Talking to Bill & Taffe McFadden: Part 4

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 four of this interview, Bill and Taffe McFadden talk about dog shows today, their breakthrough dogs, the people who influenced them and what they see in their future.


Dog Shows Today

McFadden Winkie Award
The McFadden family at the Showdog of the Year awards in 2009. From left, son Keegan, Taffe (who won the Winkie for Best Professional Handler), daughter Taylor, Bill and son Conor..

DIR: What do you think the main differences are between shows in Canada and the US?

TM: The number of dogs is greater in the US, but there is great quality and extreme seriousness of the sport in Canada as well. And I don’t think the money is the same there either, obviously.

DIR: I would really like to hear what you think of dog shows in the United States right now in general.

BM: Well, we’ve won a lot of Best in Shows, but I don’t think BIS is necessarily the pinnacle of judging anyway. A lot of the judges are well-intentioned, but there are plenty of examples of people who don’t deserve to judge any breed at all, and yet they have multiple Groups. They are obviously smart enough to navigate the system, but that doesn’t necessarily make them good judges. I think anyone who has real experience of dogs should be allowed to judge. There are some people who everyone knows are going to be good judges, and I’d love to be able to show under more people like that. Putting a lot of roadblocks in people’s way really isn’t helping the sport.

DIR: Someone told me you can preside in your 20s or 30s as a judge in criminal court when a guy is prosecuted for murder, but most people can’t become AKC Group judges, or multiple Group judges, until they are around retirement age.

BM: I think we sometimes take all this a little too seriously. I mean, it is serious but a different kind of serious. There are so many people I wish would judge who are either afraid of the system or who are offended by the system. There are a lot of people I enjoy showing under, but in Terriers if 15 percent of the people I show to have any real passion for good Terriers, that’s a high figure.

DIR: Take Dan Kiedrowski, for instance, who published Terrier Type and Schnauzer Shorts for so many years. He would probably be a really good judge.

BM: Yes, that’s a good example. He should definitely be asked to judge, and even if he only judged once in a while, it would be really interesting.

TM: He’s lived with so many great dogs and appreciated them. He would really look for breed type, not just, "Up and down once again, please.”

BM: You’re not going to find enough people like that to judge all the shows we have, of course, but it would be so nice to have special occasions where they could judge.

DIR: That’s probably what AKC is trying to do now, letting the parent clubs recommend people who are not regularly approved to judge national specialties.

BM: Yes, that’s great. In some breeds the national specialties are such great events and can last for a week because they have such big entries.

DIR: Do you think we’ve got too many dog shows today?

BM: I always hated it when people said we should have fewer shows because what I hear is that’s fewer opportunities for me to make money. However, I love going to the big shows, Palm Springs, Louisville, Del Valle and Montgomery County, because when you’re at a big show and the competition is stronger, the losses are a little bit easier to take and the wins mean more. If you go to a 400-dog show and you don’t win, you really feel like a loser, but if you go to a 4,000-dog show and you get a Group 3 or a 5-point major, it carries more validity. I know there are a lot of people who don’t want to compete where it matters — or just getting that BIS ribbon is what really counts, regardless of the competition.

DIR: Which ones do you think are the best dog shows in America?

TM: Poodle Club of America. I haven’t been there in years, not since Mark Shanoff died, which was in the 1990s.

BM: I have never been to PCA, but I’d love to go. Montgomery County is my favorite show. I love the whole weekend. There’s so much competition, and so many of the top dogs that aren’t Terriers are there, too. And I love Palm Springs. It has so many positives. It has the potential to be a 4,500- or 5,000-dog show. It’s just beautiful.

TM: What a great way to start the year off. It’s fresh, clean, beautiful...

BM: They have some good judges, and I’d hate to make a blanket statement, but if the panel was elevated to the same stature as the venue, it would be magic!

DIR: What do you think of Westminster?

BM: It’s unique, of course, in a class by itself. I thought last year had a lot of positives, and I’m sure it will grow into the new daytime venue. My complaint about Westminster was always that in the past you could not adhere to the registered handler program’s code of ethics because you wouldn’t be able to take proper care of your dogs. It always felt like a hazing or something because there was this enormous hassle of getting to the ring, and if you could endure that and win the breed, then you would be allowed to get into that magical Group ring.

DIR: So what does it feel like to go Best in Show at Westminster?

BM: It was great. I hadn’t really set that as a goal, maybe because I didn’t want to be disappointed if I never won, but the whole experience and the recognition we got was even better than I expected. It’s such a different experience from Montgomery County, which is outdoors and perhaps more of a traditional "sporting event,” but the historical significance of winning at Westminster is really quite something.

DIR: The Terrier people are so lucky to have a show like Montgomery. Poodles have PCA, and Terriers have Montgomery County, but most breeds don’t have anything even approaching those shows.

BM: I guess the national specialties are the closest you can get. Andy Linton always says that the Doberman national is the ultimate dog show experience, but of course he’s a Doberman person.

DIR: Did you experience any of the post-Westminster blues? They say a lot of the people who win BIS at Westminster feel kind of depressed afterward because when you’ve reached that ultimate goal, what else can you aim for?

BM: No, I didn’t feel that at all, and anyway my real goal has always been to win Montgomery County with a dog I’ve bred myself, so I still have that to hope for.

DIR: You won BIS at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship as well. Was it similar to the Westminster experience?

BM: I think it’s cool, but there’s nothing really magical about it. I like big shows like that, where the competition is tough. I’m just a little offended that it’s not on the West Coast, but obviously they get bigger entries out there, so I suppose it’s good business. But it still seems to me like they are ignoring the West Coast.

DIR: Taffe, you said earlier you weren’t necessarily happy about the direction of the sport. Can you explain?

