Following their triumph at Crufts on Sunday night we thought it would be interesting to dig out this feature originally printed in the Dog World Annual in 2012 which charts the development and success of the Afterglow kennel.
FOR THOSE who have been attending for many years the Kennel Club’s often somewhat soporific annual meetings, last May’s event must have come as rather a shock.
For once there was a passionate, even sometimes rather heated, debate on a topic not of the establishment’s choosing. One of the club’s members, Michael Gadsby, had proposed a motion directly critical of a current KC policy, calling for an end to testing of coats for chalk and silicon-based grooming products.
Mike put his case eloquently and in considerable detail. After much discussion he achieved at least a partial victory in that the members approved a compromise motion, suspending coat testing for the time being and calling for a full review and consultation.
This was not simply a crusade by one person – a Facebook petition with the same aim had been supported by over 3,000 people and it was clear that in the minds of many Mike was the hero of the hour for standing up for what they felt were the rights of the exhibitor.
Eleven BIS winners
A few days later he awarded best in show for the first time at a general championship show, which made a change as he is more used to being on the receiving end of the BIS card. Over the years no fewer than 11 dogs owned or bred by the Afterglow kennel have won the top award in the UK, the latest being the Standard Poodle Ch Del Zarzoso Salvame with Afterglow who has been piloted to three such awards this year by Mike’s partner Jason Lynn.
Undoubtedly, then, Afterglow has been one of, perhaps THE most prominent kennel on the British show scene of the past two decades. So how did it all begin?
Although Mike’s family kept Westies as pets there’s nothing in his background to explain his lifelong obsession and affinity with dogs – even as a toddler he’d give his parents nightmares by rushing up to any dog he saw, however big and scary looking.
His introduction to the show world came through a client of his parents’ post office near Leicester. This was Lorna Ireland of the Arandora Pyreneans, who was secretary of the breed club and wrote breed notes in DOG WORLD for many years. She needed someone to help in the kennels at weekends; Mike, 13, went along for an interview which mainly consisted of being introduced to a ‘sea of Pyreneans’ and obviously passed the test for he was taken on.
Eventually he was allowed to travel to some of the shows in the back of a Cortina estate with with Lorna, her friend Eileen Rolleston and four Pyreneans… “It was quite pleasant in the winter – less so in the summer!”
His task was to help get the dogs ready and to sit on the benches with them. At lunchtime he’d be allowed an hour’s break and would race round the show, watching and taking in everything that was going on.
Eventually he graduated to showing the dogs occasionally. Remarkably his first venture into the ring was at Crufts under Bill Siggers. It was a bit of an anti-climax as Bill just opened the dog’s mouth and ran his hand down the back… It resulted in a fourth place in graduate. “And I liked it a lot” – right from the start Mike know the show ring was the place for him, he enjoyed every moment of it and especially that adrenalin rush as you go into the ring: “Fantastic!”
For a while he co-owned a Pyrenean with Lorna but as it grew up its temperament proved too silly for serious showing. Nevertheless it was an interesting time to be around the breed with greats like Ch Lisblanc Christoph and Ch Briarghyll Falstaff in competition.
In the same road as Lorna, Leicester Lane, Desford, were based two other show kennels, and young Mike just couldn’t keep away from dogs. The Johnson family bred the Keytor Shih Tzu, still highly successful today, and from them Mike learnt much about how to present a show coat and keep it in condition. Lorna was great on feeding and rearing, and then there was Liz Buttrick of the Beligar Cocker and English Springer Spaniels who gave Mike more of a chance to handle dogs in the ring, for there wasn’t any chance of having one at home.
It was here that Mike met the breed for which he is still, in spite of all his recent Poodle success, most associated. At 16 Mike won a RCC handling Liz’s Springer Cleavehill Bay Express but it was an American Cocker who caught his eye. Liz had a black and white bitch called Banshiel I’m Smart and to get her Mike swopped with Liz’s husband his old banger of a car, one of many such his father had found for him.
Why this breed? Mike already knew that he enjoyed dealing with coat and presentation, and the American’s sensible size suited his circumstances – by then he had a small house of his own and was able to keep a dog or two. But he admits there was an element of calculation too.
His observations of the dog game had convinced him that some breeds would be extremely hard to ‘break into’, and a newcomer would have to have a dog significantly better than those of the ‘establishment’ in order to be taken seriously. Although Americans already had some consistently successful exhibitors like Yvonne Knapper Weijland, Mike Bottomleyand Andrew Caine, Mike felt that if he bred a good one and presented it properly, it was a breed in which he would have to be reckoned with.
