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The Santa Barbara Experience

By now the results from the Santa Barbara dog show weekend on August 23-26, 2013, are old news to anyone who cares about these things. We know the Corgi beat the Wire the first two days, the Fox Terrier came back and won the Sunday show, and the last big ribbon of the weekend went to the Saluki. Isn’t it amazing how quickly the results become “old news” when there are so many other shows being held, every single weekend of the year?

However, it’s not Group and BIS judging that make the Santa Barbara weekend a unique experience in the dog show calendar. There’s so much else going on at these shows that after a couple of days your head is spinning, and many of the various special events are so interesting they make you wonder why other clubs don’t try to imitate at least a few of them at their shows. In these days of falling entries, wouldn’t it make sense to put a little more zip into the many rather humdrum shows that cluster the all-breed show calendar?

The Santa Barbara show has a lot going for it that has nothing whatsoever to do with dogs. Photo © CanStockphoto

It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Santa Barbara Kennel Club has built-in name recognition. It’s held, after all, in one of the most beautiful towns in California, if not the whole country. Santa Barbara is where rich folks go to retire, and the rest of us visit and enjoy the beaches, the palm trees, the pristine Spanish-inspired, white-washed architecture, and the general air of opulence. Even if you come just for the dog shows, you really owe it to yourself to see the presidio, mission, rose garden, city hall, the beach and the Riviera.

Another thing this weekend has going for it is the memory of the days when the Santa Barbara dog show was the biggest in the country. Those of us who were lucky enough to experience this won’t forget it anytime soon: for a couple of decades, from the 1970s and into the 1990s this show was unrivaled for both size (about 4,500 dogs at its peak) and elegance. Endless green lawns and cool ocean breezes at the University of California, Santa Barbara, campus, where the rings were then set up, provided perhaps the best environment any dog show could ask for.

That was in the days of Tom and Ann Stevenson, but things change – unfortunately for all of us – Ann died in 1990 and Tom in 2004 and UCSB needed the show grounds for new development. For a few years, the club almost literally wandered in the wilderness.

In recent years, however, SBKC has experienced a remarkable comeback. In spite of the fact that it’s no more one of the biggest shows in the country (barely 1,500 dogs were entered each day this year), it’s certainly one of the most ambitious and best-known. The Earl Warren show grounds are not a particularly glamorous venue, but the horse show arena has been fixed up as to make it unrecognizable, with well mown grass brought in for the dogs to move on and banners, bunting, flags and flower decorations helping to create a festive atmosphere.

Part of the trophy table at Santa Barbara Kennel Club. Photo courtesy of Kit Rodwell.

Some things remain the same. The trophy table is probably the most impressive of any show this side of Westminster, with a sparkling array of antique sterling silver and bronze. The striped yellow-and-white SBKC tenting is unmistakable and has been part of the club’s signature for decades. The membership is drawn from far and wide, not just locally. (I hesitate to mention any names, because so many obviously work so hard. Although Abbe Shaw is president and Anita O’Berg, show chairman, I have a feeling that Desi Murphy, although not listed as a club officer in the catalog, is very much the man behind the scenes.) And it is an indication of this show’s lasting prestige that AKC President Dennis Sprung and wife Susan honored the show with their presence.

There are so many new features that it’s a wonder they fit into two days of shows, in addition to all the regular judging – even allowing for some very long days. Here are the special attractions hosted by Santa Barbara Kennel Club this year:

‘Breeders’ Showcase’
The most high-profile event during the weekend is what’s called the “Breeders’ Showcase.” It is now in its fifth year and has attracted a great deal of notice, especially, of course, among breeders. Anyone can enter two dogs he or she has bred, regardless of whether they are still owned by the breeder or not, and whether they have been co-bred with someone else or not. They must be of the same breed, of course, and eligible to compete at AKC shows, and if one or both dogs are co-bred with others, at least one of the breeders must be the same person. Anyone may handle the dogs in the ring – the owner, the breeder or a handler. Judging starts at Group level, which means that more than one of the four placements in each group can go to the same breed.

