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 and written by Simon Parsons which charts the development and success of the Afterglow kennel. To read part one click here…
For someone with Mike’s restless energy it was unlikely that he would confine himself to just one breed… And the list of those in which there have been Afterglow-associated champions is a very long one. One of his first ventures was in Shih Tzu where he had a dog from Sheila Mackenzie Spencer of the Aspen Poodles, and then a puppy from his friend the Johnsons. With Sebastian of Keytor he won RCCs, but was unable to keep him as he wasn’t the quietest dog and the neighbours complained, so he went home and became a champion with G2 at Crufts. Mike did make up a Shih Tzu many years later, the Norwegian import Ch Ming-Tzing’s Mercurys Afterglow is Centastageco owned with Elaine Macdonald.
Not only did he win the Pup of the Year title with Dexter but as few years later did it again, under Hans Lehtinen, with the Tibetan Terrier Ch Araki Pick Up A Penguin at Afterglow.
Then there was the Pug from a very famous American kennel who arrived here via Poland, Ch Sheffield’s Shenandoah; the Sealyham Ch Topstage Pickled Pepper; the Kerry Blue Ch Perrisblu The Guvnor; the RBIS-winning Akita Ch Oktumi Kiss This Afterglow; the Weimaraner Sh Ch Gunalt Razzle with Afterglow; the Miniature Wire Dachshund Ch Emem Milkshake for Afterglow.
One day he judged and admired a Pointer of Donna MacDougall’s. A little later Donna was, sadly, retiring from showing so Adstock Professor Higgins joined the Afterglows. He eventually became a show champion – this was the same year as Douglas was being shown – the Pointer struggled to win his title whereas Douglas won Top Dog all breeds, though Mike always thought that the Pointer had the edge on the American Cocker. A son bred by Afterglow recently won his second CC. Other interests include Chihuahuas, in which the Afterglow affix has been carried by a champion, Japanese Chin, Papillons and now Pekingese on which Jason is very keen.
For some time Gavin Robertson worked at Afterglow and developed with Mike his interest in Petits Bassets Griffons Vendéens. He handled Mike’s Ch Famecliff Chemin De Fer for Afterglow, who later went to the US, and, hoping to double up on some of Nick Frost’s old lines, they obtained a Debucher bitch from whom they bred the famous Ch Afterglow Woody Woodpecker, a BIS winner for Gavin and Sara and winner of the veterans final. Next came Ch Willowbrae Amazing Grace for Afterglow and these were the foundations of the Robertsons’ subsequent successes. Other champions bore the kennel name including Ch/Am Ch Afterglow Ebenezer who did so well in the States.
Italian Spinoni have been a long-term interest and before the breed had CCs Mike admired Gallowdyke Pawnee, owned by John Piggin, and offered to show her. This developed into a successful partnership and she achieved the top rare breed award. In due course she was mated and from this they co-bred Barbara Davies’ Gallowdyke Wreckless Eric of Sundeala who in 1994 won three of the four of the first five dog CCs on offer to become the first UK show champion. Tragically John died while the pups were still young so never saw this triumph. There are still Afterglow Spinoni today, co-bred with Claire Sharp and descended from Eric’s sister.
But the canine love of Mike’s life, and in his view the best dog he has owned, was none of these. “I used to react very badly to criticism of Riot – it was as if they were being vile about my own flesh and blood.” No one who saw them in the ring together will forget the Afghan Hound Ch Tejas Conquistador.
Bred by Ivor and Michele Keelan, an American couple who spent some years in Northern Ireland, she was a daughter of the American Afghans they brought with them, Ch/Am Ch Pahlavi Pandemonium and Ch/Am Ch Anasazi’s Testarossa, and so a granddaughter of the comparably charismatic Am Ch Pahlavi Puttin’ On The Ritz.