In due course he mated I’m Smart to a dog he was thought was ‘the most beautiful thing I’d ever set eyes on’ (though in retrospect he realises he was probably somewhat ‘overdone’), the red and white American import Sh Ch/Am Ch Dreamridge Dandee, and kept a bitch who often won her classes, plus a best puppy bitch under Catherine Sutton, before losing her coat. Mike put this bitch to the Dandee son Sh Ch Danton Don Juan and came up with Afterglow Sultan Of Swing.
To digress slightly, where does the memorable kennel name come from? There have been various creative theories, as you can imagine, and Mike now rather wishes they were true!
In fact, “When I thought of this prefix I was just a kid, heavily into rock music. It was a Genesis song. I thought it beautiful song and a beautiful word.”
Back to Sultan Of Swing, and Mike was cock-a hoop when his exciting youngster won his and his owner’s own first RCC at Crufts 1984 under Frank Kane. “This is it!” thought Mike, but one another of his early mentors, Barbara Simpson of the Leircote Belgian Shepherds, told him: “Don’t be satisfied with a RCC, always aim for something more.” And that something more wasn’t that long arriving. His first CC and BOB came as a junior from Yvonne Knapper and he went on to reserve in the group. “God, I love this,” thought Mike, and it made him strive to show dogs who could do well beyond the breed.
Soon Mike had a show champion who ended up with seven CCs and group wins, one of them, under Joe Braddon, on the same day he took a heat of the champion stakes, in the days before you had to worry about remaining unbeaten.
Then just as suddenly as the dog had started to win, his run came to an end, taking nothing better than RCCs. Mike took it badly: “I could be a brat in those days,” he admits. But in the long run this did him good, not only teaching him that you have to lose as well as win – “so often people can’t cope when their first champion stops winning” – but also making him realise that a serious exhibitor had to have something else coming on, which he has always tried to achieve from then on.
Sultan was, says Mike, a lovely dog who he feels would win today, a super head, short back and that gorgeous red and white colouring not seen so often now. He sired three titleholders; but at a club show where his son had won the CC from puppy, he went through a routine eye test during the lunchbreak and was diagnosed with both cataract – the scourge of the breed – and progressive retinal atrophy.
So he was neutered and given to a friend. “We were finished,” says Mike. “All I had was him, his sister, daughter and an inbred son”. The latter was Sh Ch Afterglow Howzat, Mike’s second titleholder and his first Pup of the Year heat winner, very beautiful though not notably sound, who won under those who loved ‘type’ but not under those who appreciated movement – indeed Joan Macmillan dismissed him from the ring! Mike hoped to start again with a Sultan niece, co-owned with his friend Linda Collins, famous for her Spinoni, but this was kicked by a horse and killed.
To start again, Yvonne Knapper had a pair of bitch puppies by her beautiful import Sh Ch/Am Ch Hu-Mars Hellzapoppin at Sundust. She let him have one of them, the black Fancy Me at Sundust. Mike wanted to get her coat in top form as quickly as possible. Not sure how to proceed, he talked to his local hairdresser who let him into some of the (extremely expensive!) secrets of intensive conditioning, and lo and behold he had a new titleholder.
While at Sundust he saw a litter by Hellzapoppin ex the exquisite red import Sh Ch/Am Ch Kamps’ Kopper Kleaner and fell for a dog puppy. Eventually Yvonne let him have the pup, Sundust Kream Kopper with Afterglow, in partnership. His first CC came from puppy – and the same day the news came through that his sire had been diagnosed with cataract. Another devastating blow – and Mike, hysterical, went to see his good friend Ken Sinclair who characteristically helped him put it all in perspective.
So, although he wasn’t used at stud, Kream Kopper continued to be shown and at Birmingham City 1990 became Mike’s first general championship show BIS winner, under Nora Down and ahead of the year’s Top Dog Ch Pamplona Something Special. Mike recalls it well – everything seemed to be in slow motion, like a fairytale, the sun going down on the showground on a lovely summer evening… that evening he was supposed to start a residential induction course at 6pm prompt for a new job which was very strict on time- keeping. After the celebrations he was rather late but they forgave him and he stayed with Yellow Pages for several years until moving to Blackpool and starting, with his then partner Billy Cannell, his own kennels.
Meanwhile John and Joyce White had imported a black bitch from the US, Kallmee Toscany Chianti. Mike greatly admired her and her pedigree and in joint ownership she won a CC, with BIS at the parent club, and seven RCCs, six behind the bitch who held the all-breed CC record for so many years, Sh Ch/Am Ch Homestead’s Tiffany with Boduf. “That’s why I feel that a certain number of RCCs should could towards a title,” says Mike. “After all the judge has signed to say they are of champion quality, but if the timing’s bad it doesn’t matter how many of those worthless RCCs you get, they count for nothing.”
