By Christi McDonald
The purebred dog world lost two of its brightest stars, both imports from the United Kingdom, when, in late October and early November 2011, the Kerry Blue Terrier, Eng. Am. Ch. Torum’s Scarf Michael, and the Norfolk Terrier bitch, Eng. Am. Ch. Cracknor Cause Celebre, died just a week apart.
“Mick is a retired elite athlete whose libidinous talents were once so coveted that well-bred ovulating females flew to his crib near Sacramento in the fervent hope that their assignations would make them pregnant.” So began reporter Richard Sandomir’s February 2008 story in The New York Times announcing the upcoming Westminster dog show, and the fact that its previous winners often become influential in the whelping box as well as in the show ring.
Eng. Am. Ch. Torum’s Scarf Michael was a rock star at every venue he played in his 15 years on earth. Bred in England by Ron Ramsay, Mick was a house pet and buddy to Ron and Carol and their two sons before he embarked for America. Well, that, and he was the U.K.’s “Pup of the Year.” Then, under the guidance of handlers Michael Coad and Geoff Corish, with Ron still handling on occasion, was Best in Show at National Terrier, England’s equivalent of Montgomery County, and a handful of other massive shows. He was Top Terrier in the U.K. in 1999. The incomparable Kerry then wrapped up his short but stellar show career in Britain with Best in Show at Crufts in 2000.
Bill McFadden knew the first time he laid eyes on the Irishman that they had a shared destiny. Marilu and Darrell Hansen, Giant Schnauzer breeders who owned and campaigned, with Bill at the helm, the 1999 Number 2 dog among all breeds, Ch. Skansen’s Tristan II, purchased Mick, and the magic ride continued.
Mick finished his American championship in an electric few days in October 2000. It was fitting that at the first revival of the iconic Morris & Essex KC show, long after dark on that Thursday night in Somerset, NJ, the dog that became an icon himself was the last one standing, a feat he achieved from the Open Dog class. Two days later, Mick was Best in Show at Montgomery County.
There was scarcely a prestigious American show that Mick didn’t win over the following 14 months. He won the Group at Westminster in February 2001 and repeated his BIS win at Montgomery County later in the year. After a whirlwind year when he achieved Top Dog of All Breeds, he was again Group First in New York in February 2002.
In spite of the fact that Bill then dialed back on Mick’s campaign, in 41 shows in 2002, Mick won 39 Group Firsts and 22 all-breed BISs and was Number 4 among all breeds. In December, after Connie Barton selected him as Best in Show at AKC/Eukanuba, there remained only one significant dog show frontier that Mick hadn’t conquered.
Mick traveled to New York again in February 2003. Charles Foley gave the Kerry the Group, making him the only dog ever to win three Terrier Groups at the Garden. But the Best in Show lineup was fierce. Mick faced two of the dogs that had bested him in the previous year’s rankings: German Shepherd Ch. Kismet’s Sight For Sore Eyes and Pekingese Ch. Yakee Leaving Me Breathless at Franshaw. The Shepherd, ‘Dallas,’ was Top Dog of All Breeds in 2002, handled by Jimmy Moses. The Peke, handled by Hiram Stewart, was Number 3 of all breeds.
In the Sporting Group the Brittany, Ch. Magic’s Sirly You Jest, and Clint Livingston repeated their blue-ribbon-worthy performance of the prior year. Clint also won the Hound Group with the sensational Ibizan Hound bitch, ‘Bunny,’ Ch. Luxor’s Playmate of the Year. From the Working Group, the Newfoundland that was to top the show 12 months later, Ch. Darbydale All Rise Pouchcove, made his first appearance in the final. And also making his first of two appearances in that ring was the white Standard Poodle Ch. Ale Kai Mikimoto on Fifth, whose sire won three Groups at the Garden, and whose daughter would herself win two.
That night’s Best in Show judge was, as always, a vision of class and quiet grace. Irene Bivin had never judged the Kerry, but those who knew her understood that to win, the dog who had a reputation with the press as one with an “inner brat” would have to keep it all together to meet her strict standards. The New York Times asked this question: “Would Mick live up to his billing (as the perfect specimen of a Kerry Blue), or as at last year’s competition, would he blow it by suddenly acting like a terrier?”
Well, the dog that USA Today called “the hottest British import since the Beatles” behaved with the aplomb of a member of the Royal Family, and Mrs. Bivin, seeming uncharacteristically star-struck, couldn’t deny Mick what was due him. With this win, he became one of only three dogs to go BIS at Westminster after three Group wins there, the first being the Pekingese, Ch. Chik T’Sun of Caversham, in 1960 and the second the German Shepherd Dog, Ch. Covy Tucker-Hill’s Manhattan, in 1987.
Mick lived out his life with the McFaddens, often kennelmate to a couple of bossy little Cairn bitches. For many years he indeed had a steady stream of “lady visitors.” He left his most important legacy in the 57 American champions he sired, just two shy of the record set by Ch. Melbee’s Chances Are. A visit to ringside during Kerry judging at any major Terrier event today provides ample evidence that his impact was positive.
Anytime fanciers are quizzed about their all-time favorite dogs, or just one they’d like to have shown or taken home, Mick’s name invariably comes up more often than any other, particularly among hard-core Terrier handlers. He was a once-in-a-lifetime dog, a phrase that’s overused but that absolutely fit the stunning, spunky, affectionate Kerry Blue dog. Everyone who knew Mick was honored to have been among those who experienced the electric Irishman. I’m so glad to have been among them.
Memories of the little red Terrier bitch who was also Best in Show at one of the world’s biggest and most prestigious dog shows, and who also took home two big blue rosettes from Westminster, will be treasured just as those of Mick will be. As we’ll see, the show careers of the two would parallel in many ways.
