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2015 Morris & Essex – Making the Word “Icon” Meaningful

Click here to read the complete article

242 – November/December,2015

by Joan Harrigan

Photos By ©Lisa Croft-Elliott

Today, everything seems to be “iconic” and the word is so overused that it should probably be retired. However, there is no better word to describe the Morris & Essex Kennel Club Dog Show. It’s a gift to the dog fancy from the dog fancy—a day when we remember what a dog show can be in its purest form. On October 1, 2015, in its fourth modern revival, Morris & Essex was larger than ever—a total of 4,666 entries in 195 breeds and varieties.

The show’s origins are well-known. Unhappy with contemporary dog show management, Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge began to stage her own annual dog show in 1927, under the auspices of the Morris & Essex Kennel Club. The original venue was the polo fields of her husband’s estate in Harding, N.J.—Mrs. Dodge didn’t want the traffic on the grounds of her own adjoining estate, Giralda. At its peak in 1939, the show drew 4,104 entries and 50,000 spectators, requiring half of New Jersey’s state troopers to direct traffic. The last Morris & Essex show was in 1957. Mrs. Dodge was then 75, and her deteriorating physical condition left her unable to continue the tradition. When she died in 1973 at age 91, Mrs. Dodge left an endowment and her considerable collection of animal art to St. Hubert’s Giralda Animal Welfare Center, which she had established on a portion of her estate.

Without Mrs. Dodge’s oversight, both the show and the Morris & Essex Kennel Club ceased to exist. Its 21st-century revival can be credited to a dedicated group of volunteers led by New Jersey native Wayne Ferguson. Ferguson is well-known in the dog show world—among other accomplishments, he founded Cherrybrook—and he’s served on the boards of many animal-related charities, including St. Hubert’s Giralda. After he viewed a treasure trove of Morris & Essex memorabilia stored at Giralda, Ferguson and a small group of like-minded individuals decided that it might be possible to reclaim the elegance and tradition of the Morris & Essex show. Ferguson revived the club, which now boasts a geographically-diverse membership including owners, handlers, breeders, and celebrity dog enthusiasts such as Amy Tan, Betty White, and Mary Tyler Moore.

The show is too large an undertaking for this volunteer group to stage every year, so the revivals have taken place every five years, with the first show in 2000. It’s an expensive undertaking—the 2015 show budget was $335,000—all funded by donations and entry fees. Any proceeds are used to fund future shows, with a portion distributed to a variety of canine-related charities.

Morris & Essex 2015: It’s all in the details

At each incarnation, the objective is to improve upon the previous show. The 2015 Morris & Essex was no exception—though unlike in 2010, the weather was not completely cooperative. This is an outdoor show, on the expansive grounds of Colonial Park in Somerset, N.J. Getting more than 4,000 dogs and their entourages into a single-entrance showgrounds during urban New Jersey’s weekday morning rush hour isn’t easy, and despite police and rangers directing traffic, there were some delays. Many of the 3,000 parking spaces were in a field connected to the actual grounds by a wooded trail not easy to maneuver with crates and trolleys. Anticipating the challenges this would present, the Morris & Essex staff used a fleet of 45 golf carts to ferry exhibitors and spectators to the rings.

Whether on foot or by golf cart, exhibitors emerging from the woods were greeted by a blend of the best of Mrs. Dodge’s era and today. Need to use a dryer? One of three mega-power generators supplied the electricity, via more than two miles of power cables—no need to bring your own generator. Forgot to bring a chair? Folding chairs were placed around the rings for your convenience. Need to find the trail back to your car? No problem – two large floral arrangements marked the path into the woods.

Grooming tents flanked the 27 breed rings—Morris & Essex uses more than a third of a mile of tenting that took five days to erect. Flower arrangements were everywhere, as were Morris & Essex’s orange and blue pennants, but after the dogs, hats probably drew the most attention. Men, women, even some of the dogs wore fascinators, top hats, cloches, fedoras, or wide-brimmed hats fit for Royal Ascot. If you came without one, a vendor called “The Mad Hatter” could outfit you. Morris & Essex encourages period dress, but leaves the exact period to the discretion of the exhibitor. Some wore vintage clothing, others simply added a headpiece to their normal show attire. Little girls brought out their princess dresses, and some outfits were—of course—breed-specific. A Portuguese Water Dog exhibitor sported a wide-brimmed hat on which brown and black Porties appeared to frolic in a stream of blue tulle. It was a windy day, prompting one woman to remark that she felt like Sister Bertrille, the Flying Nun, just trying to keep her hat on her head.

