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5 days of “top dog” coverage at one of the nation’s most popular and well organized Cluster shows, the Tarheel is a neighbor to AKC’s Operations Offices, making it a perfect “politicking” venue.


03|25|09 by Andrews & Vandiver.  Raleigh is the Spring Show where exhibitors and judges cluster to catch up with gossip, new dogs, and old friends.  Within walking distance of NC State Veterinary University, close to AKC’s NC office, and only 500 feet from a monster Flea Market, the Tarheel shows are never boring!

The “other” American Kennel Club office came about after much debate over the price of real estate in NY City. Common sense and tradition finally compromised, resulting in “41 Mad Ave.” as the prestige address and “Corporate Drive” as the working business location.

Terry Stacey, former AKC Field Rep who moved up to Exec. VP and his lovely wife Jackie were very busy the first couple of days. Bob Slay, also a former hander, then judge, who also moved up the AKC ladder was equally busy throughout the circuit. Although Bob appears stern and stiffly formal, don’t let that fool you, he’s a great dog man who is as congenial as they come. Dr. Harry Smith judged two Groups for Salisbury the first day. Although he’s lost weight, he told me the cancer hasn’t metastasized and he was feeling good. “Dr. Harry” makes you feel good about showing, win or lose. Dennis McCoy was everywhere as assistant cluster coordinator and even without his famous pink socks, he is always epitome of perfect style and fashion.

Ken and Jackie Rayner were kept busy judging Groups and I was reminded of how the years have flown by since Ken’s dad had a wresting match with someone’s Mastiff on the Florida circuit. The consummate handler, his bravery and quick action probably saved a life that day. Roberta Campbell judged Terrier Group for Durham and although everyone agreed she picked great dogs, what impressed me was that she actually watched the dogs move. Not just going through the motions as many judges do after a long day, she genuinely observed them all the way around the ring. With a different style, Warner Cespedes kept a close eye on the Toy Group lineup as he waited for handlers to get their dog on the table. It would be prudent to pay attention to one’s dog as you near the front of the line instead of chatting as most of us are prone to do.

The tallest man on the show grounds was Jon Cole who did several groups. Norm Patton is a less familiar face in this area but he was very well supported. Don Jones could judge with his eyes closed but he didn’t. Having judged the herding breeds, he gave them only a cursory exam in Herding Group which was refreshingly honest. Many judges tend to drag it out in Group but Dr. Jones doesn’t need to impress anyone! We enjoyed watching Kathleen Steen, another Georgian, do Working Group. Like Don Jones, she wasted no motion in examination but was very thorough.

As mentioned, the cluster panel read like a Who’s Who with judges like Bob and Jane Forsyth, Pat and Chuck Trotter, and others we wish we had been able to chat with.

The Tarheel Cluster dropped from seven to five shows this year to the relief of some and the chagrin of others. Linn Vandiver, SW Region ShowShots reporter, drove all the way from Albuquerque, NM to help cover the show but originally from the Eastern seaboard, she’s been to the Tarheel many times. We both missed Joel Rosenblatt this year.

Traditional Tarheel weather is hard rain, cold weather, and bright warm sunshine. This year was no exception – you bring winter and summer wardrobe and of course, that future special because the rings and atmosphere are so conducive to puppy training or polishing a new champion. Unlike most venues nowadays, the Tar Heel clubs allow ring practice and grateful exhibitors make sure the rings are left unsoiled! The concrete floors may be a little hard on old knees but there are no mats and the spacious rings are ideal for showing dogs.

There’s a good restaurant less than 100 feet from the front rings and the clubs gave exhibitors tickets worth $3 off, a generous and thoughtful gesture of appreciation. The dog bathing room is especially appreciated by on-the-road handlers who make good use of the facility. This year there was a gun show and we saw quite a few dog show people going in and out of that building. Needless to say, the ladies were doing the countdown to Saturday’s upscale flea market which offers everything from ship-home furniture to fresh vegetables and fudge vendors!

Some things are of course beyond the control of the Salisbury, Durham, Alamance, Raleigh, and Fayetteville clubs. The showers have moved and are not as nice as they once were. The plentiful paved parking has been compromised by a landscape engineer who should be fired by NC tax payers. Handicap spaces are greatly reduced and not as accessible due to a walled off “grass garden.” More than twenty five prime handler spaces along the main building wall and curb were replaced by a useless planter bed and steeply sloped asphalt “walkway” but still, it is better than most sites. There is ample parking with water and sewer to the rear of the show building which, while somewhat uphill, is still accessible without golf carts.

The site is safe and the police helpful and friendly. I miss tall “Smitty” and didn’t get the name of the current officer or the beautiful blonde lady who collects $25 per night for parking but I will next year!

