Past Westminster Winners Share the Experience

After the win of a lifetime, what comes next?

By Karen Steinrock | December 18, 2013

Kaz Hosaka and Spice
In 2002 handler Kaz Hosaka led Miniature Poodle Ch. Surrey Spice Girl to Best in Show at Westminster. 'Spice,' who lives with Hosaka in his home in Delaware, is the oldest living Westminster winner at 15 years old.
Josh Newfoundland
After his win in 2004, 'Josh,' (Ch. Darbydale's All Rise Pouch Cove) became involved in therapy work and helped launch Angel on a Leash in 2005.
Rufus Bull Terrier
Owner Barbara Bishop and Bull Terrier Ch. Rocky Top's Sundance Kid. 'Rufus' became very involved with therapy dog work after his win at Westminster 2006.
Uno the Beagle
David Frei seved as foster father for 'Uno' the Beagle (Ch. K-Run's Park Me In First) during Uno's media tour after his 2008 win at the Garden.
Sadie Scottish Terrier
2010 Westminster winner 'Sadie' (Ch. Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot), pictured with her owners Amelia and Dan Musser, has a room named after her in her owners' Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan.
Scottish Deerhound Hickory
Scottish Deerhound GCh. Foxcliffe Hickory Wind was BIS at Westminster in 2011. Now living in Flint, Va., 'Hickory' takes daily walks through the woods with her fellow Deerhounds and her owners.
Malachy Pekingese David Fitzpatrick
David Fitzpatrick handled Pekingese GCh. Palacegarden Malachy to BIS at Westminster in 2012. Fitzpatrick says that the win still affects him to this day.
Banana Joe Affenpinscher
After his 2013 win at Westminster, Affenpinscher 'Banana Joe' now leads a life of leisure in the Netherlands with owner Mieke Cooymans..

In 1979 a young Japanese handler immigrated to America with one goal in mind: to win the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Twenty-three years later Kaz Hosaka's dream came true when Miniature Poodle Ch. Surrey Spice Girl was awarded Best in Show at the Garden. "When BIS judge Everett Dean said 'The Miniature Poodle,' it was the happiest moment of my life," Hosaka beams.

His reaction mirrors that of most previous Westminster winners. Becoming a part of history had a profound, lasting impact on everyone ... the handler, the owners, the breeders. What follows is a snapshot of the folks behind the dogs to gain personal insight into what the award meant to them and how winning "the big one" shaped their future goals in the fancy. Given the sheer number of individuals involved, it was impossible to interview everyone. Those we reached shared their experiences ... the anticipation, the thrill and aftermath of winning America's oldest, most prestigious dog show.


In the Ring

"Our 2011 win was one of those unexpected, thunderbolt moments," says Cecilia Dove, breeder/owner of Scottish Deerhound GCh. Foxcliffe Hickory Wind. "We never expected to win the Group, let alone BIS. I still get goose bumps thinking about it."

Meanwhile husband Scott was stuck in Virginia managing the kennel when a storm knocked out the electricity. When phone service returned and the flood of congratulatory calls rolled in, he was confused. "Congratulations for what?" he'd reply, having no idea 'Hickory' had just won.

Owner Barbara Bishop was experiencing ringside jitters when 'Rufus' (Ch. Rocky Top's Sundance Kid) entered the Best in Show ring in 2006. "We are really small-time Bull Terrier people and never thought that would happen," she recalls. "Judge [James] Reynolds had been very deliberate in the past, and we knew if Rufus didn't perform well, he wouldn't win. Turns out he was on fire that night at the Garden."

Bishop joined Rufus at every single show throughout his career. "He was my baby. We were so naïve that we didn't even know about the parties after the show," says the former paramedic.

In 2010 Amelia and Dan Musser, owners of 'Sadie' (Ch. Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot), were sitting just feet from the floor with very high hopes. She remembers two women seated nearby, bejeweled and somewhat inebriated, commenting, "Look at that Scottie ... no way." They sobered up quickly when the Mussers introduced themselves and Sadie took the crown.

That same year animal-rights activists scaled the barriers during Best in Show judging, flashing placards, and were immediately escorted out by security. Because all the guards were placed on high alert, the Mussers had trouble getting to the ring to join 'Sadie' after the win. They only made it to the post-show party when it was over.

Back in 2002, Kaz Hosaka was having a heck of a time in the ring, worried 'Spice' would drop her tail during the most crucial time of judging. "She's the most difficult dog I've ever handled ... very moody," he recalls. A year earlier, she spooked at the flower arrangements during Group judging, so Hosaka spent the next year working with her next to flowers in his yard. A quick hug and cherished squeaky toy hidden in his pocket brought that tail up. He hoped no one would notice how profusely he was sweating.