Living Morris & Essex

At the center of the show grounds, a 1940 Cadillac limousine provided a period prop for candid shots. It wasn’t an official part of the show, but had been rented by Canadian handler Graeme Burdon of Montreal and friends Ritu Mihir and Daniel Zilka, both of Lincoln, R.I. “We wanted to live Morris & Essex,” Mihir explained, and they went to considerable effort to do so. Alongside the Cadillac, a canopy imported from India was supported by varnished poles from New Hampshire. A Persian carpet covered the grass and antique furniture, picnic hampers, a steamer chest, and copper beverage urn completed the picture. With the goal of recreating a genteel, 1930s-era dog show picnic, the friends all dressed the part—Zilka in the “plus fours” popularized by Edward, Prince of Wales.

American Eskimo Dog GCh. Nuuktok’s Atka Inukshuk snoozed on a fainting couch, having won his breed earlier in the day. Inuk’s bowl and rosette were displayed with a bottle of champagne in a silver bucket. Burdon is proud of the dog and his winning record, which includes seven consecutive breed wins at Westminster. But winning isn’t everything to Burdon, who thinks it’s important to take the time to remember and celebrate the traditions upon which this sport was built. “This is what we think is lacking in dog shows today,” he explained.

Nearby, a large tent housed the second annual Morris & Essex Art Show, as well as a table selling a variety of club merchandise (umbrellas were a hot item, as rain seemed imminent). This year, the Art Show offered a cash prize of $1,000 to the winner selected from among seven group finalists. All of the finalist pieces were offered for sale, with 30% of the proceeds going to the club to offset the expenses of the 2020 show. One artist, Christine Dabbs of Holly Springs, N.C. had two graphite pencil drawings in the finals—“Luna” a head study of a German Shorthaired Pointer and “Frenchie,” depicting a French Bulldog on a show lead who seemed focused on an unseen handler. Incredibly, though Dabbs took some art classes in college and is an acclaimed (and self-taught) crazy-quilter, she only began drawing within the last year.

William Secord, an authority on 19th century dog painting and the founding director of The Dog Museum of America, judged the show and will display the winner at his eponymous gallery in New York. He praised all of the finalists, but said that one piece—Dabbs’ “Frenchie” really stood out. “It is such a sensitive drawing,” Secord explained. “I felt that the lead really showed the human-dog bond, even though the person isn’t even in the picture.”

Secord spent hours at the booth, signing his foreword to Debra Lampert-Rudman’s book “The Golden Age of Dog Shows: Morris & Essex Kennel Club 1927-1957.” The book is a beauty, printed in England and offered in a limited printing of 1,500 copies. Lampert-Rudman had accompanied Secord to Giralda when he researched the provenance of art from Mrs. Dodge’s collection before it was sold at auction. Looking at the archives, they both agreed “this should be a book,” and Lampert-Rudman began a two-year “labor of love.” She spent days in a hot, dusty room combing through papers and pictures under the watchful eye of Mrs. Dodge, whose portrait hung above her table. “I was always conscious of her, and wanted to do her justice,” Lampert-Rudman said. The final result is an incredible compilation of pictures and printed materials, drawn from the club’s archives and Giralda’s storage room. All of the proceeds from the book benefit the club and offset show expenses—Lampert-Rudman donated her time and skills.

No account of Morris & Essex is complete without the mention of the trophy display and exhibitor luncheon. The trophy tent was staffed by Morris & Essex members, and echoed Mrs. Dodge’s famous display of sterling silver trophies and bowls. Morris & Essex board member Denise Flaim meticulously measured the spacing between each of the 180 Revere bowls arranged on the black-draped shelves. Club member and volunteer Nancy Pincus, a handler from Houston, Texas, flew to New Jersey just to volunteer. Estelle Breines, a long-time Belgian Sheepdog breeder from Clinton Twp., N.J. didn’t travel as far, but shared Pincus’ belief in the importance of playing a role—“it’s like being a part of history!”

At noon, the show suspended judging for lunch. There was a tent for the judges and officials, but also one for the exhibitors—complete with tables, cloths, and the ubiquitous white folding chairs. Mrs. Dodge always provided lunch to the exhibitors, and the tradition has been continued. Today, the exhibitor box lunches and judges’ luncheon are all donated by Morris & Essex members.

