Pistal’s Best in Show: Retirement Village Style
By Debra Lampert-Rudman
All photos by Heath Village Retirement Community Staff
Pistal has travelled cross country by plane many times, been in the spotlight of nearly every huge dog show, was #1 parti-color Cocker Spaniel in 2011, and was among the first 10 parti-colored Cocker Spaniels to ever achieve the GCH title. But, on a sunny fall day, in a New Jersey retirement village, surrounded by walkers and wheelchairs, GCH Dal-Mar’s Topaz Pistal, BN, CGC achieved one of his most rewarding titles: Best in Show-Retirement Village style.
Respected Hound fancier Connie Butherus of Lebanon, NJ, invited top and former top show dogs and their breeders and owners, from each of the seven AKC groups to create a mini “show and tell” dog show at Heath Village Retirement Community, Hackettstown, NJ. Several years earlier Heath Village’s Activities Director requested a show dog program and Mrs. Butherus reached out to a wide variety of fellow exhibitors and dog clubs to create the “show”. Last year’s show was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy so the residents were doubly eager for this year’s.
About half of the Village’s 400 residents strolled, wheeled and “walkered” into the large Auditorium while nearly 20 show dogs and their handlers waited their turn to appear onstage with their group. Despite probably never seeing that many walkers and wheelchairs in one place, the dogs quietly took everything in stride. Not a bark was heard. Well, maybe one bark.
Announcing that we would “bring out the Groups like they do at Westminster – only you’ll be the judge”, Connie Butherus opened the afternoon’s festivities with three representatives of the Sporting Group trotting onto the stage in size order.
Karen Spey of Bookstore Pointers and her 10-year old “Rosie”, Melissa Ayers with her yellow Labrador Retriever, and five-year old Parti-color Cocker Spaniel “Pistal”, the smallest of the Sporting Group and I, each took our turn at the microphone – describing our breed’s features, a bit of breed history, and sharing a few anecdotes and some highlights about our dogs. I shared that Pistal was also in retirement now, no longer being campaigned as a “special” so didn’t have the long, full coat they would see on a Cocker Spaniel in the show ring.
Presentations by the remaining six groups were met with rounds of applause and laughter. Lynne Rutenberg of Green Township, NJ, a member of Newpendel Newfoundland Club, and her 8 year old black Newfie “Lola”, Ferromont’s Her Name Is Lola, were crowd pleasers as Rutenberg explained why she carried a drool towel.
Rutenberg said she believes Lola has perfect Newfie temperament and “this is her thing – she specializes in greeting everyone and convincing anyone that big black dogs are really sweet. “
AKC Judge Richard Reynolds of Tenafly, NJ brought representatives for both the Terrier and Hound group; 10-month old Swedish-born “Catcher,” Notice Catcher in the Rye who “has not been shown except for the puppy class at Montgomery which he won. His day job is killing rats in New York City Alleys and woodchucks in the field of New Jersey,” Reynolds said. Residents loved seeing the dog that “looks like a lamb” and Reynolds warned them that he was tougher than he looked, which led to even more laughter.
Reynolds’ Miniature Wirehaired Dachshund, Ch. Rose Farm’s Range Rover, “bred by the late great Dee Hutchinson” was described to the audience as a retired woodchuck hunter. “His job was to enter a den wearing a radio collar and locate the quarry so that the terriers could be put in. He has totally self-recovered from a paralyzing disc condition common in Dachshunds and is my personal role model. He holds both an AWTA Working Certificate and an AKC CGC designation. He also passed the Natural den Test of the (German) Deutscher Teckelklub.”.
The Herding Group was quite well-represented with Bearded Collies, Corgis, and an abundance of Old English Sheepdogs handled by members of the Twin Colonies OES Club, and organized by Sheila Kenyon of Morristown, NJ. Larry Terricone provided some background and introductory information and the crowd especially appreciated Roberta Corbett’s stories about her boy “Caroussel” enjoying retirement as a stud dog and compared his life to Secretariat’s.
As the stage performances continued, handlers developed unique styles to showcase their dogs; some lifting smaller breeds in their arms to give residents a better view – inciting laughter and applause. Knowing nods and smiles were seen around the room following remarks about dogs carrying on despite advanced age or health troubles.
With the “show and tell” portion complete, “Best in Show” voting began. Residents were each given a ballot, pencil, and instructions to “vote for your favorite show dog.” While voting and tallying, handlers and dogs were encouraged to mingle among the residents in the audience.