Everyone agrees that not nearly enough is done in our sport to encourage good breeders. It’s no wonder, then, that the Breeders’ Showcase has caught the imagination of the fancy, especially as there is substantial prize money for the finalists: $1,500 to the winner, $500 to each Group winner, $400 for Group 2nd, $300 for Group 3rd, $200 for Group 4th and $100 each to the four Awards of Merit in each Group. This year at least 125 breeder “teams” (or braces, rather) competed, with the judges drawn from experts who were sometimes, but not always, regular AKC judges as well. Lynda Gall judged the Sporting Group; Susan LaCroix Hamil was in charge of Hounds Sylvia Hammarstrom took on the Working breeds; Connie Clark judged Terriers; David Fitzpatrick, the Toy breeds; John Reeve-Newson (replacing Jean Hetherington), the Non-Sporting Group; and Guy Jeavons from Canada, the Herding breeds.

The finale – Best in Breeders Showcase – was judged jointly by Geir Flyckt-Pedersen, earlier of Norway and England but now living in the U.S., and famous primarily for his Louline Wire Fox Terriers, together with Augusto Benedict Santos III, president and chairman of the Philippine Kennel Club, in his first U.S. judging assignment, I believe. They chose as winners one of two braces entered from the Coventry Pembroke Welsh Corgis, which also won this competition in 2010. This year William Shelton, Steve Leyerly and Beckie Williams, D.V.M., were the co-breeders of the winning team, GCh. Coventry Allure at Wyndstar and GCh. Coventry Swinging On A Star. Runners-up were Dennis and Terri O’Connor, co-breeders of the Bulldogs GCh. Mytoy’s Frontier Lady Pink Cadillac and GCh. Mytoys Epic Against The Wind.

Winner of “Bullygangza,” the white Bull Terrier Bestuvall Take It Easy, owner-handled by David C. Merriam with judge Marcelo Veras and, right, Desi Murphy. Photo courtesy of Kit Rodwell.

‘Bullygangza’ and ‘Sighthound Spectacular’
Prior to the Breeders’ Showcase on Saturday night, there were two other unusual events, both with rewards of significant prize money – $1,000 each to the winners, substantial sums to all eight finalists – in addition to trophies.

The so-called “Bullygangza” competition was introduced last year and proved so popular it was repeated once again. The day’s top winners (BOB, BOW and BOS) in the “bully” breeds – Bullmastiffs, American Staffordshires, Bull Terriers of both sizes and color varieties, Boston Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and French Bulldogs – competed under judge Marcelo Veras, originally from Brazil but now living in Florida, where he is a successful professional handler. The winner was the 18-month-old white Bull Terrier bitch Bestuvall Take It Easy, owner-handled by David C. Merriam and co-owned with breeder Jan Dykema. Many of us remember Merriam as a Terrier judge of uncompromising standards: he is, for instance, the only judge I know who’s approved by AKC to judge all-breed BIS, yet does not take advantage of this. His only Best in Show assignment was at the Montgomery County Terrier classic. I for one had never seen Merriam show a dog before, although of course he used to do so years ago. Runner-up was the Miniature Bull Terrier GCh. Daytona VIP, more on him later.

The “Sighthound Spectacular” winner, Greyhound GCh. GrandCru Phelps Insignia with judge Bo Bengtson, handler Rindi Gaudet, Abbe R. Shaw, Doug Johnson, Theresa Lyons and Denise Flaim with Sighthound Review trophy blanket. Photo courtesy of Kit Rodwell.

