On Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, the Westchester Kennel Club will hold its 96th all-breed dog show at the North Branch Park in Bridgewater, N.J.
The first Westchester Kennel Club show was held in 1906 at Gedney Farms, near White Plains, N.Y., on the estate of the club’s president, Howard Willetts. Research shows that there were 583 dogs entered, and the Best in Show winner was Ch. Warren Remedy, the Smooth Fox Terrier bitch bred and owned by Winthrop Rutherfurd that won the first three Best in Show awards at Westminster, in 1907, 1908 and 1909.
An advertisement for the first annual show of the Westchester County Fair Kennel Club appeared in an issue of “Field and Fancy” magazine prior to the show that was scheduled for Sept. 19 through 22, 1905, to be held in White Plains. Whether the membership of that club later decided to change its name, dropping “County Fair,” is not known, but that early event was held in conjunction with the county fair on the fair grounds. Best in Show was Wire Fox Terrier Cairnsmuir Pow-Wow, owned by G.M. Carnochan.
Many kennel clubs formed in the early 20th century were comprised of gentlemen of means with sporting interests who used their financial resources in support of their clubs. Westchester was no different. Although the club has, of course, had women members in modern times, it is still largely made up of well-to-do businessmen and other gentlemen. “The Westchester Kennel Club is a very old membership, and historically has had benefactors with very deep pockets,” says Chairman Emeritus Charlton “Rink” Reynders Jr.
From 1973 through 2009, the Westchester show was held at the Lyndhurst estate, overlooking the Hudson River in Tarrytown, N.Y., a location befitting the status of its membership. The 67-acre National Trust historic site became synonymous with the old world elegance that marked the Westchester Kennel Club, with its polished silver trophies and gentlemen members in their navy blue blazers, ivory slacks, and matching silver and navy striped ties. The dramatic Gothic Revival mansion that stands on the grounds amid sweeping lawns and lush landscaping seemed the perfect backdrop for the dog show.
The Winds of Change
Several events conspired to lead to the moving of Westchester in 2010 across the Hudson to New Jersey. The Somerset Hills Kennel Club is based in New Jersey, and for many years exhibitors attended specialty shows in North Branch Park on Thursday, then packed up and drove to Tarrytown for the Tuxedo Park KC show on Friday. They then drove back to New Jersey on Saturday for Somerset Hills and, if they still had the strength, trekked again to Lyndhurst on Sunday for Westchester. In 2006 Tuxedo Park moved to North Branch, allowing exhibitors for the first time ever to settle there for three days of shows before moving to the Westchester site.
Although many loved the ambience and beauty of the Lyndhurst grounds, exhibitors were grateful for one less trip back and forth between the sites, which had become an awkward situation, especially as it required a sometimes arduous crossing on the Tappan Zee Bridge.
Fast-forward a few years to the day when a new director was installed at Lyndhurst. According to Reynders, another event wanted to change its date at the site, and the new director, unfamiliar with the fact that dog shows cannot easily move their show dates, promised they could do so. With its Tarrytown site no longer available for the year, Westchester moved to the North Branch grounds to join the other shows. The move was greatly enhanced by the support of the Somerset Hills and Tuxedo Park clubs.
Surprisingly, the move turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “As time passed, some of our benefactors passed on, moved away or otherwise were forced to reduce their support for the club,” Reynders says today. “The Lyndhurst grounds had really become financially out of reach for the club.”
Although a small pocket of fanciers still protests the move, others are appreciative. “The change offered an advantage to the fancy with all the shows in one place,” Reynders notes. Not so surprisingly, exhibitors who had avoided the weekend because of all the back and forth decided to give the shows a try again. “The first year after the move, the club saw a surge in entries of almost 1,000 dogs.” The show superintendent, MB-F, conducted a survey after the move that showed an overwhelmingly positive response to having all of the shows in one location.
Members of the Westchester club are aware of the nostalgia connected to the old show grounds, but change is inevitable over time and exhibitors, while they may appreciate a more elegant experience at a show, often value convenience over opulence. “I think it’s fair to say that the fancy is evolving, so the appropriate thing to do is to create a situation to accommodate the fancy,” says Reynders.