As a youngster she went to Anita Doe and John Watson of the Izmars, was scarcely shown but produced two litters, from which descend a number of winners. When Mike obtained her she was cut down but he quickly got her in form and with her ‘attitude’ she became a great ringside favourite.
A BIS winner, she was four times BOB at Crufts, taking three group places there but sadly never a win, something Mike still feels badly about – surely if ever a dog had been designed to show off in the final seven at Crufts it was her.
Her final appearance was again at Crufts where Uwe Fischer gave her the RCC, aged 11. For once in his life Mike was more than happy with a reserve CC… A sentimental occasion and Mike couldn’t help crying – though he was brought back to reality when he overhead someone say, “Look at Gadsby trying to pretend he’s human,” a remark which rather appealed to his sense of humour.
Mike never got a litter from her but did breed on from one of her Izmar daughters, producing a champion and more recently there are some young Afterglow CC winners.
If you are not yet exhausted by this catalogue of winners, we’ve only now come to the Poodles. Surely Standard Poodles and Mike Gadsby were made for each other, though for many years he just followed them from afar. “I loved them but never thought I’d be able to do it.”
Eventually he asked Philip Langdon where he might find a bitch, and was put in touch with Pat Ashwell, who no longer showed but who carried on her Torpaz lines which had been so successful in earlier years. She let him have two bitches, a black and a white, on breeding terms. The white one gave him an excellent start and produced the super-fronted black Afterglow Alcatraz who seemed destined for the top before his tragic death after escaping from a motorway services.
Just beforehand, thankfully, Margaret Kendall had used him on her Crufts CC-winning Ch Magin Wild And Wicked, Mike was able to have the only white bitch in the litter, who became Ch Magin Don’t Eat The Daisies with Afterglow, winner of two groups. Her first litter produced two champions including Jamaica Me Crazy, a RBIS winner – ironically under KC chairman Ronnie Irving, and his topknot was ‘full of lacquer’ admits Mike – but Mike was convinced the right dog for her was Sw/Norw/Dan Ch Torpaz It’ll Be All White whose more extreme type he felt would complement Daisies’ moderation and sound construction. While in Scandinavia this dog had sired Crufts BIS winner Ch Topscore Contradiction; by now he had returned home and Mike was able to use him.
From this came Afterglow The Big Tease. Mike’s father was seriously ill at the time so he felt unable to keep a Standard male, so he went on a two-year loan to Michael Pawasarat in the US. Come the great Poodle Club of America show and Donny just needed a few points for his title. He not only won them but took best of winners, best Standard and topped the whole show from the classes, a phenomenal win.
All-breeds BIS wins followed and he returned to the UK in 2007. His first year’s British campaign was somewhat ‘hit and miss’ but when he won, he won big, with BIS all breeds with his first two CCs!
By ‘08 the breed people seemed to have come to accept him and he regularly won through the breed, going on to seven all-breeds BIS and a comfortable Top Dog victory in spite of missing the final show as he made a flying visit to California to represent the UK at the Eukanuba National Challenge. After he put up a spectacular performance in what many considered the best ever Crufts BIS line-up in 2009, ending up reserve to the American Sealyham, the decision was made to retire him. His best known son is Ch/Am Ch Afterglow Sugar Daddy, whose exquisite dam Ch Kevlain Faith In Your Dreams is Donny’s cousin, their dams being sisters. Like his sire he enjoyed his American success before returning home to be campaigned for his title. He didn’t have quite his sire’s stallion presence in the ring so wasn’t shown much here beyond that, but in Mike’s view has proven the better producer.
One breeder who used him was the Spanish expert Carlos Fernandez Renau whose Del Zarzoso Voce Abusou was living in England with the Aikman family. Mike saw the litter and coveted a black male straight away; Carlos agreed that Del Zarzoso Salvame should come to Afterglow. A slow maturer, he was kept back until the very end of 2010; now in 2011 Jason has piloted him to three BIS wins, the eleventh Afterglow from four different breeds to reach the top in the UK.