New this year was a “Sighthound Spectacular,” which ran along the same lines: The three top winners in all the Sighthound breeds competed, with the judge having no idea who had won what. This of course means it was possible for BOW or BOS to defeat the breed winner in this competition. (That happened at Bullygangza last year, when a French Bulldog who had “only” won BOS during the official judging won the whole thing.) I had the pleasure of judging this competition and was impressed by the quality of not just the established top winners, but throughout the entry. I was asked to narrow them down to eight finalists, but first had to make a preliminary cut to 12. There were dogs that didn’t make it that I would be happy to award majors to in regular competition.

The eventual winner was a gorgeous Greyhound I had never seen before, GCh. GrandCru Phelps Insignia. I’m told she won the national specialty last year, and she ought, if there’s any justice in the world, do extremely well in the future. Runner-up was the lovely BIS Saluki GCh. Aurora’s The Song and Dance Man, but it was a close call between several big favorites and top-ranked contenders in the end.

“Best Foreign Bred in Show,” Standard Poodle GCh. Del Zarzoso Salvame from Afterglow, born in Britain, pictured with judges Larry Cornelius and Marcelo Vera, handler Amy Rutherford and Bruce R. Schwartz. Photo courtesy of Kit Rodwell.

‘Best Foreign Bred in Show’
Prior to regular BIS judging on Sunday, there was a competition for ‘Best Foreign Bred Dog in Show.’ Entry was open to any dog not born in the U.S. There was an entry of probably at least 50 dogs, including an appealing long-tailed Rottweiler, who made the cut. The arena was divided into two rings, and while Marcelo Veras judged half the entry on one side, his partner Larry Cornelius – an equally successful professional handler – judged the rest of the entry on the other side.

The finalists were brought together in one ring, and the two judges jointly decided that the winner should be the stunning British-born Standard Poodle GCh. Del Zarzoso Salvame from Afterglow, co-bred by Carlos Renau, who judged BIS at SBKC last year. The Poodle was a top all-breed winner in Great Britain prior to beginning a successful career on this side of the pond. Runner-up was the Miniature Bull Terrier GCh. Daytona VIP, mentioned earlier and also a top all-breed contender. He is imported from Europe, Belgium, I believe, but his country of birth was not published in the catalog.

Contributions to the Sport
Santa Barbara Kennel Club gives out its own awards for contributions to the sport, similar but not identical to AKC’s “Breeder of the Year” award. For one thing, no single winner is announced, which is probably a good thing, because how – really – do you compare one person’s impact on the dog sport with another? The Sporting Group was represented by Connie Gerstner Miller of the famous Malagold Golden Retrievers. The Hound nominees were Jay Hafford and James Blanchard of Thaon Afghan Hounds, who were not present to accept the award. The Working Group was led by Sylvia Hammarstrom, whose Skansen Giant Schnauzer champions now number in the four figures and must constitute a world record. In Terriers Dan Kiedrowski, who has owned many famous retired top dogs but is not a breeder, was honored for his contributions through the legendary publications Schnauzer Shorts and Terrier Type. The Toy Group nominee was Blanche Roberts of the famous Blaque Pugs, which have included eight all-breed BIS winners, while the Non-Sporting representative, Connie Wagner of Spotlight Dalmatians, has produced some of the most famous names in the breed. (Connie was unable to be present due to her son being hospitalized, but Carol Grossman accepted the award on Connie’s behalf.) The Herding Group nominee was Mary Ann Brocious, who may be known to many judges primarily for her work with the Ann Arbor KC show in Michigan, but whose Qubic Old English Sheepdogs have produced national specialty and all-breed BIS winners.

The Hospitality
That leaves what’s perhaps the most amazing aspect of the Santa Barbara show to be mentioned: the hospitality. Is there any other club that invites all the exhibitors and handlers to dinner? And it’s not just a hot-dog-on-a-stick, but a real, sit-down meal in the elegant Santa Barbara tradition, served at tables set up in the big arena prior to the start and during the judging of Saturday evening’s special events. I’m not sure how many were served, but there were hundreds, and the atmosphere really was that of a huge party. The fact that at Santa Barbara the focus is almost as much on the people as on the dogs and on socializing and talking to fellow fanciers is not the least important aspect of this weekend.

