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Dee Duffy knows Stump, the winner of this year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, well. She’s one of his breeders.
The Montvale resident was in Indiana on Dec. 1, 1998, when Stump was born and she watched with tears in her eyes Feb. 10 as the Sussex Spaniel was named “Best in Show” at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, outclassing some 2,500 other champion dogs for the title.
“I watched it on television and I cried a lot,” stated Duffy on the show. Because one of her dogs had just had a litter of pups she wasn’t able to make what is usually an annual trek for her to the show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. “I stayed on the phone a lot during the whole thing,” she said.
Duffy’s endeavors as a hobby breeder date back to the early 1980s and after she moved to Bedford County in 1989 she decided to get a Sussex Spaniel. As time went on, she added more of that breed.
“It’s not a business,” Duffy says of breeding the dogs. “I don’t make a living at selling dogs.”
But she is adding to the showing of Sussex Spaniels. “This was a breed that I felt like I could make a contribution,” she said.
And has she.
Stump, a 10-year-old Sussex, took top honors at Westminster, the Super Bowl of dog shows held . Duffy compares her part in Stump’s victory to that of preparing the race car for the driver. “I’m a car builder, actually,” she said. “That’s what I do.”
Stump has three owners: Beth Dowd of North Carolina, Cecilia Ruggles of Connecticut and Scott Sommer, the dog’s handler. While Duffy shows dogs — she’s finished more than 50 champions — she said it’s not unusual to have professional handlers for dogs in shows like Westminster.
All of the dogs at Westminster are already champions. Stump’s registered name is Ch Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee. The “Three D” in his name represents Duffy’s kennel. That is included in his name to show his blood line. His other breeders included Douglas Horn and Douglas Johnson.
Stump, after being finished as a champion, began winning a lot of shows. But after a show in Tampa, Fla., several years ago he got severely ill. Duffy said no one could find out what was wrong with him.
“He came close to dying,” Duffy said.
Stump ended up at a veterinarian hospital at Texas A & M and he was diagnosed with an infection that had entered his heart. The infection was treated, though it was never fully determined what had caused the illness. But after being so ill, the owners had reservations about ever showing Stump again. “The owners love this dog. They were reluctant to resume his career,” Duffy said.
That was three years ago. Today Stump stands at the top of the pedestal.
Stump is the oldest dog to have ever won at Westminster, but Duffy said his parents are still alive. When not at a show, Duffy said Stump spends time with his owners. His win gives Duffy bragging rights as a breeder.
She said for the most part, showing dogs has no monetary rewards, “just cheap ribbons.” But, Duffy jokes, “There’s plenty of money in dogs, just look at how much I’ve put in.”
In most dog shows, the dogs are trying to earn points towards earning a championship title. Working towards that goal is stated as “finishing” the dog. At Westminster, all of the dogs competing have already achieved that champion title.
Duffy lived in the metro New York area before moving to Bedford County. Her mother was from the Hot Springs area and her ancestors date back to the 1700s in Bath county. “The move to Virginia felt pretty natural,” she said.
Duffy said the Westminster Dog Show features a criteria based on how well the dog’s physical attributes resemble a written standard. In theory, the dog that wins most closely resembles that standard. That standard takes into account how the dog looks, its movement and its physical construction.
“It’s probably the only sport where amateurs and professionals compete against each other,” she said of showing dogs.
The history of the Westminster Dog Show dates back to 1877 when The Westminster Kennel Club was officially formed “...to increase the interest in dogs, and thus improve the breeds, and to hold an Annual Dog Show in the city of New York ...” according to its by-laws. Today, Westminster is undisputedly America’s Dog Show. According to a news release on its Web site: “The elegance, beauty and grace of the canine athletes combine with the excitement of the competition in the world’s most famous sporting arena before a live national television audience. The result is an event that is the dog show world’s version of the Super Bowl and Academy Awards. But even greater, The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is a celebration of the wonderful canine spirit, reflecting our emotional and spiritual attachment to our dogs.”
Duffy actually had another dog (CH Three D Lock and Load) entered in this year’s event, before it was determined that Stump would be able to compete in the show. “For me that was going to be like competing against yourself,” she said. Both were among the top five dogs in their breed, but she kept her other entry out.
As the first Sussex Spaniel to win the coveted Westminster title, Stump succeeds Uno the Beagle, who traveled the country during the past year as the ultimate canine ambassador, visiting the White House, working as a therapy dog and riding in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This wasn’t Stump’s first time to show at Westminster. He won the Sporting Group at Westminster in 2004, when the Newfoundland, Josh, won Best in Show.
Almost 2,500 purebred show dogs, all champions based on points accumulated during dog shows this past year, competed in the 133rd edition of Westminster, America’s second oldest sporting tradition behind the Kentucky Derby. The competition included representatives of all 170 breeds currently recognized by the American Kennel Club.
“It was like going for a walk with my pet,” said Sommer, who told the media that Stump spent 19 days in the hospital and almost died of the unknown disease after retiring in 2004.
“I didn’t know who he was or how old he was,” offered Best in Show Judge Sari Brewster Tietjen of Rhinebeck, NY. “He showed his heart out.”
Stump emerged from the Sporting Group earlier in the evening and, during Best in Show, was selected over six other champion canines representing the Working, Hound, Toy, Terrier, Non-Sporting and Herding Groups.
Besides breeding, Duffy shows dogs to help finish them. She said some dogs show well, others enjoy other types of competitions such as field work or performance events. Westminster’s event, however, was right up Stump’s alley. He now has more than 50 “best-in-show” honors.
“Stump loves to play dog show,” Duffy said. “Because he loves it, he has a tremendous amount of presence. He thinks this is the best thing you can possibly do.”
And now, he’s Top Dog.