How To Win the Westminster Dog Show: Get a Big-Money Backer

Pets and people.
Feb. 10 2012 7:15 AM

How To Win the Westminster Dog Show

Step 1: Find a poodle. Step 2: Get a big-money backer.

(Continued from Page 1)

You can count on a top dog from Ron Scott every year, as dependable as the tides. But here’s the $100,000—actually, more like $800,000—question: What’s in this for Ron Scott?

I had a theory that people backed dogs for the same reason they owned racehorses—for the luster this association provides. Scott says that’s not the case. And he would know. He also owns racehorses. “Racehorses are much less personal, for one thing,” he said, and I think he means that you can’t cuddle up on the couch with a Thoroughbred. “The second thing is, racehorses make money. You do not make money by showing dogs. It’s nothing about making money. It’s all about spending money. You do it for other reasons.”

The most important reason for Ron Scott is that he loves the dogs. He and Debbie don’t have a pet anymore—their last house dog, a Lhasa Apso, passed away in 2009—and yet 25 to 30 weekends a year they travel by RV to visit Hosaka and the poodles at show grounds. “We carry them and pet them and play with them,” he said. So, there’s the cuddle factor.

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There’s also the thrill of competition, and the addiction that comes with success. “My goal is pretty high every year,” he says. “My goal is to have the No. 1 poodle in the variety that I show”— whether that’s standard, miniature, or toy.

And to accomplish that goal, he spends a lot of money.

All told, Scott says the range of campaigning a dog over a year varies: “You’re dealing with $100,000 to half a million.” Some people, of course, campaign multiple dogs.

And even then, you don’t know.

“People have spent millions and millions to win the Garden and have never won. Lots of people,” Scott said. “The stars have to align. The year we had Vikki we won 69 Bests in Show but the judge we had was going to put the beagle up, and he did.” That beagle was Uno, the 2008 champion who is probably the most famous Westminster winner in history. So in retrospect there’s little shame in that loss. The year they did win, with Spice Girl, “that was the year the gods lined up well.” A Kerry blue terrier named Mick was “by far the No. 1 dog, almost unbeatable. And we beat him that day.” For Scott, that was the ultimate rush. “It’s all about winning,” he says. “Most people who show dogs or have racehorses or play golf or do whatever they do in sports, they do it to win.”

Once you have a conversation with Ron Scott, you start to wonder if a regular person, with a great dog, could ever have a chance at competing for show wins. Hastings, the handler and trainer who knows as much about dog shows as any human, could recall just a few recent dogs that did well despite lacking a wealthy backer. She remembered a Yorkie, owned by a family that wasn’t rich, and shown by their daughter, that won Westminster.

I looked it up. That was in 1978, when Higgins became the first and still only Yorkie to win at Madison Square Garden. Handled by Marlene Lutovsky, Higgins’s care was indeed a family affair. Marlene’s mother Barbara reported that she was the one who got up every morning at 5 a.m. “to clean his teeth, brush and oil his coat, change the wrappers and give him clean booties.”

If you have someone like Ron Scott behind you, it means that you don’t have to rise before dawn, let alone brush your dog’s teeth. But more important than that, having a backer allows potential champions to be trained by the best professional handlers and to be advertised in all the major show dog magazines—week in and week out, for however long it takes.

I asked Scott if he thought it was possible to win without having someone like him pay the bills. He thought about it for a second. His reply: “It would be very difficult.”

Adapted from Show Dog: The Charmed Life and Trying Times of a Near-Perfect Purebred, by Josh Dean, published by It Books/HarperCollins.

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