Sharon Fremer of Wyckoff, NJ, President of both the Herding Group Association of NJ and Ramapo Kennel Club, and a Cardigan Welsh Corgi Club of America Board Member, enjoyed sharing her Cardigan Welsh Corgis, “Eve” Eve Leve Toi de la Caverne des Anges a 4 year old from France, and 14 month old “Houston” CH Shadowalk Houston with Heath Village residents.
“Eve” especially enjoyed the attention lavished on her while we waited our turn on the stage and spent a lot of time soaking up the love and rolling over on her back to be petted by the people around us, Fremer said.
“I found the afternoon at Heath Village to be very rewarding. We got a warm and enthusiastic reception from a surprisingly (to me) packed audience. The dogs and I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to walk around and meet the residents, “Fremer added. “ A number of them had friends or former neighbors that had owned Pembrokes and one woman had owned a Pem that lived to 16. We got the usual comments about being the “Queen’s dogs” and I was happy to speak with them about the differences between our breed and Pembrokes. It gave me an opportunity to educate people about our history and the differences between Cardis and Pems. I love educating people about this breed!”
While strolling among the residents, Connie Butherus felt her Whippet ,“Boyd”, was “an equal opportunity lover and made his rounds to every person within his territory.” Butherus added that a woman who was “nearly frozen in voluntary movement ability” moved her hand to pet Boyd. “It was quite touching. She received a Whippet kiss in response.”
“Pistal”, who had never done anything like this before, wove cheerfully among the audience while I asked residents if they had known or owned Cockers in their lifetime. We found quite a few eager to share memories, and, since he’s cute with floppy ears , many patted their laps inviting him up or held out their hands as we went by hoping for kisses.
A woman dressed in a dazzling animal print top and fuzzy scarf petted Pistal while tearfully sharing stories about her 14 year old red-and-white Cocker Spaniel who passed nearly 20 years ago.
“He’s so soft, and he’s looking at me with those sweet eyes,” she said. “He knows, he knows.”
Another very well-dressed resident who said she’d had “Scotch Terriers” for years when she lived at home, invited Pistal to sit in her lap and visit with her and her friends. He happily clambered up, and when I said he might be too heavy for her, she said, “Oh, no, please – I love having him in my lap.” When asked for kisses, Pistal planted several on her cheek, and a quickie on her friend, emphasizing that he was right where he belonged – bringing beaming smiles to their faces.
Happily chatting with our new resident friends, I didn’t really notice Connie Butherus approach the microphone and begin revealing the Best in Show winner’s background.
Never thinking we had a chance, with very stiff competition, including many dogs whom visitors remembered from the last visit, including “Olivia” an adorable Old English Sheepdog with a bow in her hair owned by Fran Methelis; Eileen Flanagan’s saintly Irish Wolfhound,;Melissa Ayers’ sprightly Shiba Inu and lovely Lab; “Sunny”, the charming Cavalier King Charles Spaniel pup handled by experienced pet therapist Diane Zdrodowski of Meadowlands Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club ; and exotically costumed Linda Deutsch with her Saluki, to name just a few wonderful dogs and handlers from a variety of clubs including Morris & Essex, Delaware Water Gap, and Schooley’s Mountain - Pistal won Best in Show!
The “Scotch Terrier” woman hugged and kissed us and I told her she was our good luck charm while scooping Pistal from her arms.
Pistal and I ran up to the stage and were quite surprised to be presented with the biggest, reddest, rosette I’m sure either of us had ever seen.
Cameras snapped, the crowd cheered; and Pistal took it all in stride.
Daisy Dauch, Assistant to the Activities Director, created the glamorous rosette and said recently that “Our residents loved it! Not only the independent residents were there but also our Health Care and Assistant Living residents attended. They are still talking about the dog show and comparing the dog show to our annual family day; the second big event that brought so many smiles to their faces! “
On our way out following refreshments, Pistal, proudly wearing his rosette as a cape, passed through the Heath Village lobby amid cheers of “Congratulations, Champ” and “Yay – there goes Pistal”.
In the parking lot, three spry fans ambled out for a last minute chat and snuggle. “Please come back again,” one said as she reached out to caress Pistal’s ears.
Of course, we’ll be back again.
Pistal now has a title to defend; and so much more love to share.
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