Top, Westminster Best in Show winner GCH Foxcliffe Hickory Wind, with handler Angela Lloyd and judge Paolo Dondina. Below, Donna Armstrong had a bird's eye view of the crowded ring area as handler Linda O'Conner takes Springer Spaniel GCH Otein Captain Jack Sparrow "Jack" around for the judge. Jack is owned by Jerry and Jean Ryser. Photos courtesy Associated Press and Donna Armstrong
I promised a followup on Westminster after Donna Armstrong, a friend from Chino Valley, returned from her first ever trip to New York, and to Westminster.
Donna crammed everything she could into her adventure, and on Friday, she sounded exhausted but happy. She tried to give me a complete rundown, but words nearly escaped her.
"It's hard to vocalize all that went on," she said.
After arriving on Saturday, Donna and her traveling companion took a whirlwind weekend tour of New York City, where she got to glimpse the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, and attend a Broadway play. She also took a trip to Macy's, where she bought a suit for her daughter to wear to show at the Australian Shepherd Nationals this fall. One of her shopping companions bought a suit at Macy's, in which she planned to show at Westminster, but quickly changed her mind when she found that another person showing in the same ring with her planned to wear the same suit. In fact, Donna said, she saw that same popular suit 10 different times in 10 different rings during judging, and four times in the group rings!
"Everyone liked it, so everyone wore it," she said.
Donna was up early and on her way to the opening day of Westminster on Monday morning. She wanted to see everything, but it's hard to take it all in as the action unfolds in Madison Square Garden.
"It was the best of the best," she said. "All the top dogs in the nation were there. Judging was very fast, as there were only champions there. I was trying to watch four rings at once - that was interesting. We had great seats, higher than a lot of them, but I'm short so it was hard to see around peoples' heads!"
Westminster is one of the only remaining benched shows in the U.S., which means dogs had to be on display for eight hours each day except for walks and judging. Because the Garden is undergoing remodeling, the benching area this year was crowded beyond belief, she said.
At Westminster, handlers, judges and spectators dress in near formal attire, especially for the evening group judging. Each evening, Donna said, everyone left for dinner and returned in full formal wear - long skirts, jewelry and suits - for the night's events.
A longtime dog breeder and handler herself, Donna put her skills to work during the Best in Show judging, and came to the same conclusion as Italian Judge Paolo Dondina - the Scottish Deerhound was queen of the show for 2011.
"Most of the time when I see Scottish deerhounds, they remind me of a hobo. They just never look quite put together. This dog stood out. She looked like a girl, she had balance, she was having fun, she picked her feet up and put them down in the right places."
In a group of similar dogs, Donna said, "Something has to draw your attention, they have to have a presence about them, an attitude. She had it, I thought."
So did Dondina. In the Best in Show video on the Westminster site, he said of Grand Champion Foxcliffe Hickory Wind, "The Scottish Deerhound is a very old breed, and she is exactly the same like I studied in the standard. She is an outstanding dog moving, and her type was super."
And, in a tip of the hat to the quality in this year's Best in Show competition, Dondina added, "All the others were wonderful. All I did was quickly split hairs, because really, the quality of the dogs was outstanding."
I found it interesting that Hickory's handler, Angela Lloyd, 31, won the junior handling competition at Westminster in 1998. She is a poised and experienced handler, but she deferred to "the queen."
"Hickory was the winner tonight. There were six wonderful competitors that we had. It's just the thrill of a lifetime. People who own, breed and show dogs dream of this day their whole lives, and here we are," she said in the video.
I also found out this week that Prescott Valley has its own Westminster champion, a soft-coated Wheaten Terrier. A Westminster news release stated that GCH Michaleen's Song O'Morning Star won Best of Breed. As soon as I can get in touch with her owners, I'll introduce her to you!
In case you missed it, watch Dondina pick Hickory from a lineup of 7 beautiful dogs at the video site listed below.