TM: Where to begin? I think there is such an emphasis on the system to become a judge these days that we have scared off so many great dog people from even trying to get their licenses!

I’m also not a fan of the number of shows we have. The entries are low, as is the quality in some cases. It’s hard to be on the road five days a week making a living. I think the quality of dogs becoming champions has dropped considerably. I miss the days when the depth of quality in a breed at a certain show was all anyone could talk about — even if it was not a breed you were involved in!


Breakthrough Dogs

DIR: Which would you say were your breakthrough dogs, the ones that made people sit up and notice you nationwide?

BM: In my case probably another Kerry Blue, Ch. Kerrageen’s Hotspur, Top Terrier in 1991. There was also the Bichon Frisé Ch. Chaminade Larkshire Lafitte, among the Top 10 dogs of all breeds in 1993 and 1994 with 40-plus Best in Show wins. We also need to mention the Giant Schnauzer Ch. Skansens Tristan II, No. 2 of all breeds in 1999, and the Dandie Dinmont Terrier Ch. Hobergay’s Fineus Fogg. ‘Harry’ was born in New Zealand but came to the US from Australia, where he had done a lot of winning. He was No. 1 all breeds in 2006.

In Taffe’s case, her breakthrough was perhaps her English Setter, Ch. Set’r Ridge Lookin At You Kid, JH, one of the top Sporting dogs of 1995 and 1996. He won BOB at Westminster at least twice. And then of course there was the Bedlington, ‘Ten,’ who was mentioned before and was Top Terrier in 2000, before Mick. And of course the Giant Schnauzer Ch. Galilee’s Pure of Spirit, which Taffe showed to No. 1 of all breeds in 2008. They were as close as you get when you’re campaigning a dog at that level. There are so many others, and we don’t want to forget any...
There was the Scottish Deerhound Ch. Jaralaluv’s Ouija, the Pom ‘Luther’ (Ch. Starfire’s Wicked Mean N Nasty), and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel "Andy” (Ch. Annatika Andreas). All of them were ranked among the top dogs in their group sometime in the 2000s.

DIR: We’re staying away from mentioning any of the current dogs. Could you mention a particular attribute that a real top handler must possess? Why do some succeed so much better than others?

TM: You must have the ability to separate the job from reality. The color of the ribbon shouldn’t decide if it’s a good dog or a bad one.


Advice, Influential People and the Future

McFadden Kids
Right to left: Son Conor and Bill McFadden during the Mission Circtuit in May 2013; Taylor McFadden with Ch. Random Request at Westminster in 1997 (photo Gay Glazbrook); Keegan McFadden in the late 1990s with the Wire Fox Terrier Ch. Random Run Amok, bred by Bil but finished exclusively by Keegan.

DIR: What’s the best piece of advice you can give a relative newcomer who has a good dog and wants to show it, so that they will be happy with the experience?

BM: I would tell them to study, practice, seek out good mentors and develop a circle of friends, a "family” that will both celebrate your successes and be there for the losses!

DIR: You mentioned a couple of people who were influential when you started. Anyone we missed? Anyone you admire?

TM: I still miss Mark Shanoff!

BM: I learned as much from Maripi Wooldridge as from anyone. She’s a good friend and teacher. And over the years we’ve had so many great assistants.

TM: I’ve got a huge list of assistants. I know I will forget someone very important, and they will be so hurt. Jennifer Klemish and Jennifer Neis didn’t go on to become handlers, but all the following did: Amy Rutherford, Gabriel and Ivonne Rangel, who came to us from Dan Sackos in Southern California, Travis Luyten from Australia, Dana Shumaker, Santiago Pinto from Colombia, Kristin Karboski, Stuart McGraw, Janice Hayes, Luke Seidlitz, who was with us for many years but has now branched out on his own, Juri Sokolic from Croatia, Tomoko Saeki from Japan and Fan Yu from China. I know there are so many more. Greg Reyna, Loran Morgan, and Chrystal Murray from Canada, Tamara Dawson from England with the Bichons...

BM: I wish I could say Gabriel learned a lot from us, but he’s so brilliant, it’s like he’s from a different planet.

DIR: What’s next? Do you plan on continuing to show dogs? Will you become judges? Any other dreams for the future?

TM: How about just becoming a millionaire?

BM: I plan on continuing to handle for as long as I can. I still enjoy it. I would love to judge, and I have judged a lot of sweepstakes and a few times abroad. The Kennel Club in the UK approved me to award Challenge Certificates in Wire Fox Terriers in Scotland next month, and I look forward to that. But I’m not sure I’ll be able to afford to stop handling while I’m still sharp enough to contribute as a judge.


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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Give us your opinion Give us your opinion on Talking to Bill & Taffe McFadden: Part 4

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John   Atlanta, Georgia

9/15/2016 10:37:18 PM

My mom, Maribeth Bass, had numerous dealings with Bill and Taffe, when they showed her Cairn (who Bill and Taffe helped breed), Ch Fairisle Jaks R Betr in the late 1990s to early 2000s. I remember when she, my dad and I went to Westminster in 2000 to see him compete. Jak passed away in 2012, my dad in 2013 and my mom in 2014. To the day of her death, she talked about Bill and Jak. Although the sadness of loosing my mom made it impossible for me to continue raising, breeding and owning Cairns, I still hold the memory of Jak, his descendants (some of whom are still being shown by my mom's close friend Julie Geis) and their work with Bill and Taffe close to my heart. Congratulations to Bill and Taffe for a job well done!!

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Lisa   Manzanita, Oregon

2/15/2016 6:34:31 PM

Quite a number of years ago I had the privilege of meeting Bill and Mick at a dog show in Portland, Or. I was able to pet Mick and tell him what a beautiful boy he was, and Bill was very nice.

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