The Groups—and the Rain

Shortly after 3 p.m., the group competition began, with a huge, multi-peaked tent serving as the holding area. Judges and other officials sat in rows under the canopy, near a lavish hors d’ oeuvre and dessert buffet to which all were invited. Gloved waitstaff kept all in order, as spectators caught up with friends. There was plenty seating at round, blue-draped tables, each with its own floral centerpiece. Coffee was served in china mugs; soda and sparkling cider in stemmed glass goblets and flutes. Rows of chairs also flanked the large ring, but as the wind picked up and rain seemed imminent, the spectators squeezed themselves under the tent canopy.

As judging would continue after dark, large banks of floodlights were positioned to illuminate the large ring with its central placement stand and floral arrangements. The setting was impressive, so much so that David Frei, Morris & Essex’s announcer, had to prompt twice before the first of the Toy Group entered the ring. Judge Peter Green of Bowmansville, Pa. said afterward that the group was “absolutely outstanding—one of the most outstanding groups I have ever judged.” First place (in a moment of déjà vu) went to David Fitzpatrick of East Berlin, Pa. and the Pekingese, this time the grandson of the great Malachy, who won Morris & Essex in 2010. Fitzpatrick bred the 2½-year-old GCh. Pequest General Tso and owns him with Nancy Shapland. Fitzpatrick summed his reaction up in a single word—“elated!” Green praised General for his exquisite face and compact body. “But that dog is not just hair,” he concluded. “There’s a dog under all that! And he moved along, just like any other dog.”

Next came the Working Group, judged by Dr. Klaus Anselm of Keswick, Va. The win went to the Doberman bitch, GCh. Dezperado’s Hallelujah CA, bred by Texans Hillary Zimmerman and Linda and Rick George and owned by Zimmerman and Jacqueline and Alan Wendt. Linda George handled “Glory” and was thrilled to win the group at “the most beautiful show I’ve ever seen.” Glory won her national specialty last year and was back east for the 2015 specialty in Lancaster, Pa. (which she also went on to win, three days after Morris & Essex). George called Glory, who also excels in lure coursing, “very energetic—she loves to run, loves to work, and loves kids. Not only is she a house dog—she’s a ‘bed dog’ as well!” Dr. Anselm noted that Glory has “all of the attributes of a good Doberman—elegance, good bone, and temperament.”

Just as race horses are summoned to the track by a fanfare, scarlet-coated Bill Venditta of Cochranville, Pa. called each of the seven groups to the ring with his coach horn. Unfortunately for the Non-Sporting Group, he appeared to summon the rain as well. What had been just a “few drops” off and on during the day became a steady rainfall midway through the third group.

Judge Johnny Shoemaker of Las Vegas, Nev. selected the black French Bulldog bitch GCh. Iacta Alea Est De La Bete (less formally known as “Rubi”) as his Non-Sporting Group winner. Rubi, who just turned two in September, was bred by Blake Hamman and Peter Photos and is owned by Patricia Hearst-Shaw of New York and his breeders. Jodi Longmire, who breeds French Bulldogs herself at home in Arnold, Md., spotted Rubi at a show when she was a “baby” and asked to handle her. Their first show was the World Dog Show in Helsinki, where Rubi was the Junior World Winner. Her career has been spectacular—she was RBIS her first time out as a special in January. “Iacta alea est” (“the die is cast” in Latin) is what Julius Caesar reportedly said as he crossed the Rubicon into Italy to challenge Pompey. Rubi may be young, but she showed the confidence of a Caesar as she calmly regarded the show photographer and his assistants as they called her name and threw toys as she posed for the camera. Judge Shoemaker praised her beautiful front, movement, correctly shaped head, and “great, correct topline,” commenting that a topline like hers, with the proper slight rise above the loin should be rewarded.

On to the Herding Group, and the rain continued. The handlers could huddle under the tent’s slight overhang over the ring, but Judge Linda More of Cary, N.C. had no alternative but to stand in the exposed center. Group One went to GCh. Stonepillar’s Steel Blu, a 6-year-old Bouvier des Flandres bred by Bruce and Diane Hamm and M.J. Sears and handled by Elaine Paquette of Maidstone, Ont. Blu is owned by Julianna and Daniel Garrison and Paquette. The stately dog handled the rain with aplomb—“well, he’s a Bouvier!” exclaimed Pacquette. Judge More had nothing but praise for this group, and said that even dogs who didn’t place could have won. More seconded Paquette’s sentiment that a herding dog should be able to tolerate rain. As for Blu, she found him to be a “very powerful mover.” More continued, “Everything on him fits together—he has a good head, and good hair—even in this rain!”

