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From The CC Vault: Manhattan and Mystique Legends of the Sport

photo by Cook Photography

by Joan Harrigan

Jim Moses’ name and career are inextricably linked to the German Shepherd Dog. He was nine when his father gave him his first German Shepherd and 13 when he finished his first champion. The dog fancy was in his blood—his mother bred Miniature Poodles—and he won his first all-breed Best In Show with a poodle when he was only 15.

It’s fitting that the man whose name is synonymous with the German Shepherd Dog handled two very different Shepherds who are remembered as the top winning show dogs of all time. Ch. Covy-Tucker Hill’s Manhattan, ROM, OFA won Westminster in 1987 when he was almost eight years-old and remains the only one of his breed to have done so. In 1984, he won the AKC Centennial Show in Philadelphia over an entry of almost 8,000. Manhattan, or “Hatter” as he was more familiarly known, is the all-time top winning male show dog of any breed, with 201 all-breed Best In Shows.

3-time Select Ch. Altana’s Mystique is listed in the 1999 Guinness Book of World Records as the “Top Show Dog of All Time,” with an astonishing 275 All-Breed Best In Show and 30 Best In Specialty Show wins. Moses handled Manhattan and Mystique for their owner, the late Jane Firestone, who had a lifelong love of the breed, and whom Moses calls “a great friend of the German Shepherd Dog.”

Moses and Manhattan

The story of Moses and Manhattan really began with Moses’ partnership with the late Jane Firestone. The first time Firestone and Moses met, she asked him to show a German Shepherd bitch for her. “This was back when I had a really big head,” Moses recalls, “I told her the bitch wasn’t good enough.” Later, Firestone approached Moses again. “She said that if her Shepherd wasn’t good enough for me, I should find her one who was,” he says. In addition to being a beautiful example of the breed, Firestone required that the dog be mentally and physically sound. In Moses’ words, “she wanted to show the public what a wonderful Shepherd could be.”

The dog Moses found for Jane Firestone was Manhattan. Moses first heard of him from a handler friend, Douglas Crane. Whelped in California in 1979 by breeders Cappy Pottle and Gloria Birch of Covy-Tucker Hill German Shepherds, Manhattan was a combination of Pottle and Birch’s two female lines and a line breeding on two famous litter brothers, Select Ch. Lakeside’s Gilligan’s Island, ROM and GV Ch. Lakeside’s Harrigan, ROM. Manhattan’s dam was GV Ch. Covy’s Rosemary of Tucker Hill, ROM and his sire was Covy’s Flanigan of Tucker Hill.

Pottle and Birch sold Manhattan as a show prospect on a co-ownership when he was a puppy. When his owners divorced, he was sold to Shirlee Braunstein of North Woodmere, New York. When Moses first heard about the dog, he had one group win to his credit. Based on what he had heard from his breeders and from Crane, Moses went to see Manhattan, and bought him for Jane Firestone on the spot. Braunstein and Firestone owned him throughout his show career.

Manhattan’s wins are impressive, but they don’t tell the dog’s full story. “He had a gifted upbringing,” Moses says. His original owners had done a lot of working dog training with Manhattan and when he came to Moses, the handler set about “getting into his head.” Moses took the dog everywhere—even into the bathroom—and allowed no one else to feed him or pay attention to him. In about 10 days, their bond was formed.

Moses showed Manhattan only a few times before he won his first All-Breed Best In Show. The dog was only two years-old, and Jim knew that he wasn’t yet in his prime. He “put him on ice, so to speak,” while continuing to travel with him. Then, he took Manhattan to the Garden, where he won the Herding Group in 1984.

An Excellent Judge of Character

The pair frequently flew to shows together. “Flying was a lot different in those days,” he says. After collecting the dog and their luggage, Jim would station Manhattan on top of his crate, secured by his lead. He’d then leave the dog curbside to watch the luggage while he picked up their car. “He was always there when I came back,” he says, “And no one touched the luggage!”

Moses cites eye appeal, anatomical structure, and personality as being the three components of a show dog capable of winning “in the long haul,” and Manhattan had them all. He did best at all-breed shows, he says. “He won under breeder-judges, but lacked the extreme outreach that it took to win specialties.” For that reason, Moses never showed him at the German Shepherd Dog National Specialty.

What set Manhattan apart was his tremendous ring presence, along with his “wonderful eyes and good sense of right and wrong,” Moses says. “He never met someone he didn’t like, unless you were doing something you shouldn’t.” Manhattan’s ability to judge character was evidenced later in his career, when he and Jim were at shows in Biloxi, Mississippi. At 3 a.m., Hatter needed to go out, and Moses let him offlead as six inebriated young men charged into the parking lot from the hotel’s bar. “It didn’t take 10 seconds for Manhattan to size them up,” Moses says, “All six of them ended up on top of their cars!”

Importantly, Manhattan stopped his pursuit and returned to Jim the instant he was called. “I let my dogs get away with murder,” he says. “They can maul me and jump all over me, and I’m permissive about that because I always want them to have an ‘up’ personality in the show ring. But when I call them, they must come. I wouldn’t special a dog that I couldn’t trust to come to me off lead.”