By now Mike had been approved to give CCs and at his first appointment at the Northern Counties breed club in 1990 he gave the CC to an import who became Sh Ch Durspen’s Fly Hi to Mygilie. He felt he would be a suitable sire for Chianti and the result was Clifford, Sh Ch Misticolas Over The Moon with Afterglow, “such an exciting dog, an extravagant, fabulous show dog with a perfect coat for a buff, a lovely over the top show dog who never quit in the ring.” They never managed to get a good photo, though.
Clifford (named for the dragon on the Listerine ad) turned out to be a big-ring favourite and was six times BIS all breeds, three of them consecutively, top gundog 1994, and took 21 CCs.
Once again his impact as a sire was limited when his dam proved to have cataract. Thankfully nowadays this is not so much of a problem now that breeders are more clued up about which lines in the US are likely to be clear.
That again left Mike with nothing much to show. “What I had wasn’t very inspiring. I’ve no interest in mediocrity, I always aim to show dogs who have the potential to be great ones. They may not always achieve it but they are never ‘average’. The worst thing anyone can say about one of our dogs is ‘nice’. And that goes for me too!”
One day Mike, Billy and their friend Gwen Oake, who had a younger sister of Clifford, were looking at properties in the Peak District. They ended up not far from Mike Bottomley’s and as they knew Tiffany had had her second litter, by a well-bred import, they asked if they could call in. There were only two; Mike B was keen on the bitch but Mike G had eyes only for the black and white male. “I couldn’t believe my eyes.” He was supposed to be going to Australia but Mike had other ideas. “I was skint at the time so I dragged Gwen outside and told her ‘We need to buy that dog’.” She paid up and when they left Boduf with the puppy Mike felt it was just like Christmas Day!
A natural show dog, Dexter, Sh Ch Boduf Pistols At Dawn with Afterglow, had a short but spectacular career. He won the Pup of the Year final under Geir Flyckt-Pedersen, a judge for whom Mike has enormous respect, reserve BIS at Crufts under Terry Thorn and three BIS awards. By September 1997 he was in the lead for Top Dog and… yet again disaster struck when he developed a back problem. He was sufficiently far ahead to take the top award for the year, and had recovered enough to take BOB and group 2 at the following Crufts, but Mike was beginning to think that his best dogs were fated.
Although assured by his vet that this wasn’t a hereditary problem, Mike does wonder if there is a tendency to a weakness, especially as his lovely group-winning daughter Sh Ch Combleywood Love To Parti with Afterglow had a similar problem.
With these various troubles, and in spite of all the top wins, there had not been a chance for a distinctive Afterglow strain of Americans to develop. That was to change through a beautifully bred black bitch Am Ch Cashmere Matador Last Dance with Afterglow, a daughter of the all-time top brood Am Ch Tamra’s All That Glitters and sister of 18 other titleholders, including some great ones. For Michael Allen, the famous breeder and journalist in the US and a good friend of Mike, she’d produced a litter of five champions.
Michael was keen to place her in the UK; the first breeders she contacted felt she was too old, at five, for quarantine but Mike leapt at the chance, and on Michael’s advice brought her in in whelp to the same sire, Am Ch TLC’s Ace In The Hole. The result was Sh Ch Afterglow Ambrose, top gundog and number five all breeds in the UK, and his sister Sh Ch Arrabella, owned by Billy, Joyce Grant and Susan Crummey, a BIS winner, twice top gundog and successively number five and two all breeds, plus others overseas. Not only that, but at last the health issues appeared to be cleaned up, too.
To another American import Last Dance produced Darren Jennings’ Sh Ch Afterglow Bon Jovi with Saldawn, and in a daring mating to the particolour Pistols At Dawn she bred Sh Ch Afterglow Prunella – collectively the wins of these during 2002 enabled her to become Top Brood Bitch all breeds. Ambrose had been brought out of retirement to win a CC in puppy clip and Arrabella returned to the ring after a litter in the June, doing enough to ended up number two in just six months.
Ambrose’s children include Mike Bottomley’s BIS-winning Sh Ch Afterglow Angelica with Boduf.
On Arrabella, Mike decided to use frozen semen from Am Ch Darkehaven Apple Of My Eye, whom he had admired in the US. He wanted side gait – something Apple Of My Eye’s sire excelled in while his dam gave the ‘fanciness’. Clearly an inspired choice as the result was the black and tan Sh Ch Afterglow Douglas Fashion, owned by Billy with Rosemary Wilcock, the kennel’s next BIS winner and Top Dog for 2005, before going on to a successful career in the US – he made a brief trip home when he was BOB at Crufts handled by Linda Pitts who had campaigned him in the US. Then there was his sister Sh Ch Debbie Does Dallas and bother Dick Dastardly, winners dog at the Spaniel Club of America.
The story now takes a Transatlantic direction, for when Mike took Douglas to the States it proved a more significant trip than expected for there he met Jason Lynn who had for ten years been assisting Linda and Mike Pitts who are surely the most successful handlers of the breed out there. To cut a long story short, Jason ended up coming to England and as Mike’s partner quickly became a familiar and popular part of our own show scene.