It would be both rude and useless to speculate on what it all costs. Somehow Santa Barbara KC works magic with sponsors, donors and generous contributors. I’m not sure how it’s done, but it’s impressive, and we all benefit – exhibitors, breeders and judges. Probably the Santa Barbara name helps, and I suppose once a club has established itself as a leader in so many respects it’s easier to attract sponsors than it would be for a new upstart club.

Best in Show at Santa Barbara KC on August 24, Pembroke Welsh Corgi GCh. Coventry Allure at Wyndstar, pictured with Anita O’Berg, judge Luis Pinto Teixeira of Portugal and Jennifer Costantinidis of Nestlé Purina Pet Care. Photo courtesy of Kit Rodwell.

The ‘Regular’ Winners
Amazingly, in spite of all the above, the regular Group and Best in Show competition somehow remains relevant. At Friday’s Simi Valley KC show, Anne Savory Bolus awarded the BIS ribbon to the Pembroke Welsh Corgi GCh. Coventry Allure at Wyndstar, with Reserve to the Wire Fox Terrier GCh. AfterAll Painting The Sky. There were 1,107 dogs entered that day.

At the first Santa Barbara KC show the following day, judge Luis Pinto Teixeira of Portugal, a frequent and welcome visitor to the U.S., repeated the same placements, now from an entry of 1,437 dogs. Sunday’s Santa Barbara KC show had almost exactly the same entry, 1,427 dogs, and saw Dr. John Reeve-Newson from Canada select the Wire Fox Terrier as BIS, now with Reserve to the French Bulldog GCh. Lebull’s El Morocco at Lecirque. (French Bulldogs, in fact, were the show’s biggest breed, with 74 entered at Saturday’s parent club specialty.) Finally, at Monday’s Conejo KC show, from an entry of 965 dogs, David Bolus awarded BIS to the Saluki GCh. Aurora’s The Song and Dance Man, with Reserve to the Maltese, GCh. Scylla’s Small Kraft Re-Lit.

Sunday’s Best in Show at Santa Barbara Kennel Club was won by the Wire Fox Terrier GCh. AfterAll Painting The Sky, pictured with handler Gabriel Rangel, judge Dr. John Reeve-Newson and club members. Photo courtesy of Kit Rodwell.

If you have never been to the Santa Barbara shows, you should try it – especially if you’re able to enter one of the special attractions. It’s a unique event that proves that an old, proud tradition is still alive, in spite of changing times and very different circumstances.

Photographer Vicki Holloway had all her cameras, equipment and iPad stolen from her locked car. Because she took all the photos from the Breeders’ Showcase, there are, unfortunately, no pictures from that competition.

Written by

Bo Bengtson has been involved in dogs since the late 1950s and judged since the mid-1970s in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Japan, China and Russia. He has judged twice at Westminster, twice at Crufts and four times at the FCI World Show, as well as the U.S. national specialties for Scottish Deerhounds, Whippets, Greyhounds and Borzoi.
Comments
  • Desmond J. Murphy September 5, 2013 at 2:16 PM

    I can not tell you how impressed I was with your article about the entire weekend. Your article stressed the feeling we are trying to create.
    Hope you might get back for Montgomery and the Greyhound show?
    Was so happy you could judge the initial Sighthound Spectacular.
    It made the event extra SPECIAL!!

  • Rosie Fitzke September 8, 2013 at 11:52 AM

    I really enjoyed your article, especially the foreign bred competition and breeder’s showcase. We have just initiated a free BBQ dinner on Saturday night at the Hoosier Tire Cluster in South Bend, IN. Everyone enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and hospitality.

    We have a wonderful air conditioned venue and anyone that exhibits in the midwest in July (18th, 19th and 20th next year) really appreciates it.

    Hope you will come and enjoy our Hoosier Hospitality next year!

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