And finally… Toy Poodles have recently become special favourites at Afterglow: “We love them – they’re like little clowns and leprechauns.” Three champions were made up in 2010!
One aspect one can’t fail to notice is that Mike doesn’t actually own a number of his top winners, or has them in partnership. “I have a generous nature,” he says. “If I’ve bred them, I don’t give a damn whether my name’s on them or not.” So a lot of the dogs, though campaigned from Afterglow, are in the names of loyal friends for whom this gesture means a lot, a current example being Andy Yau, whom health problems prevented from coming to the shows but from whom an email from his present home in Hong Kong awaits them every time they arrive home from a show.
He’s also keen to encourage younger enthusiasts who are passionate about the dog game – we’ve mentioned some already, then there are sisters Lisa and Leanne Bryant, Susan Crummey who has helped them for years finishing several Afterglow champions plus Amy English who showed group winner Sh Ch Afterglow River Phoenix and several more. “If they are really interested, we’ve tried our best to help them.”
What he’s less keen on is those who want ‘instant gratification’ in the ring rather than putting in the work. And as far as newcomers are concerned in the coated breeds he has much more respect for those who have at least tried to present them properly, even if the result isn’t that great. “After all I never had any formal training, it was a case of watching and learning. If I liked and admired something, I’d try to work out what they were doing. You only learn by making mistakes, and only a fool makes the same mistake again. And after all, if it’s hair that you’ve screwed up, it will grow back. If you come into a highly presented breed, you’ve got to be prepared to cock it up. It’s the only way you will learn.”
“You can tell the ones who are going to be successful – they have that sort of attitude: ‘I’m going to master this if it kills me.”
He feels that British presentation of American Cockers is as good as anywhere in the world, but in Poodles he still marvels at the American professionalism – even if it’s not unknown for them to use false hairpieces! “What I’ve endeavoured to do is to create the same look without the use of hairpieces. If anybody ever wants to watch us take a head down, I can categorically state we do not use hairpieces,” he says. “I think we’ve perfected doing the heads.”
At home Mike and Jason keep about 50 dogs of their own, which requires a degree of organisation! Jason’s speciality is feeding and bathing, Mike’s the trimming and clipping. They also have a cattery and a grooming parlour, the latter run by the Bryant sisters, and have recently opened a ‘boutique’ boarding kennel for small breeds only. Even with three excellent full-time staff, one can imagine the workload.
When they are both away, their long-term neighbours, top pig breeders and exhibitors as it happens, move in. Ten-year-old daughter Grace looks set to be the latest protégé for the kennel with a keen interest in Toy Poodles.
In the house they have Jason’s Pekingese and a Toy Poodle from Japan named Sitrus and Winnie, a 16-year-old Standard Poodle: “She’s a bit cranky now and probably the worst Poodle I have ever owned,” says her proud owner. “Her highlight was winning post graduate at Crufts and then I took her home and cut her coat off. None of our present-day Poodles are related to her but she’s been my absolute favourite – an old sod all her life!”
Other interest? “I like good food. I’m a technological [ … ], would love to but find I can’t ‘go there’. I would also like to be more involved with drama and the arts. I do have wonderful friends both in and out of dogs and believe it’s healthy that they are not always the topic of conversation.”
Mike regrets that there are fewer big kennels than in the ‘good old days’ and feel this brings about a decline in quality. Such kennels couldn’t possibly keep every promising puppy they bred, so it was easier for newcomers to find something good to start with.
He enjoys judging but it’s not a main priority. If there was ever a rule that people from the same household couldn’t show and judge at the same event, “I think I’d stop judging tomorrow.
“Perhaps this sounds conceited but I think I’ve got a reasonable eye and rather than having a big desire to judge, I almost feel as if I ought to judge.
“I don’t judge any breeds I wouldn’t like to own. I don’t think you should judge breeds you don’t have some passion about.