The Sporting Group followed, judged by Karen Wilson of Sperryville, Va. Valerie Nunes-Atkinson of Temecula, Calif. is the proud breeder/owner/handler of the winner, GCh. VJK-Myst Garbonita’s California Journey. “C.J.” a handsome male, comes from a long line of winners—his granddam, “Carlee” (Ch. Kan-Point’s VJK Autumn Roses) went BIS at Westminster in 2005 with what Nunes-Atkinson calls “the stack heard ‘round the world.” Alice Manning and Anita Weiss also bred C.J., and Manning owns him with Yvonne Hassler-Deterding and Nunes-Atkins. Judge Wilson called C.J. “a fabulous dog! He has a gorgeous shoulder and topline, and just moves so beautifully.” However, coming from drought-stricken California, C.J. was not accustomed to cold, rainy weather, and Nunes-Atkinson was careful to spend time warming him up by playing games in the hospitality tent as she prepared to go back into the ring for Best in Show.

The Hounds, Terriers, and Best in Show

There were still two more groups—the Hounds and the Terriers. Judging the Hound Group was Patricia Trotter of Carmel, Calif. She chose Moses, the Black and Tan Coonhound—GCh. Bayaway Jersey’s Due Process Of Law—as Group One. Handled by Zach Helmer, Moses was bred by Debra Rezendes of Stone Creek, Ohio and Jinnie-Ann Stora of Evans City, Pa. He’s owned by his breeders, George Rezendes, and Judi Doran. Helmer is proud of Moses—at the time of the show, he was the Number Four Hound in the country. “His owners figured out that Moses placed in 80 groups out of 100 shows,” Helmer says. “That’s great consistency!” Patricia Trotter found him to be a “good, well-built hunting-type dog,” and noted that he evidently spends a lot of the time outdoors in “all the elements,” as he handled the wet, slippery grass very well.

Desmond Murphy of Monroe, N.Y. presided over the final group, the Terriers. The rain had become steady, and it was dark, and cold. The show photographer operated out of a dark tent a distance away, with the camera’s flash the only illumination. A few intrepid spectators huddled under umbrellas outside the ring—everyone else had taken refuge in the hospitality tent. Murphy pointed to a 2½ year-old Scottish Terrier bitch, GCh. Roundtown Queen of Hearts of Maryscot, as his winner. “Queenie” is owned by Amelia Musser of Mackinac Island, Mich., and was bred by Musser, Mary O’Neal and Anstamm Kennels. She was handled by Gabriel Rangel, and if these names are familiar, they should be. They are the team that won Westminster in 2010 with another Scottish Terrier bitch, “Sadie”—Ch. Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot. Judge Murphy noted that Queenie showed herself to be a “true terrier—the rain didn’t bother her at all.”

No time for pictures—it was well past 7 p.m., and the rain continued. Dorothy Collier of Sapphire, N.C. seemed oblivious to the weather as she surveyed the BIS line-up and then carefully evaluated each group winner. As she signed the judge’s book, Wayne Ferguson, Morris & Essex president and the 2015 show chairman, thanked everyone who attended or worked to continue Mrs. Dodge’s vision. “I know that Mrs. Dodge is watching, and that Jane Forsyth is watching with her,” he said with emotion. Robert Forsyth’s final judging assignment was BIS at Morris & Essex five years ago; Jane Forsyth, who passed away in July, was to have been the BIS judge this year. Sioux Forsyth-Green attended in her mother’s memory, and assisted in the presentation of the BIS awards. Collier’s Reserve Best in Show was the German Shorthaired Pointer, GCh. VJK-Myst Garbonita’s California Journey; Best in Show went to the Pekingese, GCh. Pequest General Tso, who had shown no aversion to the rain and wet grass as he gaited on a loose lead. Collier complimented both handlers on presenting their dogs in flawless condition—tonight General simply “had what it took” to join the ranks of fabulous dogs who have won Morris & Essex.

Fitzpatrick, a characteristically unassuming man, exited the ring repeating over and over, “I can’t believe it. I’m so lucky!” His peers crowded to congratulate him, recognizing that luck had nothing to do with what Fitzpatrick has accomplished in his breed. Peter Green embraced him, and David Frei quipped, “well, see you again in five years, David!”

As the golf carts assembled to drive the spectators to their cars, another Morris & Essex came to a close. The dogs who have won the modern revival of the show are known to the fancy by their call names—nothing more is needed to identify them. Mick, in 2000. Rufus, in 2005. Malachy, in 2010. And now Malachy’s grandson, “General.” Five years seemed like a long time to wait for another Morris & Essex. The club website has already started their countdown calendar, and already begun planning the next show. It may be five years away, but 2020 is a year that will be eagerly anticipated by purebred dog community.

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Posted by on Nov 22 2015. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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