Talking to Bill & Taffe McFadden: Part 1

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 10, 2014 4 p.m. PST

Bill and Taffe McFadden
Bill and Taffe McFadden with son Conor after winning Best in Show at Westminster in 2003 with the Kerry Blue Terrier Am./UK Ch. Torum's Scarf Michael. The judge was Irene Bivin. Photo courtesy B&T McFadden.

Bill and Taffe McFadden have experienced tremendous success as professional handlers. Each has shown a No. 1 dog of all breeds — they were, in fact, the first married couple to have done this since Robert and Jane Forsyth back in the 1960s. (As Bill was quick to point out, though, they are no longer the only ones to do so, with Phil and Amy Booth having achieved the same double.) Bill won with the Kerry Blue Terrier Ch. Torum’s Scarf Michael, ‘Mick,’ in 2001 and Taffe with the Giant Schnauzer Ch. Galilee’s Pure of Spirit in 2008, and for good measure Bill also took the No. 1 spot with the Dandie Dinmont Terrier Ch. Hobergays Fineus Fogg, ‘Harry,’ in 2006. They have between them won at least 10 Groups at Westminster, with BIS at both Westminster and the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship for Mick.

Those are just some of the highlights. Bill and Taffe have won big with hundreds of dogs of every possible breed since they were very young — Taffe was 12 years old when she won her first Best in Show. Even more impressively, they have also at the same time managed to bring up three children, all of them now adults, all animal lovers, and two of them very much involved in dogs. And, as you will find, they are both still passionate and thoughtful when it comes to the sport of dogs. They even breed dogs as a hobby — Bill has had success with the Random Wire Fox Terriers for many years, while Taffe, after an early start in Setters, has branched out into Havanese and Shih Tzu in more recent years.

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.

Dogs in Review: Thanks for agreeing to talk to us right after a long day at the show. You must be exhausted. How many dogs did you show today?

Taffe McFadden: Thirty-seven. Yes, I’m tired.

Dogs in Review: What about you, Bill?

Bill McFadden: I want to go to a movie!

DIR: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you guys meet? Taffe, I know you’re Canadian.

TM: Yes. I was 16 and working for a handler at a show in Vancouver Island when I first met Bill. It was 1977 or 1978. Bill won Best at that show with a Cairn Terrier.

BM: It was my first Best in Show from the first litter I ever bred. I just saw Taffe at this show; I didn’t talk to her. She was just so beautiful, and I felt like a nerd ... I guess I was shy.

DIR: Taffe, did you grow up in dogs?

TM: Yes, my sister bred English Setters for years. [Taffe’s sister Honey Glendinning is a CKC all-breed judge today. — Ed.] I started showing dogs when I was 6 and won my very first Best in Show at 12. We had Irish Setters and English Setters, and we bred some litters. My mother used to drive my sister and me to the shows, but she usually ended up playing poker with the dog show husbands — she really had no interest in the dog shows, per se, just the extracurricular activities.

DIR: How did you and your sister discover the dog show world?

TM: Honey had bought an Irish Setter from someone who thought she should show it.

DIR: And you were such a good handler even as a kid that people started to ask you to show dogs?

TM: I did show one or two dogs for others, but then I went to work for various different handlers.

DIR: Did you think this would be a lifetime thing?

TM: Oh, yes. I knew immediately, even as a little kid, that this was all I wanted to do.

DIR: Serious question: Are you ever sorry that this is what you have spent your life doing?

TM: No, I really love my job. I still do. I don’t know that I necessarily like the way that this sport has developed, but I love showing dogs.

DIR: What about you, Bill?

BM: We always had dogs when I was a kid. They were just pets — a Beagle, then a Collie. I grew up in Oregon and Washington. I went to my first dog show with some friends, sitting in the back seat with a Great Dane and a Newfoundland. It seemed like a lot of fun, and when I got back home, I got a copy of Dog World magazine — only because Dogs in Review wasn’t born yet, of course. I went through the whole magazine and found some people who lived not that far from us. We had actually bought a couple of pet dogs from them earlier, and they were advertising Cairn Terriers for sale. They had been pretty famous as handlers earlier, even won a Group at Westminster, I think. Anyway, I bought an adult Cairn bitch and her 2-year old daughter from them, and as luck would have it, the older bitch came in season a week later, so I bred that first litter really quickly. The people I bought the dogs from, Elden and Erlis McCormick, recommended that I contact Stella Newby in Canada about using her stud dog. I did, and the rest is history. Just dumb beginner’s luck!