The humble handler attributes his achievement to the tough tutelage of beloved judge and friend, Spice's co-breeder Anne Rogers Clark. "Annie discovered me when she was judging shows in Japan," Hosaka remembers. "I had never even had my hands on a Poodle and was best known for handling Dobermans. From that point on I worked to be like her every day."

Spice's win not only made Hosaka an instant hero in his native country of Japan, but it brought owner Ron Scott to a new level of showing. "Annie Clark's influence marked the beginning of my specialing a dog and participating at a higher level. Westminster is such a difficult show to win, and an experience everyone dreams of," says Scott. "Annie brought everything full circle."

David Fitzpatrick spent many sleepless nights after his adrenaline-charged win with his Pekingese 'Malachy' (GCh. Palacegarden Malachy) in 2012. "The win is still affecting me," he said. "I wake up at night sometimes, remembering the moment, and get charged up all over again."


"Angels" Take Wing for Benevolent Causes

Much has been written about the media frenzy following a Westminster win ... not for the faint of heart by any means. Some described it as "torturous," but others basked in the spotlight fueled by remaining adrenaline. The Westminster champion's return home ignites a whole slew of local celebrations, followed by numerous public appearances bringing awareness to the breeds, funding to charities and providing unconditional love to those in need.

In 2004 Dave and Peggy Helming of Flemington, N.J., realized their Newfoundland 'Josh' (Ch. Darbydale's All Rise Pouch Cove) was not content with his new title of "America's Dog" and immediately earned therapy certification to further hone the gentle giant's instinct to work. "Josh touched the lives of all with whom he came in contact, whether it was the children he snuggled with at hospitals, funds raised to benefit rescues and pets needing medical treatment, or meeting seniors at retirement communities," says Dave Helming.

Josh also helped launch the "Angel on a Leash" program in 2005. He was the focal point of a poster sold by Westminster Kennel Club the following year to generate funds exclusively for this program to benefit young patients and their families through the integration of therapy dogs. "We received letters, emails, gifts and messages from people all over the world thanking Josh for his goodwill endeavors as ambassador for the breed," he writes. The same can be said for many other past Westminster champions who used their triumph to pursue charitable activities ... particularly therapy dog work.

Westminster spokesman David Frei served as foster father to 'Uno' the Beagle (Ch. K-Run's Park Me In First) during their whirlwind tour following the 2008 win at the Garden. He spoke on behalf of owner Caroline Dowell of Austin, Texas, where Uno serves as reigning king of her 200-acre ranch.

Following the win, Frei quickly put a Delta Pet Partners title on Uno before embarking on a cross-country tour visiting Ronald McDonald Houses. Caroline had been, and remains, dedicated to Beagle rescue. She embraced the idea that Uno could do a lot more than be a great show dog.
Frei and Uno traveled via Midwest Airlines' "Celebrity Pet" program, which earned Uno a personalized ticket with his own seat. A past ticket reading "Uno Frei" graces David's office to this day. (Note: Midwest no longer offers this program.)

Of course, such an odd name and a dog traveling without a crate raised suspicions of the ever-vigilant TSA agents. One run-in at the Flint, Mich., airport en route to the Detroit KC shows could have turned ugly. They insisted on "additional screening for the Beagle. I imagined me ending up under arrest and Uno in the local shelter, but they came to their senses," remembers Frei. "They have a tough job, but I'm not so sure that busting the world's most famous dog had to be a part of that.

"On our return trip through the same airport, you'd have never known there had been an issue two days earlier," he continues. "They put us in a VIP room, and the same people who were ready to put us in cuffs were the people who came in to say hi and have their picture taken with him!"

Frei's expert show commentary and dedication to the Angel on a Leash program has always put show dogs in the best possible light. He singled out three Westminster winners he feels deserve extra credit. "Uno, James and Rufus did more for our dogs than any other previous winner. They were the true warriors for Angel on a Leash."

Post-Win Breed Awareness and Protection

If there's a downside to winning Westminster, it's the public reaction to follow. "Where can I get one?" enters the minds of prospective puppy buyers, often unfamiliar with the breed. Phones ring off the hook, and breeder referral folks suffer from burnout trying to talk people out of a dog they're unprepared for.

Rescues brace for the worst.

I went through this myself after Josh's victory in 2004. As the Newfoundland Club of America breeder referral contact at that time, I anticipated a spike in interest but had no idea to what degree. After speaking to well over 300 people, patiently explaining the pros and cons of this high-maintenance breed, most said "no thanks." The thought of drool and non-stop shedding stopped most inquirers dead in their tracks. Protecting our breed was first and foremost in my mind. It was worth all those hours on the phone and blisters from typing emails.