Elisabeth Matell had success with Norfolks in Sweden and in England long before Eng. Ch. Cracknor Cause Celebre arrived on American shores. She worked for a time as kennel maid for Joy Taylor’s Nanfan Norfolk Terriers, arguably one of the breed’s most influential kennels of all time. Elisabeth parlayed that experience beautifully into a successful small-scale breeding program of her own. Indeed, after Joy passed away, Elisabeth moved into her cottage in England’s West Midlands, and it is from there that Cracknor operates today.
Before Coco left England early in 2002, she had already won eight challenge certificates, including one at the 1999 Norfolk Terrier Club show – equivalent to the American National Specialty – and also at Crufts 2000.
Then, in a record entry at the 2000 show of the Norfolk Terrier Club, Coco won the Open class, but was bested by her older half-sister, Eng. Ch. Cracknor Call My Bluff (both out of Hatchwoods Madrigal), who won the CC from the Veterans class. ‘Betty’ was the first Norfolk ever to go BIS in the U.K. and remains the breed’s CC record-holder.
Elisabeth said in an interview following Crufts in 2005 that, as a puppy, Coco “had a great attitude in the ring and loved scratching up grass with her hind legs, kicking dirt in the competitors’ faces.” When Coco became a household name, fans from around the world weren’t surprised to learn that, even as a baby, her lively spirit was evident.
Peter Green and Beth Sweigart had seen Coco on trips to Great Britain, and Peter tried to persuade Elisabeth that she could have a terrific career in the U.S. Although she really wanted Coco to have a terrific career in her own country, after the little dog whelped her first litter – two puppies, both girls – Elisabeth was convinced to send the Norfolk to America to see if Peter was right.
The plan was originally to show Coco for a year, perhaps two, then return her to Cracknor, possibly even in whelp. Peter and Beth took their time in getting Coco in condition after the litter and the transition to the U.S., and gave her ample time to settle in.
In October 2002, Coco finished her championship on the Montgomery weekend with three Best of Breed wins, topping off the circuit with Group Fourth at Montgomery County – quite an accomplishment for a relatively unknown girl from England. At some point during the Norfolk’s first few months in Pennsylvania, it became apparent that Coco had taken a particular shine to Bethie, and Beth to the vivacious little Terrier. So with Beth on the other end of the lead, and under the ownership of Elisabeth, Beth, Pam Beale and Stephanie Ingram, Coco’s American career began.
Coco started off 2003 with her first all-breed BIS, followed by a Best of Breed win at the Garden. The momentum continued to build after Westminster, and it didn’t stop until Coco had become the Top Dog of All Breeds for the year. No Norfolk Terrier in history had ever reached that pinnacle, and Coco became the top-winning Norfolk Terrier of all time in the U.S.
In October, she made history again when she was Best in Show at all four events on the Montgomery weekend – two Hatboro shows, Devon and Montgomery County. In December Beth piloted Coco to Best in Show at AKC/Eukanuba under Frank Sabella.
Coco and Beth carried on the campaign for the first few months of 2004, and added a Group First at Westminster to their resume. Then Coco took some time off to whelp her second litter, this time three boys, appropriately named ‘Tom,’ ‘Dick’ and ‘Harry.’ Despite being out of the ring for half the year, Coco finished 2004 as Top Terrier and Number 10 of all breeds.
By now Beth and Peter had naturally become quite attached to Coco, and she to them, so it was decided that it would be unkind to take her away from her home. And like Mick, there was one brass ring that Coco hadn’t quite been able to grasp, so in February 2005 she went back to New York for another try at topping the Garden.
Although she won her second Group there, the Best in Show was not to be. Just a few weeks later, however, Peter and Coco took off for the land of their birth, where they met Beth, Pam and Elisabeth. The five-some traveled to Birmingham, England, and prepared for the Crufts dog show.
It was decided that Peter would handle the little Norfolk bitch on this trip – fitting that the Welshman, although he had such a successful career in America, returned to Great Britain to experience one of his finest moments, accompanied by a spritely little British girl.
After winning Best of Breed under Lesley Crawley of the well-known Ragus Norwich, Coco went on to Group First under Geir Flyckt-Pedersen, well-known and respected in the Terrier world for his Louline Fox Terriers. Judge Jean Lanning was as charmed by Coco – and no doubt by Peter – as were the legions of fans at ringside, and she awarded the pair the Crufts Best in Show ribbon.
Coco and her entourage returned to Bowmansville, PA, and Coco quickly adapted to her life of leisure. One of her U.K.-born daughters, Cracknor Copydex, earned her American championship and returned to Cracknor, and the other, Ch. Cracknor Copyright, was BIS at the Swedish Norfolk Terrier Club show, the equivalent to a U.S. National Specialty Best in Show. Of the six puppies Coco whelped, four became champions.
Tommy (Ch. Cause A Comotion) went to England as a young dog and became the sire of Ch. Cracknor Cross the Ts, more fondly know as ‘Plum.’ She was the top Norfolk in the U.S. in 2010 and 2011 and, handled by Roxanne Sutton, enjoyed many wonderful BIS wins. Tommy also sired Eng. Ch. Cracknor Custom Made (‘Roxy’ is a double Coco granddaughter). These two will carry on the Coco legacy, Plum in the U.S. and Roxy for Elisabeth in England. Dickie (Ch. Cause For Celebration) became the first American-bred Norfolk to become an English champion, and was Number 1 Norfolk in the U.S. in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and the top Norfolk sire in 2008.
Beth and Peter lost a treasured companion when Coco passed away last year, but the legacy that the captivating little Norfolk left, both through her show career and her offspring, will never be forgotten. The American and British dog show scenes – indeed the dog show community worldwide – are so fortunate to have had these shining stars grace their stages.