DIR: How long did it take for you two to get serious?

BM: We dated for seven years.

TM: ... but on a normal weekend-to-weekend basis, it was maybe more like two months. We hardly saw each other most of the time. I lived in Canada, and soon after we had met, Bill went to work for Eddie and Lesley Boyes in Malibu, which was even farther away.

DIR: When did you get married?

BM: In 1985.


Becoming a Professional

Young Taffe McFadden
Taffe winning her first BIS at age 12 with the English Setter Am./Can./Bermuda Ch. Hiddenlane's Tisha. The judge was Ted Gunderson, the show Edmonton KC in 1974. Photo Pryma.

DIR: And you were both going to be professional handlers?

TM: Yes. Shortly before Bill proposed, I had quit working for Susan Hillman, gone out on my own and was extremely successful in Canada. I believe I am the only woman handler to have won a Best in Show in all seven Groups! Small claim to fame. When I told my mom Bill had asked me to marry him she said, "That’s great. We’ll just turn the downstairs into a kennel,” so I had to tell her that was not going to happen because I would be moving to the US. She was not happy about that. She was afraid I’d be a little fish in a big pond and never make it.

DIR: Well, she turned out to be wrong about that. Did you want to move away from Canada?

TM: I did. I loved it there, but to me going Best of Winners in the US meant way more than winning anything in Canada. You’ve probably been in the same position, coming from Sweden.

DIR: That’s true. So first you lived in Campbell, Calif. Did you have a big kennel?

BM: No.

DIR: Did you have an outside job, or were you able to support yourselves as handlers right away?

BM: No, we didn’t have any outside jobs, and no, we weren’t able to support ourselves as handlers at first, but somehow we did anyway. I had started out working in a brand new kennel in Livermore; the people were nice, but the living conditions were disgusting. I remember I wore my shoes while showering. You can print that; these people are probably now running a puppy mill somewhere. I wanted to move out, so I was looking around, and they heard I was looking around, so they kicked me out. Literally in one day I had to find a place to move with all my dogs, and Bev Verna — who’s one of the top people in Miniature Schnauzers — came to my rescue. She knew that Barbara and Pat Baymiller had a place that was not being used, a two-bedroom cottage and a kennel with 10 runs with no dogs in them. There was only one bathroom, but at least I didn’t have to share it with the toothless guy who lived in a trailer in the parking lot. Instead I had to share the cottage with a carpet-cleaning business, and they had to come in and use our bathroom. That’s how we got started.

Young Bill McFadden
Bill showing the Cairn Terrier Bold Oaks Play It Again Sam under Tom Gately in 1978. Sam was Bill's first champion from his first litter.

DIR: It sounds very glamorous.

BM: It was, trust me.

TM: I must have really been in love to move in with him...

BM: Anyway, the Baymillers were super landlords. They pretty quickly became like family, and they were very protective of us. Really good people. Eventually the carpet-cleaner business moved out, and we had the place to ourselves.

DIR: That must have been a huge step forward. Taffe, you mentioned that you had been working for Susan Hillman before you left Canada. I didn’t know her at all but have heard so much about her. She must have had a strong influence on you. What was she like?

TM: She was an amazing lady. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone else where you can’t find anyone who has an unkind word to say about them.

BM: She was really a cool lady, but I always think of her as being a real broad, too, in the Lauren Bacall mold. She could keep up her own end drinking whiskey with the guys, trust me.

DIR: What breeds did she have? Coated breeds and Toy dogs?

TM: She had all breeds from Poodles and Springers to Airedale Terriers and Lakelands. She was a wonderful lady and a great dog handler.

DIR: She never judged, right?

TM: No, she died before she could do that. She and Timmy Brazier both worked for Pat Tripp, so there was that connection too.

DIR: Did you both show all breeds from the start, or did you specialize?

BM: Taffe had so much more experience with different breeds than I had because she had worked for Susan Hillman for so long, and they had all kinds of dogs. The year before we got married Taffe had the No. 1 Sporting Dog, Toy Dog and Non-Sporting Dog in Canada.

TM: Honestly, sometimes I would have four or five of the six dogs in Best in Show.

DIR: Sort of like the Forsyths and Mrs. Clark when they combined forces in the 1960s in the US.

TM: Well ... not quite like that. I had to convince some of my clients in Canada to send down a couple of dogs to me. Mostly I wanted to show Poodles then.


Go to part two to see what Bill and Taffe have to say about raising a family, the dyamics between professional handlers and owner-handlers and their favorite dogs.


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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