There are great breed seminars but we missed events like the “Old Timers” competition. Bob and Jane Forsyth’s Moore County KC offered a well supported match after BIS judging. We stopped at the center aisle table to say hello to Jane and wound up entering two TFT puppies. Linn thought it would be good for her baby puppy and lo! she wound up winning Group Three under the lady who had won the Toy Group with a beautiful Japanese Chin the day before. What fun!

But let’s hear what the people have to say about the Tarheel circuit because even though entries were down this year as they are everywhere, the Westminster-caliber judging panel and a great venue makes everyone is confident it will be “better next year.”

Gloria Johnson flew down from Michigan to show her Smooth Chihuahua bitch Airwin Circus Sole’. “Dee Dee” stood out in a strong Specials class; lovely head, expression, and self-stacking soundness with great turn of stifle. She did some nice Group placements, which was great for Gloria who has been showing and breeding less than five years. Gloria proves that a really good owner-handled dog can still win, including Best Of Breed at Westminster this year. We asked Gloria what she liked best about the Tarheel Cluster shows. “The show itself, it’s very easy to get in and get out and the ring setup is great and lots of chairs. I mean, a lot of the shows you go to there’s no chairs. It’s nice that they do that here.”

What do you like least? “I guess there really isn’t anything I don’t like, (laughing) they have good food and everything. Sometimes they get a little overboard with rules but for so many people, they have to have a lot of rules. I really like it here.”

It wouldn’t be the Tarheel without Fran and Hal Keyes, but this year Hal was unable to come so it was just Fran and their daughter Haley. As we chatted with Fran, I couldn’t stop admiring Haley’s glamorous white Standard Poodle at ringside. Hal and Fran have handled just about every breed over the years but Fran’s special breed is the Schipperke. When asked what she liked best about the show site, Fran unconsciously spritzed the glistening Schip and replied, “I think it’s the opportunity to bring a young dog down here where there’s big rings, great footing, and you’re in here so many days they really get trained. That’s what I like about this trip.”

When asked ‘What do you like least?” her answer was typical, “I haven’t found anything that I can say ‘least’ about. I like the food, the people, and the show grounds.” I nodded towards Haley Keyes and asked Fran how she had been doing. Instantly the proud mom, Fran replied “She’s doing great with the dog of course, but Haley is now President of the International Professional Groomers Organization which tests and certifies professional groomers at a higher level. She also judged in Atlanta.” Good hands, good eye, and skill with all breeds – it must be genetic.

David Rich not only got everyone parked, he found time the next day to tell us about procuring Black Russian Terriers from Russia. His most recent trip would make a comedy-drama movie script. We missed a photo op as he was so busy grooming, showing, or like CJ Favre, helping people out on the show grounds. When a violent storm suddenly attacked motor home awnings, David and CJ saved the day and a whole lot more. Like Bert Halsey, these are the quiet, capable, generous professionals who, all across the country make showing dogs easier and safer for everyone. Thanks guys.

And special thanks to Pat Babuin, the lady in charge of the whole event who replaced Wilma Hunter. It surely makes Wilma proud to see this circuit continue to grow and prosper under Pat’s guidance.

And one last note about making things work. If you need on-site RV repair, I can vouch for Jeff DeView who fixed several things on my brand new trailer! He is a true professional with all the parts and tools to do the job right. His mobile number is 352-615-3555.

When ShowShots photographer Linn Vandiver and I returned to our Group ring seats, we were next to one of the largest dogs on the grounds and surely, the most well behaved. The Irish Wolfhound lay on his quilt like a good natured king enjoying his court.

Marie Somershoe is a gifted “big breed” handler and I marveled at Ch. Dun Myrica Speaker Of Eagle all week. Lina was my mentor but I must say, that Wolfhound is one of the soundest giants ever whelped or Marie is the best “big dog” handler I’ve ever seen. He moved magnificently and stopped dead sound, day after day, winning a rousing Best In Show on Saturday.

Speaking of Lina, there was a big, masculine, super sound fawn Dane that won at least one Group, maybe more. Sorry I didn’t get the info on him and we missed a good photo op.

Sue Whaley was everywhere, helping people get properly set up Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Knowing she is a moving force behind one of the most popular cluster events on the East Coast, I asked Sue what she likes best about the Tarheel? “I like the convenience of showing the dogs, that they have a bathing facility, the parking is wonderful. That’s what I like best about the show.”

What do you like least? “I don’t really like anything least about the show!” And she meant it. We moved south from Maryland before there were cluster shows approved so I asked Sue if the Blue Crab Cluster was as great as I’ve heard. “I’m sure it is. It is the last Friday in June, June 26th this year. Southern Maryland starts with Potomac all-Hound breeds on Thursday, then the all breed shows start on Friday and Saturday, presented by Southern Maryland Kennel Club. Sunday and Monday are the Rock Creek Kennel Club All breed shows. There are all kinds of seminars that we participate in, we have a live band Saturday night, and the crab feast with all kinds of fresh seafood. We have volleyball for the young participants for “Take The Lead”. It’s all on www.so.mdkc.com

We caught up with Heidi Huber at the Group ring. She was socializing “Sparkey” a Miniature Wirehaired Dachshund who definitely liked the show but we asked Heidi what she liked best about this show site. “I like the parking, I also like the grooming setup, and the fact that there’s bathing tables and tubs in here. And I really like how the rings are set up, they’re very big which, when you have a dog that can move, it gives them ample room to do so.”

