Talking to Bill & Taffe McFadden: Part 2

Dogs in Review’s founding editors Bo Bengtson and Paul Lepiane talked to Bill and Taffe during the Del Valle weekend in Northern California on October 18, 2013.

By Bo Bengtson | Posted: November 11, 2014 10 a.m. PST

Successful handlers Bill and Taffe McFadden sat down with Dogs in Review’s founding editors Bo Bengtson and Paul Lepiane during the 2013 Del Valle weekend in Northern California. In part two of this interview, see what Bill and Taffe have to say about raising a family, the dyamics between professional handlers and owner-handlers and their favorite dogs.


Raising a Family

Taffe McFadden and Conor
The Miniature Poodle Ch. Halcyon Heiresy, 'Scooter,' was shown by Taffe to Best of Variety at the Poodle Club of America Specialty in 1992. In the photo she holds son Conor, who was 9 days old. Photo Ashbey.

DIR: Here’s a question that I have really wondered about: How did you manage to bring up a family, have children and remain professional handlers? Raising kids who are doing OK as adults is difficult enough, and being able to do this in a high-pressure business like professional dog handling, with all the traveling that’s involved, seems almost impossible.

BM: It really was amazing it worked. I think we were both raised right, but I had no idea things would work out as they did. All I knew was that Taffe was really pretty and had a cute butt! Our daughter, Taylor, was born in July 1986. We had been married in May, and she was born in July the following year. Keegan was born in 1988, and Conor was born in 1992.

DIR: Obviously you couldn’t go to the shows all the time, Taffe, although Conor told me at the show today that you won at Poodle Club of America when he was, what, 10 days old?

TM: Yes, that’s true. Well, he was 9 days old. It was terrible; I won the Miniature variety under Ricky Koester, and Dr. Smith, who owned the bitch, was holding Conor, and he was so excited he jumped up and down, the baby started crying, and of course my milk started flowing ... through my blouse! Poor Ricky Koester; he was so disgusted. I must have been pretty driven; the baby was born, and I was on the phone right away telling Dr. Smith to please book my flight to PCA.

DIR: But you couldn’t always take the kids with you to the shows. How did you manage?

TM: Bill’s sister moved in with us for a while and helped, and when we had a really busy weekend, his mom would come down for a few days. For a while we had a really good nanny, and we always had great people working for us that were just like aunts and uncles.

DIR: Conor said the dog people at the shows were also like an extended family when he was growing up, like Julie and Kathy Jones, and Linda Spurlock, who owned your Dandie Dinmont special at the time. How interested are your children in dogs these days?

TM: Well, Taylor likes dogs, but she’s not involved at all. She’s had dogs, but now she just has a cat. Keegan manages a beautiful boarding kennel and wants to have his own boarding kennel some day. And Conor goes to a lot of shows and helps out.

DIR: He said how much he enjoys the dog shows. I don’t think he wants to make it his business, but you have obviously done something right for him to still want to go to dog shows.

TM: He was the shyest little boy, and the dog shows really helped him blossom. It’s really fun watching him interact as an adult with people at the shows.


Owner-Handler vs. Professional

Bill McFadden WFT
Professional handlers get few opportunities to show their own dogs, but Bill won BIS at San Luis Obisbo KC in 2004 with his Wire Fox Terrier bitch Ch. Tamedale Harmony. Judge was Betty-Anne Stenmark, trophy presenter Richard Beauchamp. Photo Kit Rodwell.

DIR: I want to ask you about the conflicts between owner-handlers and professional handlers. I’m sure you’re aware that a lot of owner-handlers think professional handlers are the bane of their existence. You know the usual refrain: "It’s not fair. The professionals win all the time whether they should or not.” There’s this duality.

BM: Sure, but I personally think that most professional handlers are very aware of the talented owner-handlers and have every respect for them. Talented is the operative word here. I love it when some owner-handler breaks out and proves they can win. I don’t like whiners; you certainly don’t have to be an owner-handler to be a whiner — there are plenty of professional whiners, too. Not just in dogs, but everywhere.

DIR: Do you think most owner-handlers realize they can talk to you, that you’re approachable?

