Westminster BIS Winner JR Passes Away at 15
by Amy Fernandez
The dog fancy is mourning the passing of the top winning Bichon in breed history and 2001 Westminster Best In Show winner Champion Special Times’ Just Right. He was with his loving handler, Scott Sommer, at the time of his death. Scott confirmed that he passed away peacefully.
By 2001, Bichons had made it to the BIS ring at Westminster three times when this outstanding young dog set this milestone for his breed. J.R. not only made history, he instantly became one of the most charismatic ambassadors for purebreds and dog shows. His joyful leap into the sterling bowl captivated millions of viewers. His adorable paw wave became his signature gesture, forever symbolizing delirious joy for a job well done. And J.R. had every reason to celebrate. Within 14 months, this 14-pound, three year-old dog broke records and earned a place in history for his breeder, owners, and handler.
One year after surviving a 1991 liver transplant, Eleanor McDonald acquired her first Bichon from breeder, Mimi Winkler. She founded her breeding program a year later, and J.R was born November 12, 1997, the single puppy in litter by Brazilian bred.
McDonald took her kennel name from one of her favorite charities, the Special Times children’s cancer program. To her, this pup looked just right, and her opinion that was dramatically confirmed by the Westminster BIS judge Dorothy Macdonald who was widely quoted describing J.R “as close to perfection as you can get.”
By six months, J.R.’s specialness was undeniable. The noted Brazilian handler Flavio Werneck became his co-owner and his show debut at the BFCA National under Jane Forsyth earned an Award of Merit. Cecelia Ruggles, owner of High Ridge Kennels in Ridgefield, Connecticut joined the team, and by 2000 J.R. had won 73 BIS , 149 groups, the BFCA National under Frank Sabella, and Group Second at Westminster. He ended the year as top dog of 2000 and the top winning Non-Sporting dog of all time.
On Feb. 13, 2001 he inaugurated a new millennium with his historic Westminster win defeating the Crufts Best In Show winner Kerry, Ch. Torum’s Scarf Michael and the-two time Toy Group winner, the Shih Tzu, Ch. Charing Cross Ragtime Cowboy.
Officially retired after that, he went on to promote therapy dog programs and charities like the Canine Health Foundation. Unfortunately, some of these fundraising efforts were overshadowed by the death of J.R.’s breeder from a stroke in October, 2001 at age 66. More tragically, one month later, Flavio Wernerck died in a horrific car crash returning from a show in Brazil. A few weeks later J.R. came out of retirement to win the first AKC/Eukanuba National Championship shown as always by his good friend and handler Scott Sommer.
J.R.’s total of 101 BIS wins was balanced by an equally impressive career as a stud. Within a year of retirement he confirmed his quality by siring 20 champions, becoming top Bichon sire for 2002 and 2003. He eventually sired over 60 champions and remains the only Westminster winning Bichon. He retired to Sommer’s Houston kennel where he indulged his habits of overeating, chewing up credit cards, and producing winners. J.R. died September 19, 2012 just shy of his 15th birthday.
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