“No one has a God-given right to judge just because they are well-connected, have clocked up the numbers and ticked all the boxes, we need to encourage those who have quietly proved themselves to be fantastic breeders, to judge further breeds of a similar type – identifying talent and bringing it on.”
What about dogs he has coveted? “Ch Blackdale Carousel, the Wire Fox Terrier, was fantastic. The relationship between her and Andrew Goodsell was magical and the presentation was unbelievable. It was like a joint love affair, she loved him and he her.
“The Giant Schnauzer Ch Zamoranos Picasso I gave BIS at an open show before he started doing well in groups. I loved the Lhasa Ch Saxonsprings Fresno, she was remarkable. Then there was the Dobermann Ch Allure Blazing Star Alisaton who won the group at Westminster 2010. The whole experience was surreal I felt so emotional watching handler and exhibit like they were floating on air. Gabriel Rangel’s Scottie Ch Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot was BIS, she was also beautiful but the Dobe had the ringside and gave me goose bumps.”
Among people who have inspired Mike to carry on have been Leslie Page, who really encouraged him when he was a youngster on the way up, and Linda Collins, his best friend whose death sadly young left a big gap in his life: “A great friend and a great dog woman”. It wouldn’t be fair to mention present day people, but “What I can say is that attending DOG WORLD’s Audience with Di Johnson was inspiring because it was like a stage play with tragedy and happiness, like an emotional rollercoaster.”
As for Jason, he loves the British dog scene and can’t envisage ever wanting to return to the intensity of the American show circuit where you just have to be at show after show after show if you want to do well in the rankings. The sheer size of the British shows was a revelation; in the US few even top 1,000 dogs nowadays.
He loves the more relaxed, almost ‘carnival’ atmosphere, and the fact that if you want to win you can’t avoid the competition like you can in the US. There may be down sides to having the top dogs competing at virtually every show here, but it certainly makes for interesting competition.
“I feel I’ve changed since coming to England,” he says. In particular there is the great potential to learn in depth about so many breeds, as most serious breeders live within a reasonable distance. What he really enjoys is the chance to ‘dive in head-first’ to a breed as a new challenge, and to be able to learn about all the different lines – currently he is really excited about making a start in Pekes.
Important and enjoyable as the shows may be, he feels that ‘the journey is more important than the destination’, the behind-the-scenes work of living with and appreciating a breed, rearing and selecting puppies and the day-to-day care, over that two minutes in the ring.
He has begun to do some judging – in the US his work meant that the most he could judge was specialty sweepstakes.
It may be hard to believe but before coming to the UK he had never shown a Poodle in the US; like Mike he has learned the grooming and handling styles as he has gone on, not least through watching the experts at Poodle Club of America.
Mike has strong views about the British dog scene at present. He feels that after Pedigree Dogs Exposed the Kennel Club didn’t do enough to defend dog people, to say that there are many fabulous breeders in Britain who breed healthy, wonderful dogs. Yes, the dog world has its problems, but so does society as a whole, and you can’t say that everything in the dog game is bad any more than everything is bad in the wider world.
He thinks there should have been an immediate meeting of senior people in every breed to plan the way forward. “Within our ranks there are some brilliant people from other fields, but we were all muzzled,” he says. The allegations in the programme should have been challenged, one by one, straight away, he feels – Anita Bax proved what could be done when she successful challenged a newspaper which claimed she ‘plucked’ dog’s whiskers in her grooming business.
“The KC acted as if they were running scared – it was a disgrace,” says Mike.
He also as you can imagine has no time for the idea, apparently rife in KC circles, that presentation styles in breeds like Poodles are ‘ridiculous’ and damaging to the dog game as a whole. Indeed he cites the example of when he and Jason flew Donny to California in full show trim – far from the public laughing at him, he was treated like royalty by everyone he met en route. “Why, when dogs like him or like the extrovert Bulldog Iceglint I’m Harry, were around, didn’t the KC make more of them to show the public what show dogs can be like, rather than attacking these breeds?”