As with Mike, Jason has been obsessed with the world of dogs since childhood, in fact since he first saw Westminster show broadcast on television when he was seven years old. His parents brought him the American Dog World magazine and he began to soak up all the information he could find about the show scene.
He quickly decided he wanted to be a professional handler and, as is the practice in the US, he began in his early teenage years to help out some of the pros, including Michael Faulkner and David White with Golden Retrievers and Kyle Robinson with (American) Cockers. He also competed in obedience and in ‘junior showmanship’ and paid his first visit to Crufts in 1997 as the US representative in the international junior handling final where he ended up as Paolo Dondina’s third choice, handling a Wire Fox Terrier and – a foretaste of things to come – a white Standard Poodle.
After graduating from high school he spent the summer working for the Pitts before starting at college. Two weeks later he’d had enough of college and was back with Linda and Mike, and stayed there for ten years!
It was a fantastic apprenticeship, and extremely hard work, with between 50 and 75 Cockers in full coat to help look after, and he never took more than a week off a year. Initially it was the basic nitty-gritty of kennel work, but gradually he began to help the busy team at the shows, and would take in dogs for Mike and Linda when they were occupied in another ring.
An injury to Linda’s knee prevented her exhibiting one year at the Spaniel Club, and Mike and Jason took on the huge team of over 30 dogs. The huge winning Sweethearts Space Jam caused a sensation, piloted by Jason to BIS from the veterans class.
Clients’ dogs of course had to take priority but Jason made up a buff dog of his own, and for a while showed an English Setter. But the one who was to have a long-term impact was a lovely tricolour bitch Am Ch Bow-K’s Sit’n Pretty, co-owned with Sandy Bell of the San Jo’s kennel. Linda handled her to best in futurity at the Spaniel Club of America, but she was little shown after gaining her title as Sandy had a big winning homebred bitch to campaign.
She was three times been mated to a top winner out there, with no results; in desperation she was put to Dick Dastardly – an unusual mating as breeders in the US seldom crossed partis with solid colours. This produced the black Sh Ch/Am Ch San-Jo’s Return of Saturnat Afterglow, winners dog at the Spaniel Club before coming to the UK where his progeny include Sh Ch Afterglow Veronica Mars, group 3 at Crufts (out of a parti bitch).
By this time Jason had met Mike and it was time to decide where his future lay. He said goodbye to the Pitts and wondered whether he should set up as a handler on his own, but the lure of England proved too strong and he began the long – and expensive – process of settling this side of the Atlantic. In between he spent a couple of months in India during which he handled an American bred by Mike to Top Dog all breeds at the time of leaving.
Sandy allowed Sit’n Pretty to come to England where she produced a quarantine-born litter by Am Ch Afterglow Partycolour (a Prunella son that Mike had sent to the Pitts and who had won a CC and RCC as a puppy at his only UK shows). This litter produced Sh Chs Blue Murder and Ultra Violet.
In the last few years many more titleholders have emerged from a combination of these lines and as you can see Mike and Jason have, unlike many other breeders, not hesitated to mix the solid and particolour lines. For years they tended to be kept separate, which meant that the colours were effectively outcrosses within the same breed, something many breeds don’t have the opportunity of.
Mike believes that black is the ‘base’ colour for the breed, with in general the best temperaments, coats, bone and heads. Partis tended to be finer in bone and somewhat over-possessive in character, while coats can be difficult in buffs. By mixing the lines all these aspects can be and have been improved. OK, you may get mismarks in the first generation, but after that they are easily avoidable. “Now our partis have marvellous temperaments, better bone, bigger teeth, more width.”
You never know where the next star is coming from… Mike was judging in Japan, and fell passionately for a black bitch. The show rules meant he couldn’t give her BOB as she was just a puppy, but after the judging Mike asked his friend Toshi Omura of Poodle fame to find the owner. “I’ve just got to buy her, or a puppy from her, or something from a repeat mating,” said Mike. But the owner Honami Ito was having none of it, and offered her to Mike, free, on the spot.
She came over at the time of Crufts and Mike admits that quite illegally he brought her into the NEC and couldn’t resist running her round the ring! Nereid JP Mele Kalikimaka made her British debut at the National, where she went through to BIS, quickly gained her title and was BIS 3 at the Swedish World Show. All this put him and Jason in a dilemma as that year they were also campaigning Donny the Poodle; rather than damage his chances she was retired. She is the dam of RBIS winner Sh Ch Afterglow Carlsberg and Sh Ch Afterglow Hello Kitty plus a BIS winner in Finland. Incidentally Mike and Jason later gave Honami one of their champion bitches.
To be continued…