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Two Breeds Debut at Westminster 2015

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218 – April, 2015

by Joan Harrigan and Susan Beegel

Each year, breeds newly recognized by the AKC bring a special energy to Westminster. There are television appearances with David Frei, press interviews, and the chance to make breed history as the first to take Best of Breed honors at the Garden.

This year, the Non-Sporting and Sporting Groups each added a new breed to its roster. Though the Coton de Tulear and Wirehaired Vizsla couldn’t be more dissimilar, each generated excitement and interest in the benching area. It’s hard to resist the snowy white coat and onyx eyes of the Coton, or the Wirehaired Vizsla’s tousled coat and whiskers.

The Royal Dog of Madagascar

DellAnn Kuhn of Columbus, Ohio raised Schnauzers for 18 years before buying her first Coton nine years ago. “A friend got one,” she explains. “I saw her dog, and was hooked.” After a trip to the national specialty, Kuhn purchased her first Coton from Connie Fox of Fluffy Acres kennel in Northbrook, Illinois. She found the breed addicting, adding “Now I have six!”

Kuhn describes Cotons as very social, very happy, and easy travelers. “They want to be where you are,” she says. Like other bichon-type dogs, they are non-shedding, but Kuhn is quick to point out that Cotons are not necessarily low-maintenance. Their soft coat requires daily brushing to avoid matting.

The Coton de Tulear traces its origins to the old European Barbet, the foundation of the poodle, as well as the bichon-type breeds. Ancestors of today’s Coton were brought by 17th century sailors (and pirates) to the port city of Tulear on the island of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa. There, they bred with native hunting and feral dogs, and ultimately came under the control of the ruling Malagasy and Merina tribal monarchies, who decreed that only nobles could own a Coton. After colonization by the French, Cotons were adopted by them, as well. Today, they are popular as housedogs in Europe, and it’s not hard to imagine their popularity growing in the U.S., as well.

The Coton remains “the Official Dog of Madagascar,” where they were honored on a postage stamp in 1974, the same year they first arrived in America. Dr. Robert Jay Russell, a biologist doing research in Madagascar, sent Coton breeding stock back to the U.S. where his father, J. Lewis Russell, established Oakshade Kennels in New Jersey. Lewis Russell bred Cotons for the next 20 years; his son established his own kennel under the Alika prefix.

Kuhn is at Westminster with Hayden, more formally known as GCh. Hayden De L’etoile Procyon, a 2½ year-old male who was bred by Florence Henocque. Kuhn and her husband bought Hayden to use in breeding, but DellAnn Kuhn decided to try showing him herself when he was a puppy. At his first show, he caught the eye of veteran handler Nanette Wright, also of Columbus. “That’s a great dog,” Wright thought, and her partnership with the Kuhns began.

Wright describes the Coton as a moderate breed—“everything about them should be moderate,” she opines. “They should be built solidly, with a moderate neck and good reach and drive.” Unlike some of the other breeds descended from the Barbet, Cotons are to be shown completely untrimmed, except between the pads and around the foot to neaten the appearance. “This is not a parted breed, like the Tibetan Terrier,” Wright continues. “The hair may fall into a part, but one shouldn’t be placed there.” Will the untrimmed coat and moderation change over time? “Probably,” Wright admits. Though Cotons may be tri-colored or black and white, as well as solid white, the United States of America Coton de Tulear Club, the parent club recognized by the AKC, permits only white Cotons to be shown in conformation. Wright sees judges education as a priority for the USACTC. “Some judges who aren’t as familiar with the breed may just pick the prettiest and largest Cotons,” Wright says.

It isn’t common for a dog to be available for spectators to touch before showing—particularly when the dog is snowy white! However, Kuhn and Wright invited people to pet Hayden—even before he faced his competition in the ring. “Petting is the best medicine for him,” Kuhn said. At home, Hayden is a therapy dog, regularly visiting a local nursing home, and one of Kuhn’s other Cotons is a reading assistance dog. Kuhn has only been showing Cotons for a short time, but has been impressed by the warmth of ‘dog people’. “I’ve met some wonderful people,” she says. When Kuhn experienced a death in the family, she “couldn’t believe how supportive the dog community was.”