What do you like least?  “I really don’t know if there’s anything I don’t like. We come every year to this show. I honestly don’t know what I can tell you I don’t like.” She struggled for an answer, then said “Maybe, the only thing, when it comes to the grooming, I’d like to see everybody be able to get in at the same time whether they are a professional handler or not. I can’t think of anything else and that’s just Knit picking.”

Carol Herr did some nice winning with her 15” Beagle, Ch. Quijote De La Plaza Grunauer she handles for Linda Cranford. He is a red so not quite as “flashy” but you can’t miss that rock-solid topline and strong type. I think she said they bought him from Argentina, I was so enchanted by the dog, I might be wrong but they had seen him at a show here in the States. We asked Carol what she likes best about the Tarheel. “The show grounds provide a nice venue for an inside show. Generally it’s very well climate controlled. The rings are spacious, there’s plenty of parking outside. A number of spots with full hookups for the RVs. (smiling thoughtfully) The people are very dog friendly in the area. They have a restaurant that provides full meals for breakfast and lunch which is nice to see. They have quite a number of vendors here. A lot to like about this cluster.”

What do you like least? “The hard floors! After a week on these floors your knees are feeling it. But not much we can do about that. It’d be nice if we didn’t have so much rain this year.”

Jo Ann Charnik handles many breeds but her specialty is the Akita. Linn and I were sitting at the group ring when Jo Ann brought over the most luscious bitch puppy I’ve seen in years. The breed has improved tremendously since we dominated the rings with Sachmo, BigSon, and Widow-Maker. It was easy back then but nowadays, there are so many outstanding Akitas, the judges must be as pleased as they are pressed for decisions!

I believe Jo Ann told us the puppy is sired by Ch. CR-Wicca’s Platinum Sensation which she and Carla Burke own but I was so entranced by the puppy herself, I could be wrong. At about 5 months, she has so much bone I would be worried were it not for her absolute soundness, including the short hocks with turn of stifle that has always been a little hard to find in the breed. Heads are hugely improved but even so, this puppy’s headpiece stands out in every aspect. It was such a treat to get my hands on an Akita of that quality that I forgot to ask Jo Ann what she most likes about the site!

Pat Hastings has intrigued me since she and husband Bob (deceased) first began sharing their experience in picking dogs with the most potential for both the breed and the ring. Even though they are from the NW, every once in a while we would run into Bob in Group rings at eastern shows. That usually meant one spot “taken” but watching him work was a learning experience in itself. The NC clubs present a rich palette of seminars so I thought sure could attend her Puppy Puzzle seminar but she laughed and said they only asked her to judge, not do the seminar. Let’s hope the cluster committee will get her back to do one of those seminars! 

Pat judged three days; Herding Group for Durham KC, Terriers and Working breeds for Raleigh KC, and Working Group for Fayetteville KC on Sunday. We asked Pat what she liked best about judging at the Tarheel cluster site. “This is the first time I’ve been to this site and it is a great site. It’s got really good flooring except for the ring I was in today (she laughed aloud) somebody painted over a spot in my ring and the painted spot was slick as could be. The clubs have been absolutely wonderful. It’s a great facility, we’re in a wonderful hotel, they are taking great care of us and I REALLY have seen some nice dogs today.”

When I commented that it was too bad she wasn’t doing one of her seminars here, Pat said “I just came home from doing four seminars in New Zealand and so I wouldn’t have had time to work it in anyway. I do about 20 – 25 seminars a year so I’m really busy with them. Actually, I do three different seminars, one is just a three-four hours that I do at National Specialties, and then I do a full day one which includes the puppy evaluation stuff and the basics of structure but from a very different view point.

“You know BJ, we learned from an engineer who’s never owned an animal in his life. It was quite an education. I also do one that’s that’s questions and answers, anything they want to get into. And then I do another one called “Structure and Action”. It’s about how structure affects performance. And the agility people are really getting into that one.

“It’s made me nuts my whole life in dogs to have a breeder say ‘this one’s not good enough for the show ring, I’ll just do obedience…’ but now it even makes me crazier to hear an agility person say ‘I don’t want a show dog, I want a pet.’ No they don’t! Performance people need the best dog they can get their hands on because the more structural issues you have, the more susceptible you are to injuries. The faster a dog breaks down, the more it affects the temperament and the less quality of life they have as they age.

“I believe very strongly that this sport should be about the dogs and not about our egos.”

What more can anyone say? We thank everyone who helped take you to the Tarheel!

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole. - Roger Caras

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