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Getting To Know Us – The Great Judge Mr. Alva Rosenberg

Alva Rosbenberg in September, 1944, at age 52, awarding the Non-Sporting Group at the Interstate Kennel Association to Mrs. Sherman R. Hoyt of the legendary Blakeen Poodles for one of her white Standard stars. Club President, Anna Katherine Nicholas looks on.

 EDITOR’S NOTE: While perusing some past issues of The Canine Chronicle, we came across this article written by the late, great Anna Katherine Nicholas.

by Anna Katherine Nicholas

    The years pass and many changes occur in our world of purebred dogs. Among them the cast of characters of the participants, which is particularly notable where some of our best-loved and most esteemed all breed judges are concerned! Who would have believed, twenty years ago, that the day might come when the once magic name “Alva Rosenberg” might bring forth a puzzled look and the question “who’s that” from the exhibitor or breeder or just casual fancier to whom one might be talking? Yet it happens, and a similar reaction comes forth more often than not when one speaks of or mentions casually in conversation other such greats who back even ten or more years ago were among those from whom a win was so widely coveted, appreciated and valued owing to the reputation and esteem enjoyed by the judge under discussion.

    Which brings me to the opinion that perhaps it is time we dedicate a Getting To Know Us column to the memory of some of these folks who contributed so inestimably to recognition and rewarding of true quality among the dogs brought to their rings. These were the great judges who were able to literally make or break a dog according to their opinion of it. They additionally contributed to the sport by their willingness to discuss dogs and share their knowledge with the then young fanciers. Many of these ‘youngsters’ have gone on to successful careers of their own in the judging ring with ability and talent which had been enhanced by their attention to the work and opinions of such popular, knowledgeable and completely competent authorities such as Alva himself and others of this caliber.

    Alva Rosenberg was a native of Brooklyn, New York, where he was born in 1892. A Pug dog that his family-owned at the time of his birth was Alva’s first pet; others having included during childhood some of mixed heritage; a Smooth Fox Terrier; and a Mastiff. In later years, in addition to his beloved Boston Terriers, Alva owned Brussels Griffons, Miniature Schnauzers, German Shepherds, Chows, and French Bulldogs. English Toy Spaniels were the last breed he owned.

This handsome Collie is Ch. Alora Choir Boy making a prestigious win here under Alva. How many of you recognize the handler, the late Phil Marsh? When Phil retired from handling, he joined the judging ranks in which he became a successful all-around judge.

    Alva attended his first dog show at the age of eight when having seen an advertisement for the Westminster Dog Show soon to take place in New York City, he persuaded his mother to take him there. She did so, taking him to Manhattan on his first subway trip. The dog show itself provided him with great excitement and a goal to attain a purebred dog, for on that occasion he not only was an instant future dog show fan but he fell in love with a Boston Terrier. Since a Boston Terrier dog was more expensive than an eight-year-old could afford, he left with the determination that one day he would own that breed.

    The latter came true for Alva with the establishment of his soon to-become-famous Ravenroyd Kennels consisting of excellent show Boston Terriers. Among them was Ch. Ravenroyd’s Rock ‘n’ Rye. Pedigree buffs also interested in this breed will find Ravenroyd appearing in the background of modern winners. New York was a hotbed of Boston Terrier activity in the mid-1920s and the 1930s. I suppose this was owing to their many attributes making them ideal for city and apartment living. In later years, Alva owned an English Toy Spaniel or two, another breed to which he was devoted.

    From that first Westminster visit onwards, Alva simply could not get enough of dog shows. He became fascinated with the thought of becoming a judge. Realizing that he did, indeed, possess that elusive and essential “eye for a dog”, the friends he was making among breeders were quick in encouraging him to judge. Brooklyn had a great many dog fanciers in many breeds, so Alva’s friends grew to include a goodly assortment of fellow fanciers including judges and other leading authorities of the time. His closest friends and mentors were Dr. and Mrs. Edward H. Berendsohn, leading breeders of Japanese Spaniels as Japanese Chins were called back then. They took him to all the nearby dog shows, and wherever he went, he LEARNED.

    Alva joined the Long Island Kennel Club and started judging match shows as the first step towards a judging career. The Berendsohn’s friends included some outstanding judges who visited back and forth with them and with Alva who hungrily devoured all the information and opinions about dogs that were constantly under discussion in this group.

    Alva’s first assignment was at a dog show in Red Bank, New Jersey, at which his assignment was NOT Boston Terriers as one might have expected but rather Pomeranians. What followed became history as year after year the esteem and prestige which Alva attracted continued to grow.

    In Alva’s day, the rush of world travel for dog show judges had not yet hit its stride, becoming almost a way of life for present-day judges who choose to do it. But in the pre-1970s when Alva was active, American judges were just starting to travel the world for their assignments which now has become almost a way of life, and in those days, it was most frequently to Great Britain that they went. It’s a pity really, as I feel confident Alva would have loved judging dogs abroad. At least that was the case with the time he was hired to come to England to judge all of the Variety Groups and Best in Show at the prestigious Windsor event which he described as having been the highlight of his judging career. His services were in constant demand here in the United States and in Canada where he was to be seen on the panel of the leading all breed and specialty events. The specialty Shows alone made Alva’s years in the ring exciting as the Nationals in many leading breeds kept his schedule full. Reflecting back, exhibitors had confidence in the quality of his knowledge, fairness, and competence.

A record holding Beagle for many years, this is Ch. King’s Creek Triple Threat, owned by Marcia Foy. Among his numerous honors, he had some exciting wins from Alva. Here Alva is awarding him one of his Best in Hound Group victories in 1969 with Tom Foy, Jr. handling.