BM: I hope so. We try to do a lot of handling seminars or clinics after shows, just to let people know the handlers aren’t the big bad wolf. A lot of people don’t have any first-hand interaction with handlers, or if they do, it may be as competitors, and they heard what awful people we are. It’s almost like the reputation of handlers gets larger than life — someone hears a story and then it gets embellished when it’s being retold over and over. There are a lot of people who don’t like handlers, but there are a lot of people who like us, too. Not even necessarily those who use our services, but people who feel like part of the family. They root for you at ringside, and they ask you questions if they have a problem, or they offer suggestions when I have a problem. They are the regular people you see at the shows every weekend.

TM: I also think it really helps that both Bill and I are breeders as well as handlers.

DIR: I’m not sure so many people are aware of that, though.

TM: Perhaps not, but through the years there have been a lot of handlers in many breeds (Standard Poodles, for instance) who have managed breeding programs. It makes sense for a handler to do that because if you don’t like what you’re being given, you want to help the breeder produce something you want to show.


Favorite Dogs

Taffe Schnauzer
Top Dog of all breeds in 2008, Giant Schnauzer Ch. Galilee's Pure Of Spirit, handled by Taffe to BIS at Butte County KC under judge Dr. Robert Smith. Photo Cook.

DIR: Taffe, can you mention some all-time favorite dogs, starting with your days in Canada?

TM: Right away I can think of one that Susan Hillman showed: the English Springer Spaniel Ch. Winacko’s Action Line. He was bred in the US and won a lot down here too.

BM: That was a really good litter. There were three brothers who all won a lot. Did you ever show the one that Susan Hillman had?

TM: No, I never did. Another dog I admired a lot was that Irish Water Spaniel that Bill Trainor showed when Michael Dachel was working for him.

DIR: That would have been Ch. Oaktree’s Irishtocrat, who was BIS at Westminster in 1979. Everyone agrees he was wonderful. Any other really memorable dogs you saw?

TM: Oh, that black Afghan Hound bitch, Ch. Pahlavi Blame It On The Rain. Remember that time in Santa Barbara when she strode out on her leash and just stood there, staring down everybody? I got chills! I really, literally didn’t breathe.

DIR: A lot of people still talk about that, years later. She really was not that big a winner, but everyone remembers that moment. Bill, what about you?

BM: I can’t remember the name, but it was an English Springer Spaniel for me, too. The name was something like Good-Will Copyright something. This was when I went to that dog show with the Great Dane and the Newfoundland in the car, and this dog won Best in Show. It was probably around 1977, somewhere in Colorado. I saw him early in the day and was blown away, and then he won Best in Show, so I felt like I was very smart. [Ch. Good-Will Copyright Reserved was born in 1972 and had a pedigree full of Salilyn dogs. — Ed.]

I also remember, probably that same spring, going to a show in Washington and seeing Ch. Rimskittle Bartered Bride, the white Standard Poodle. She just turned around and looked at me, and it was like somebody was unrolling her ears like a red carpet. When I look at the pictures of her, I don’t get the same feeling. Of course the trims have changed a little bit.

Another dog I loved was ‘Treasure,’ Ch. Sundown Alabaster Treasure, the Saluki that was one of the top dogs in the late ‘90s. I thought she was beautiful, but I loved the whole package. She was owner-handled by her breeder, Karen Black, and I loved Karen’s intensity and integrity, and there was a sort of nonchalance at the same time. She was doing it her way, and you could take it or leave it. It was really cool!

DIR: What about Terriers?

BM: Well, Cairns is what I started with, but that was mostly because that’s what happened to be for sale in Dog World at the time, so they were sort of chosen for me. The lady who had the Cairn in Canada that I was breeding my bitch to was a handler and had Wire Fox Terriers. She talked to them like they were real people — I just loved her interaction with the Wires.

DIR: I have always heard that Wire Fox Terriers are really difficult to live with.

BM: There are probably some, but usually they are really nice dogs. I think there was a period of time when there were a lot of excesses in dogs and in society, and Wires suffered from that. Maybe their brains weren’t quite in the position where God had intended it to be. But Wires are usually really good dogs.

TM: Wire Fox Terriers are wonderful! We have so many repeat customers for Wire puppies.


Go to part three to learn more about Bill and Taffe McFadden's breeding program, how they decide who shows which dogs and the famous Kerry Blue Terrier 'Mick.'


Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  | Part  4


From the 2014 Annual issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.


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