Hickory's owners received more than 200 phone calls the first night. The winning Scottish Deerhound had 7,000 hits on the Internet the next day. "People inquiring were out of the Deerhound loop," Cecilia Dove recalls. "This breed needs a certain environment to realize full potential. We were all fending off people who wouldn't make good Deerhound owners."

After Rufus won, the Bishops adamantly pursued therapy dog work. "We were involved before but even more so after Westminster," says Barbara. "We are very dedicated to this cause due to the public's misunderstanding of Bull breed temperament. All of our dogs are CGCs except the puppies."

The fallout after such huge publicity ... leading to unwanted dogs being turned in to rescue ... takes a year or so to reach crisis levels. Imagine what the Beagle rescue groups faced after Uno's triumph, considering the easy availability and overbreeding of Beagles. Thank heaven for dedicated rescue folks like Caroline Dowell. She has made Beagle rescue her life's work.

Equal credit goes to the breeder referral contacts who help avert bad decisions before they are made.


What Do They Do for an Encore?

While the four-legged champions typically retire after the achievement of a lifetime, most owners and breeders strive to produce even finer specimens of their breed. Dave and Peggy Helming continue their efforts to breed the most correct dogs that meet a standard of excellence for the Newfoundland breed. "Josh's accomplishments didn't really change our future goals in the dog show world," Dave Helming says. "He was a true Newfoundland, possessing the true characteristics and qualities of this magnificent breed."

Affenpinscher 'Banana Joe' now leads a life of leisure in the Netherlands with owner Mieke Cooymans and his 14-year-old sire 'Kicker.' Now a beloved pet, Joe has sired puppies currently being shown in the States. "Joey is one of a kind and deeply loved by our whole family," says Cooymans.

Spice, now 15, the oldest living Westminster winner, lounges about Hosaka's home in Greenwood, Del. Hosaka, on the other hand, feels more confident and competitive than ever ... more able to relax in the ring with his new exhibits. His goal? To win one more Westminster with a black Standard Poodle bitch.

Sadie retired with handlers Gabriel and Ivonne Rangel after a celebratory party at the Mussers' Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Mich. A special "Sadie room" in the luxurious lodge delights guests as does the new Sadie's Ice Cream Parlor. Following the loss of husband, Dan, last year, Amelia says they had a good run and are scaling back. She recently acquired a Norfolk Terrier named Marcus and plans to "just love him."

The Bishops continue showing their Bull Terriers but in a more casual manner. "Having a dog like Rufus made winning far less important. Now I go to shows to have fun and catch up with friends. Whether we win or not doesn't really matter," says Bishop who is deeply involved in Bull Terrier club activities. She will preside over the Central New Jersey Bull Terrier Club next year as president.

In Flint, Va., Hickory enjoys daily strolls through the woods with fellow Deerhounds, guided by the Doves. They continue to show Hickory's offspring while fostering the natural instincts of these impressive hounds.

All-breed handler Kellie Fitzgerald says winning twice, first with English Springer Spaniel 'Samantha' in 2000 and seven years later with her son 'James,' opened up opportunities she never dreamed of. The first win allowed her to start her own handling business. She now breeds English Springers in Delaware under the "Legacy" prefix.

With two consecutive wins under her belt, handler Michelle Scott, while humbled by the victories with Josh in 2004 and 'Carlee' in 2005, says it was back to business as usual. "Once the media craze ends, we're back to training new puppies and conditioning others for the show ring. Nothing really changed for me."

David Fitzpatrick's epiphany continues. "I'd always like to think the best has yet to come and want to breed dogs of great caliber," he says. "At the end of the day, you still need judges who appreciate and understand your breed. It's an honor to be part of such a grand event. No other show matches the caliber of Westminster."


Angels on a Leash Westminster
Angel on a Leash representatives from left to right: Bull Terrier Rufus, Miniature Poodle Spice, English Springer Spaniel James, Bichon Frisé J.R. and 15" Beagle Uno.


-More Westminster Dog Show Articles- 


From the 2014 Annual issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Purchase the 2014 Annual digital back issue with the DIR app or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine (print and digital versions).


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Carl Blaine   Sacramento, California

7/11/2015 11:11:29 AM

The English Springer "James" was not the son of "Samantha". Samantha was the daughter of Robert "Condor" who also won BIS at the Garden before her and her win made history as the first offspring of a previous winner to also win BIS at the Garden. I know as I owned Samanatha and bred her one and only litter.

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Judith   Prescott, Arizona

2/19/2015 12:42:17 AM

Postscripts are not always happy. After Uno the Beagle's win, he was sterile, after which it was rumored he was found living in deplorable conditions. These thing I heard from one of Uno's owners. I spoke to him when Uno dropped abruptly off the radar. I have a Beagle that is related to Parker, Uno and Miss P.

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