of the American Bloodhound Club Trailing Trial Committee.
James was Jan’s “heart dog. If you’re very, very fortunate, and you’re in the dog game long enough, everyone gets a great one. He was that for me,” she said.
Her love for her current trailing dogs, Caleb and Tanner, is obvious too. “Caleb is a gift from the gods and does everything I ask of him. He’s very biddable. Then the gods gave me Tanner to say, ‘Told you.’” That independent streak for which Bloodhounds are known is all part of the attraction for Jan. “This is who they are,” she says. And while Tanner is challenging, “I wouldn’t trade him for the world,” she says. “He’s a riot.”
She never seems to forget how fortunate she is to spend her life with these dogs. Whether she’s headed out for some practice or to a trial, Jan said she is always “amazed that I have these remarkable creatures in my car who can do this stuff.”
My dog Max may not do “remarkable” things, but I do appreciate that he knows how to sit and that if I tell him to stay in the yard while I leave the gate open, he’ll do it. I’m thinking, though, that perhaps I should challenge him a bit more…
I really loved Heather Rife’s story. We don’t like to think of any owner “forcing” a dog to compete in agility or obedience or earthdog, and I suspect very few do. How do you force a dog down a hole in the ground? But it was the way Heather put it that I loved: She “listens” to her dogs by watching their reaction and gauging their enthusiasm for a particular event.
After graduating from vet school in 1985, Heather got her first rescued Doberman. “She was one of the best dogs I’ve ever owned in my entire life,” Rife said. “She followed me everywhere. She was the perfect dog.”
Her second rescued Doberman turned his bad luck as a young dog into a service. “His greatest feat was earning his therapy dog title and going to a local hospital as a therapy dog,” Rife said. “On the street, people were so frightened of this 90-pound Doberman, but in the hospital he would lie down and roll on his back for very small children to stroke his chest. The kids loved to measure their tiny hands to his huge feet. Guess I listened to him too and let him find his niche.”
I just love that concept. If I let Max find his own niche, however, I’m afraid it will be sleeping on his bed while I write…