A record holding Beagle for many years, this is Ch. King’s Creek Triple Threat, owned by Marcia Foy. Among his numerous honors, he had some exciting wins from Alva. Here Alva is awarding him one of his Best In Hound Group victories in 1969 with Tom Foy, Jr. handling.

    In 1946, 1947 and 1948, Alva was honored by the Gaines Fido Award as “Outstanding Dog Show Judge of the Year”, which all agreed were recognitions richly deserved. It seemed likely that he would continue receiving these awards, thus in order to give other judges an opportunity to do so, the number of times it could be won by the same person was frozen at this number.

    Alva was a born and bred city boy who grew up using city transportation and did not drive a car. No problem, really, as there were many friends and fellow judges always happy to have him share a ride with them when they were going to the same shows, and what fun that was for all concerned! Alva’s bright wit, his alertness, his knowledgeable eye, and his instant recognition of all that might be taking place on the day made conversation with him a real learning experience as the discussion of dogs was the primary subject and an education in itself. If only some of them had been taped, what collector’s items they would make today with the depth of knowledge that thus could be shared!

    Alva lived most of his life in New York, which is the place he truly loved to be! He had lots of friends there, at least one sister, Maude, to whom he was close and, of course, there was Toby House, the antique shop belonging to Alva and his partner Melvin P. “Bud” Wiser. For years, Toby House held forth in the stylish antique section of New York City which was the Third Avenue and Lexington Avenue section of the East fifties. Toby House relocated several times over the years but always in that same very desirable neighborhood which was the heart of Manhattan’s antique trade. Alva was away a great deal of time owing to his well-filled judging schedules; Bud stayed at home and “minded the shop”. Members of our dog show world were always welcome to stop off there just to visit, and there were a host of “regulars” including me who, when in New York, always made it a point to drop by to say hello. Alva or Bud were always glad to talk over the latest “happenings” with their friends.

At the Puli Club of America National Specialty judged by Alva Rosenberg on September 21, 1957, Alva awarded Best of Breed to Ch. Cedwood’s Anthony Gray, handled by Joyce McComiskey (left) for owner Mrs. Elleanor Anderson (second from left): and Best of Opposite Sex to Mrs. John McManus (right) for her owner-handled bitch, Cedwood’s Katalin.

    As time elapsed and the crime rate in New York escalated, it became clear that owning a shop filed with expensive “goodies” was hardly safe any longer and that the boys should perhaps take themselves to more peaceable surroundings. We know that this was a wrench for Alva, who so loved the city, the theatres, all the great restaurants, and even just walking in his neighborhood, but they both realized that it was really becoming dangerous to live there. So, they packed up Toby House and made the move to Wilton, Connecticut, where they remained until Alva’s death around the early 1970s. Bud remained until he passed away just a few years ago. The house, which we pass frequently; has been all freshly painted and is on the market now.

    They had many callers and visitors up at Wilton, too, as this is a busy area for dog show people and of course everyone who got around this way took advantage of the opportunity to go see Alva and Bud.

    People may wonder why Alva was so successful and so widely loved. In my opinion, it was his true INTEREST in dogs. He was never bored with judging no matter how big or plentiful the assignments. He was a student of every breed and saw the good in all of them. He had an amazing memory, and owing to the fact that his interest in each dog made him especially observant of it’s every detail. He always startled people he might run into casually–whom he had perhaps not seen in years–by asking such questions as, “How did that puppy turn out that you showed me a few years back that looked so promising?” or “Did that front come around O.K. on the bitch you showed me a few years ago; or to whom did you breed that fawn bitch I liked so well”; and they would stand with their mouth open in amazement wondering how in the world this man who saw thousands of dogs each year could recall instantly what you’d been showing years ago.

    Alva really UNDERSTOOD type and quality and of what they consist in EVERY breed! He was quick and smart and intelligent. He had the courage of his convictions. And, MOST OF ALL he CARED. No class dog was unimportant to him. He saw something deserving in them all. He was an EXPERT dog man who loved every moment of being a judge.

    That was Alva Rosenberg who will never be forgotten by those of us privileged to have known him, recognized his outstanding qualities, and treasure his memory!

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Posted by on Feb 9 2021. Filed under Current Articles, Dog Show History, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

3 Comments for “Getting To Know Us – The Great Judge Mr. Alva Rosenberg”

  1. Melanie D Williams

    This reminds me what I was exposed to in I think the late 60s. I was just getting interested in showing and a member of the Memphis KC. They had an historical show and the judging panel was full of the well knowns. I was given the opportunity (thanks to having an 8 seat van) of driving some of these judges to the airport. Percy Roberts judged BIS. The judges wanted to know why Percy did not put up the top winning dog of the year and he said “when they change (the standard) to include black dogs I will consider him” That one statement made me sit up, listen carefully and become an avid reader of standards, not just my own, and it continues to this day.

  2. Patricia A Clark

    I wanted to thank you for republishing this piece on Alva Rosenberg. I live quite close to where he had his final antique shop in Wilton Ct. Unfortunately, I was so young in my dog show life, I didn’t know that I needed to know him. When I realized it, he was gone. Let that be a lesson to us all. There is so much to learn from the people around us. The time is now.

  3. Alva Rosenburg was a guest in my family’s home many times. As a youth he taught me so much. I was able to use what he taught me in my career as a handler and later as a teacher. He had a insight into the sport that no one else has shown me. I hope I was able to give his gift to me to others. He was a great man.

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