Manhattan’s Best In Show win at Westminster came after group wins in 1984 and 1986. “I’d never shown to Louis Auslander, the Best In Show judge, and I had no earthly idea what to expect,” Moses recalls. Usually, the Herding Group was the last group before Best In Show, but in 1987, the Herding dogs were shown on Monday, so Manhattan was fresh when he entered the Best In Show ring the next day. In fact, he was so ‘up’ that he broke gait, causing Jim to move him again. Winning was a “relief” to Moses, and the capstone in the career of a great dog.

Manhattan’s Life after Retirement

When he retired from the show ring, Manhattan went to live with Mrs. Firestone. He delighted in uprooting her tulips and other plantings, much to the distress of her gardeners. “Oh, they can always plant more,” Firestone would say. “Let him do what he wants!” Firestone truly loved the dog, and when he became incontinent during the last year of his life, couldn’t bring herself to ban him from her bedroom. Instead, Firestone simply covered everything with sheets of heavy plastic. “No one cleaned up after that dog except herself,” Jim recalls.

Beyond his show record, Manhattan’s legacy to the breed was his temperament. At the time, Moses says, Shepherds were developing a reputation for temperament issues, including shyness. With his confident, friendly personality, Manhattan “made a lot of friends for the breed,” he says. “He sold a lot of pet puppies for a lot of breeders.”

Mystique and Cocoa

Ch. Altana’s Mystique, the top winning show dog of all time, was very different from Hatter. She had been kennel-raised and didn’t have Manhattan’s innate confidence. The key to Mystique was one of Moses’ personal dogs, a champion Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Cocoa, who became Mystique’s “sidekick” and traveling partner. “I had her for four months before I showed her,” Moses says. “She had a lot of anxiety about dog shows, so I just took her along with me and let her relax and chill out with Cocoa, so there’d be no stress.”

Mystique was bred by Maureen Charlton of Alberta, Canada. She was by MV Select Ch. Proven Hill’s Up N Adam, ROM out of Ch. Covy’s Altana of Tucker Hill, ROM, OFA. Moses had always liked her; but at the time, he was showing another of Jane Firestone’s specials, Ch. Bramblewood’s Custom Made, ROM, OFA. When “Conan” passed away unexpectedly, he was contacted by Mystique’s co-owner Joan Hunt Smith. Smith offered sympathy for his loss, and asked if he had an interest in another of her dogs. Jim wanted Mystique, and as soon as she became available, he purchased her for Jane Firestone.

“She had tremendous eye appeal,” Moses says. “She was a medium-large bitch, with beautiful color, a dense undercoat, beautiful head and eye, and a very fleet, strong mover.” She was feminine despite her size, and “you could tell she was a bitch just by looking at her,” Moses continues. “And, she was really well-made, with a good prosternum.” Mystique didn’t have a natural love of the show ring, and double-handling by Sheree Moses, then Moses’ wife and partner, or her sidekick Cocoa was necessary to get her to move, stack, and show animation. Jim doesn’t mind discussing it. “Double-handling is a fact of life in this breed,” Moses says. “It’s a problem if it interferes with the other dogs or with what the judge sees.”

An Incredible Record

When Mystique came to Moses, she had won specialties, but never an All-Breed Best In Show. She was five when she won her first, under breeder-judge Dr. Carmen Battaglia. Her record of 275 Best In Shows and 30 Best In Specialty Shows wins was accumulated over only 30 months. “She won 119 Best In Shows in a single year—that’s like 10 a month—and it’s not easy, trust me!” he says.

It is an incredible record—all the more so because after Mystique went Best In Show, Jim didn’t show her to that judge again. “It wasn’t fair to other exhibitors and other dogs,” he says. “She had a lot of wins, and I only kept her out the last year because I thought she deserved a chance to go to the Garden.”

Jane Firestone died in 1994, before seeing Mystique at Westminster. Her will left the bitch to Moses, who funded the last months of her career himself. As a tribute to Firestone, Moses left Mystique in her name. “Her papers are still in my drawer,” he says. “I never sent them in.” Mystique went to the Garden, where she took second in the Herding Group, and then retired. She spent the rest of her life as a house dog, and died at 14. “She enjoyed life in retirement, and her personality really came out,” he says. Mystique never produced a litter—she’d missed a breeding and her show career kept her too busy to try again.

Their Legacy

Could Manhattan and Mystique be as successful if they were competing today? The breed has evolved, Moses says, but he’s glad that American breeders are moving away from the extreme angulation of a decade ago. “Sometimes people think that if a little is good, a lot is great,” he says. “But those dogs aren’t sound, and you couldn’t picture one standing atop the rubble after September 11th.” Manhattan and Mystique will be remembered as great show dogs and great examples of their breed—sound, beautiful dogs with wonderful temperaments.

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Posted by on Oct 1 2023. Filed under Current Articles, Dog Show History, 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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