Hayden was the Number Three Coton in 2014, but another member of his breed entered Westminster’s record books. Best of Breed went to a lovely bitch—Ch. Mi-Toi’s Burberry At Justincredible, bred by Luis and Carmen Ortiz, and owned by Justine Romano. For Kuhn, whose love for these little white dogs is evident, owning Hayden and her other Cotons was reward enough. “My husband has connected with this dog as I haven’t seen with any other,” she says. It isn’t hard to understand why!

The Wirehaired Vizsla

Izzy, Ch. Zoldmali Csongor SH CM, is at Westminster representing his newly AKC-recognized breed, the Wirehaired Vizsla. He is a medium-sized pointer type about 25 inches at the shoulder, well-muscled and substantially boned, with a dense, wiry coat of solid rust-gold, and luminous eyes of a harmonious color. His distinctive “facial furnishings”—bushy eyebrows and a whiskery beard—give 4½ year-old Izzy a wise, humorous expression. Bred in Hungary by Zsofia Miczek, Izzy belongs to Mark and Bonnie Goodwein of Chatsworth, California. Mark Goodwein, who handles Izzy in the show ring, says he’s a “wonderful family pet, but an athletic dog who wants to have a job.” The Wirehaired Vizsla has a relaxed and rock-solid temperament. “He loves everybody,” says Goodwein. “He plays with stuffed animals and squeaky toys. Nothing ever bothers him. We call him ‘Uncle Izzy’ because he takes care of the pups.”

The Wirehaired Vizsla breed was created in the 1930s, when hunters and falconers in northern Hungary and what is now Slovakia wanted to create a dog that would retain all the good traits of the original, smooth-coated Vizsla, but would be better adapted to the region’s harsher environment. Like its ancient parent breed, the Wirehaired Vizsla is a versatile hunting dog, working on fur or fowl, able to track, point, drive, and retrieve game. Its greater substance and rough coat, however, make the Wirehaired Vizsla better suited for winter weather, water retrieving, and hunting small game—especially large European hares—in dense brush. The breed standard, which permits the Wirehaired Vizsla to be shown “with honorable scars,” hints at the historic hunting conditions behind its protective coat.

With the leadership of Vasas Jozsef, owner of the Csabai Vizsla Kennel in the town of Hejocsaba, Hungary, breeders began a program that consisted primarily of crossing smooth-coated Vizslas with solid liver German Wirehaired Pointers, and keeping the solid rust pups as foundation stock. The Irish Setter, the Pudel Pointer, and the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon also made contributions. Like so many European breeds, the Wirehaired Vizsla was nearly lost during World War II. During the 41-year Soviet occupation of Hungary that followed, the Csabai Kennel became state-sponsored. Fortunately, Vasas Jozsef remained in charge, protecting his beloved dogs.

Breeder/owner/handler Nancy Edmunds of Commerce, Georgia is at Westminster showing 7 year-old Bailey, Ch. Vizcaya’s Wired for Sound CM JH. A Vizsla enthusiast for more than 35 years, Edmunds had a natural “interest in Wires” from the moment she first saw them. Co-owned by Edmunds with Lee and Barbara Ross, Bailey is the first Wirehaired Vizsla to earn an AKC championship. Edmunds describes him as a “real sweetheart,” and his breed as not only different in coat and taller than the smooth-coated Vizsla, but also “more relaxed, calmer, and more methodical in the field.” Edmunds is passionate about AKC recognition. “It’s the premier registry in the United States and the world,” she says. “You can’t export dogs without it. And the AKC does lots of work outside of shows, in upholding health and standards.” Like the Goodweins, she has also put a hunting title on her dog. “As founders, versatility should be important to us,” she says.

At the end of the day, Izzy will take Best of Breed, and Olivia, Zoldmali Oliva, another Wirehaired Vizsla bred by Zsofia Miczek and owned by the Goodweins, will take Best of Opposite Sex from the classes. How does it feel to win these historic firsts for their breed at Westminster? “We won’t need our plane tickets,” says Mark Goodwein. “We’ll be floating home.”

The new breeds are always one of the most fascinating facets of Westminster. Talking to the breeders and owners, one often encounters individuals who have participated in the foundation of the breeds in America—or were mentored by those who did. Both the Coton de Tulear and Wirehaired Vizsla seem destined to grow in popularity, and they will need dedicated breeders and owners to steward that growth.

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Posted by on Apr 23 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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