Earlier in the summer we shared about a very special photo shoot for a Here in Hanover magazine article we were a part of. The article is finally out and I am just stunned at how great it turned out. Katharine Britton is the author of this beautiful 6 page spread that goes so far beyond describing what goes into showing dogs to create a striking narrative that warms the heart, or at least it warms mine. The title says it all, “Heart of a Champion.”

Thank you Kathy for including us in this project and creating a lasting memory for us at Woodcrest, Striker, Tory, and Tory’s twelve with Max (our April Fools).

An excerpt from the article:

Another local celebrity is aptly named Best in Show Canadian American Champion Penaire Star Struck at Woodcrest. Thankfully, he answers to “Striker.” If you call at Woodcrest Kennel you will most likely get a glimpse (or at least an earful) of this handsome fellow, as he’s often in the alcove behind the desk and likes to alert owner, Jay Atwood, that someone has arrived, in case Jay didn’t notice the person walking in the door.

Woodcrest offers boarding and grooming, most of which Jay handles and neither of which he intended to do professionally. “We built a small kennel for our own dogs – we never planned on boarding – but we had people knocking on our door asking us, because of our reputation with our own dogs, to board theirs, and then people who were bringing dogs to board asked if we could groom their dogs. Airedales have extensive grooming so they knew we were capable.”

R. Atwood, Jay’s daughter and a web designer by trade, does the Woodcrest website, most of the show grooming, and shows the dogs when they’re not with a professional handler. She occasionally drafts her mother, Colleen Atwood, who grew up with Airedales, to help, but Colleen is mostly retired from the ring now and prefers to stay home and watch puppies. Who can blame her?

Why Airedales? “Fun loving temperament,” says Jay, who’s known Colleen since high school. “I had to have one.” The Atwoods now have “”around eleven.” It’s an imprecise number because, like Hauri, they generally keep one puppy from a litter, and then “grow them out” for a year to know whether they’re show quality. If not, they place the dog, preferably in the home of someone who’s owned one of their puppies before. They take deposits when the puppies are born and, after seven weeks, when they’ve decided which one they’re keeping, they take great pains to find the best fit for the rest. “We take into account the personalities that each buyer wants and any other qualities that they specify,” says R.. “That’s our priority.” R. puts photos and updates on the website daily [woodcrestkennel.com/].

Striker has attended Westminster, but not won (few do). According to Jay, “Margaret, who was winning Best in Show everywhere that year, took the breed,” meaning she was chosen as the best of all the Airedales at the show, and subsequently went on to represent Airedales in the Terrier Group. “When you’re campaigning ‘a special’ [a dog with real potential] … timing is a major consideration,” says R.. (I can think of a few political candidates who’d agree with that statement.) Striker did win Best in Show at Trillium Dog Fanciers in Toronto, and he “went Best of Opposite Sex” to the ubiquitous Margaret at the American Kennel Club Eukanuba Championships in 2006.

When you have a special a professional handler is also advisable if you want to win. “Handlers have spent their whole lives [showing] and it’s hard to compete,” says R.. “We routinely go up against one of the best handlers for terriers in the country. It’s difficult, but really rewarding when you do win.”

The dog lives with the handler and hits the campaign trail full-time, traveling all across the country until the dog has its championship, typically three months. But sometimes the dog is “out” much longer, gamering awards and titles, which help when you go to breed the dog. (The more wins you have, the more you can charge for puppies and stud fees.) Multiple Best in Show CH Everymay’s High Performance (“Max”), the sire of a recent Woodcrest litter of twelve puppies with their bitch “Tory” (Champion Woodcrest Torrential Envy), has fifty-two Best in Shows. “They campaigned him for two solid years. That dog was out every weekend with a professional handler.” marvels R., who goes to approximately fifty shows each year.

For the most part the Atwoods do their own handling (R. was a Junior handler at fourteen) but use professionals when they want to show more than the two dogs they can transport in their SUV – “packed to the gills” – or when the dog requires it. “Tory always lived with me,” says R.. “I was her person. She acted out when I handled her. She needed a handler who she would listen to and co-operate with.” She adds with a chuckle, “She never really respected me.” Tory finished her championship in a single weekend at dog shows in Boston.

If you’re thinking about getting into dog breeding to make money, think again. The expenses – for hotels, entrance fees, grooming supplies, and handler’s fee – far outweigh the income one might get from puppies or stud fees. “I don’t know of anyone who breeds dogs responsibly and makes money. If you broke even you’d be lucky, because to get to the point where you’re going to breed the dog there’s so much that’s gone into it that the money you get back from puppies is negligible,” R. says.

So why do it? R. likes the traveling involved in showing. “Half the time you’re sleeping in the car because who knows where you are. It’s fun.” For Jay, “I love the dogs, the different personalities. It’s something I thoroughly and completely enjoy.”

And further into the article under “Some advice for those thinking about hitting the campaign trail with their dog.”

…And get the right handler.

“You can have a superior dog and the wrong handler will ruin it,” says R. Atwood. “It’s grooming and training. Showing is all about presenting the perfect picture and making that dog the absolute best it can be.”

And don’t think it’s not political.