All breeds should have been treated the same, he feels, and that leads on to coat testing. If it had to happen, shouldn’t it apply to all breeds in rotation? “You can’t victimise or harass a number of breeds”, he warned the KC, “or there will be a response.” And indeed there was. Just a short time later the dog CC and reserve CC winners in Miniature Poodles and West Highlands were tested at Crufts and this provoked the‘uprising’ which culminated at the AGM.
Mike was in the Toy ring at the time the KC officials ‘marched into’ the Miniature ring. “I suspected it was coming as they’d done the Westies the day before. You know, Jason was so relieved I was in the ring at the time because I would have gone to those people and said: ‘Don’t let them take your dogs’. I would never let them test one of mine. A number of us have agreed we are not playing these stupid games.”Crufts is supposed to be the big deal, but they made it into something unsavoury with this suggestion of cheating. It’s ridiculous!”No Poodle judge worth their salt can’t tell the difference between a good coat and a lacquered coat. If you are able to feel the texture of the coat, does it matter what’s happening on the head? No one is saying the judge can’t put their hands into the head and feel for what they are looking for.”To suggest that lacquering a Poodle is cheating is ridiculous, or putting powder on a terrier.”
I suggested to Mike that a total end to testing might lead to exhibitors overdoing things. He points to the situation since the temporary relaxation, when he says the dogs don’t look any different. It’s only novice exhibitors who don’t know how to prepare a dog who would be tempted to go over the top, he feels, and they need education. Exhibitors must also be considerate about not leaving venues in a mess – that’s just common courtesy. And it doesn’t make sense to ban, for example, chalk, just because one person leaves a mess. It would be like not having a bar at a show in case one person might get drunk.
All this eventually led to the AGM: “I know I was accused of getting over-emotional,” says Mike, “but since when has passion about something been a bad thing? The two things I’m attacked on are my passion and my expertise in presentation, turning around things which I see as being really positive and using them against me.” Since then it was Mike who put the Poodle people’s case at the meeting to discuss the way forward on this topic.
What of the future? “I think we need to do an audit of the whole of the dog game,” says Mike. “We should look at every single aspect, identify our strengths and our weaknesses. There will be areas we can do nothing about but we must look at things with an open mind and do our best to turn round the weaknesses. One of these is that the governing body is not representative, we should be like many other countries where if you want to show dogs you should have to be a member.
“There should be a two-tier Kennel Club, with those who want to use the London facilities paying a different amount, while everyone else should also be a member with a lesser fee. It would generate an enormous amount of money and with that we could do a great deal. “The KC should listen to the reasonable request of grass roots exhibitors.
“It’s insane that we don’t have CCs for all breeds at all championship shows. The term ‘all breed championship shows’ is like a misnomer. That’s my biggest beef with what happens over here.
“I think sometimes young people are treasured a little bit more in other countries. I think it’s difficult to be taken seriously when you are young in this country. I also think that the minute older people lose their power as breeders, exhibitors or judges, they seem to be forgotten too quickly for my liking. The senior people in breeds often have so much to offer in the way of experience and knowledge they should be treasured.” So, what else is there left to do? Best in show at Crufts perhaps?
“I’ve been reserve twice. I sort of wondered about that. I feel that when we had the ringside behind the Standard Poodle I almost feel like we won it, whether we had the rosette or not.
“I think BIS at Crufts is something of a finale and I’m not ready to be counted out yet. I just want to keep having great dogs. My aspiration is to have great dogs that those people whom I most admire believe are great. That is the biggest kick for me, often more than the winning, it’s really all about the dog.
“Riot, the Afghan I adored, didn’t need to win, I just couldn’t keep my eyes off her. She had something that was magical. I knew in my heart she was just a really special dog.
“Winning with something I didn’t care for would be less important than not winning with a dog I thought was fabulous.”