Kovu Wins Terrier Group
Making history ... again!
was sitting ringside in a surprisingly verdant Tempe Arizona park watching Norm Patton judge the Arizona Toy Dog Fanciers Club specialty when news came from Birmingham England, via my cell phone, that the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Ch Caraway Celebrate Life, Kovu, piloted by Shari Boyd Carusi, had won the Terrier Group at Crufts. I felt goose bumps rising all over my body and tears welled in my eyes! A bit over-the-top you might think? Perhaps. But there is a ton of history here… personal history for certain but also breed history and handler history too.
The dog was my choice for Best of Breed at Montgomery in 2004 over an entry of one hundred and seventy, as a young Open Dog, 15 months of age. Such decisions are not made frivolously by most of us, above all at a national specialty when the specials class is sizeable. In this instance it numbered forty-nine. But in the final analysis, Kovu stood out as a dog of not only superb breed type and correct make and shape but of incredible soundness as well. In retrospect, I could have done nothing else.
In the fall of 2005 I received an interesting phone call. It was from a fellow judge of no small degree of stature. She asked for my opinion of Kovu and, with great concern and sincerity, questioned why this dog was not winning groups. She went on to decry the fact that on several occasions, when judging Best In Show, she found the terrier representative to be of far less quality than this Wheaten Terrier. "I would love to have him in my BIS lineup and would love to give him the top honor," she said. My answer to her question was straightforward and immediate. "He does not win Groups because he is a Wheaten Terrier," I said.
I went on to explain. The stigma attached to our breed began at the time of recognition in 1973 when many terrier handlers scoffed at the idea of Wheaten Terriers being in the Terrier Group and had little if anything good to say about them. Never mind that this old Irish breed shares common ancestors with both the Irish Terrier and the Kerry Blue. To make matters worse, these handlers shared their point of view with terrier judges. Admittedly Wheaten fanciers back then were a group of neophytes. We were the blind leading the blind! But this was not the issue. Our dogs were being maligned.
For us, working to gain respect for the breed was much like trying to push a boulder uphill, an arduous chore that continued for years. If someone had told me in the mid-seventies that we would still be low man on the Terrier totem pole when the twenty-first century dawned, I would never have believed them. Even the Glen of Imaal, as a newcomer, came on as a stronger contender than the Wheaten did in terms of group wins. We worked hard in those early days. Temperaments were soft and I remember that we prayed for cloudy days at dog shows because our dog's tails would drop as soon as the sun hit their backs! But times changed and many of our Wheatens became stand-up Terriers, some beautifully balanced, well made and sound. Still, they rarely won the Group. If by some stoke of good fortune they did, a Best In Show win was an even greater rarity.
Since breed recognition in 1973, and prior to Kovu's arrival on the scene, a Wheaten Terrier had won only twenty-nine Bests In Show… twenty-nine Bests in thirty-two years. Five of those were won by a single dog, Ch Andover Song and Dance Man, two in 1987, one in 1988 and two again in 1989. Ch Brenmoor Sparkplug and Ch Brenmoor Shampoo copped two BIS each, both owner handled. The former won his two in 1988 and the latter won his in 1999. Ch Kaylynn's August Moon was a recipient of this honor three times in 1998 and 1999. Ch Marima's Easy Money was Best three times, twice in 1988 and once in 1989. Ch Shar-D's Let The Games Begin was another triple crown winner between 1993 and 1994. Ch Marima's Classical Jazz was a two-time winner in 1984. The only bitch to win more than one Best In Show was Ch Doubloon's Playing The Field. They were back-to-back in September of 2004. Many thought she deserved more but it didn't happen. The remaining seven Bests In Show were those once in a lifetime wins, among them my own foundation bitch, Ch Innisfree's Annie Sullivan who won hers on St Patrick's Day of 1974 becoming our first BIS winner and remaining the only bitch to be so honored for twenty-seven years.
The dishonor that dogged our breed for lo these many years appears to have been wiped away thanks to this outstanding dog. Kovu has become the top winning Wheaten Terrier in the history of the breed, with sixteen Bests, forty-eight Group Firsts and fourteen Specialty BOBs, including three consecutive National Specialties, to retire the Andover Challenge Trophy. Montgomery 2006 was particularly noteworthy when he won back-to-back BIS at both Hatboro shows, a Group Two at Devon and a Group Three at Montgomery itself. Need I remind anyone of the stiff terrier competition faced during this mega-terrier weekend?
Amazing that sometimes all it takes is one to break the ice. Group placements are more frequent now, the breed no longer blatantly ignored. Kovu has indeed turned our breed around and in so many ways has become, as breeder Beth Verner declared recently, "Our collective boy." It's as though he belongs to all of Wheatendom. Speaking for Team Kovu, she went on to say that they are humbled with each and every opportunity Kovu has had to represent the breed both stateside and across the pond, calling the Crufts win, "A thrilling once-in-a-lifetime experience."
I can scarcely remember a time that I did not know Shari Boyd Carusi. Shari started showing in 1983, steadfastly supported and greatly encouraged by her father, Malcolm, since deceased. It was 1984 and Shari was 12 years old when she and her mother, Dee, showed up at my house the day before the Montgomery circuit began to get some grooming help. I was living in Bucks County PA at the time and had a great kennel set-up, which, by the way, I miss to this day! Shari and Dee were also traveling with a friend who had bought a pup from Janet Turner (Dalton) and Janet was on hand to both evaluate and trim the pup. Jackie Gottleib and Cindy Vogels were there as well and we were enjoying a grooming party of sorts. Janet, Cindy and Jackie were all my houseguests for the weekend, which by then had become a yearly tradition. Shari was an extremely bright, up and coming young junior handler and we were all duly impressed with her talents, so evident even at this youthful age.
Shari and her mother successfully bred Wheatens under the Shar-D banner for many years producing over 100 champions. Dee continues on while Shari now breeds under her own kennel name, Aran. Meanwhile, Shari has carved a significant niche for herself as a professional handler. Nominated for Best Handler in 2007, she shows her charges with undeniable style and poise. She is prepossessing, business-like and a gracious competitor. And if that is not enough, she is imbued with a willingness to share her expertise with those who ask it of her.
"Having never been to Crufts," Shari told me, "I went with no expectations." She allowed as how it was truly exciting to see so many dogs in so many breeds, and found the sheer numbers to be overwhelming. Shari continued, "To win the dog CC seemed to make it all worthwhile. Winning the group, however, was like something that I cannot put into words. Some of the dogs in the group came from winning over hundreds of entries. Dog shows there, are about dogs, or at least seem to be. The fellow breeders were all so supportive and able to speak directly and honestly to each other about their dogs. The judges were confident and professional. The lovely lady who presented me with the group trophy said she had always wanted to give the award to a Wheaten. I was happy to be the person to receive it. I left feeling as though I wanted to move there and re-start my career! The company in which I found myself was so special and the prevailing camaraderie left me with such a warm feeling. I will never forget it."
Shari, in all probability, will not be the only one to never forget it! But what makes this entire story rather unusual in dog show annals is the appreciation and respect granted this dog by those within his breed who in other times and in other places might well be grinding away on an axe. Let's face it; the big winners are more often than not raked over the coals produced from the fires of envy by fellow breeders and exhibitors. They point out every fault, never acknowledging the virtues. In most instances the big winners are crucified. What happens in your breed? •