Leaving Tarrytown isn’t the only major change that’s marked the end of an era for Westchester. On March 26, 2011, longtime member and president Judson L. Streicher passed away peacefully in his sleep, leaving behind a cadre of friends and admirers, and a sport to which he had been devoted for a half-century.
Beginning in 1955, Streicher trained and titled his own Boxers in obedience and judged trials for more than 45 years. He was also an experienced trainer in tracking. Particularly devoted to his own breed, he judged more than 100 Boxer obedience trials throughout the United States before retiring to emeritus status in 2000. With his wife, Gale, and under the Galanjud prefix, Streicher also bred and showed Boxers in conformation, among them six all-breed Best in Show winners. The couple also had an occasional Standard Poodle.
As noted in his obituary in the New York Times, “Mr. Streicher was a revered Wall Street executive, the senior member of J. Streicher and Co., a family-owned and operated brokerage business founded by his father more than a century ago, and a member of the New York Stock Exchange for over 50 years.” He shared the result of his hard work and good fortune with the dog world. “A lifelong animal enthusiast, Jud typified all that is good in the sport of dogs.”
Much of Streicher’s legacy in the sport of dogs is built on his generous giving of time and financial support to a select group of clubs. He was a member and patron of the American Boxer Club, which honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. He was also involved in the Westminster Kennel Club, Tuxedo Park, Palm Beach Dog Fanciers and the Port Chester Obedience Club, but it was perhaps Westchester where he most utilized his considerable influence. He became the club’s show chairman in 1971, then president in 1983, and was its patron for decades. “Jud was a person of great generosity, and had long provided financial support for the Westchester Kennel Club,” Reynders says today.
Even with Streicher’s name forever missing from the membership roll of the Westchester Kennel Club, many other well-known gentlemen continue to work for the club to which they are devoted.A New Era
Westchester remains a club with a strong foundation, and its chairman emeritus is determined to see it into the future. After the passing of Jud Streicher, Reynders encouraged Edd Bivin to come in as the club’s president. He selected Bivin for several reasons. He wanted to take advantage of the vast experience of a man who has served the sport as breeder, owner-handler and respected judge. Reynders is also certain that Westchester will benefit from Bivin’s vision of where the sport of dogs is going, in order to make plans for the future. “The new site and the accompanying changes are not just about the clubs or their memberships,” he says. “It is about the state of dog clubs and shows today, and how to evolve with the fancy, so that the club can continue to be successful.”
Westchester still aims to provide its exhibitors with a unique dog show experience. The club works hard to select an eclectic panel of judges for its exhibitors, and often brings in arbiters from overseas. The grounds at North Branch Park serve as an appropriate setting for the show, and the club will continue to provide many of the little extras exhibitors have come to expect from Westchester. All of the clubs are working together to improve the exhibitor experience. “Cooperation among the clubs has been extraordinary,” Reynders says.
Today the cluster in North Branch begins on Thursday with shows hosted by the Central New Jersey Hound Association, the Non-Sporting Group Club of the Garden State and the Big Apple Sporting Society. The Non-Sporting club will have a Best Puppy competition and offers Canine Good Citizen testing. The Sporting club offers puppy and veteran sweepstakes Group judging, and members will provide fanciers with refreshments during the finals judging. The Hound club offers judges’ education in several breeds. This year the three Group clubs drew more than 700 dogs and 875 entries for the day.
All of the clubs offered reduced entry fees this year as a gesture of good faith, since the shows had to be canceled last year due to flooding. Many clubs hold specialty shows Friday through Sunday at the all-breed shows, and lots of breeds will see supported entries. Somerset Hills on Saturday drew 2,013 dogs this year, with an entry of 1,759 on Sunday at Westchester.
With cooperation and a willingness to change with the times and make adjustments, kennel clubs like Westchester that are built on a solid foundation will hopefully continue to host dog shows for many years to come.