A Look Back with Pat Trotter
How a California schoolteacher became the top breeder and exhibitor in American dog-show history deserves to be told. She also became a judge officiating for Best in Show at Westminster in 2021.
My partner Paul Lepiane and I interviewed Pat Trotter many years ago; Paul has known her since he was a kid — to give a teenager a thrill she let him run her Norwegian Elkhounds outside her house in Carmel. (She still calls Paul, mostly to discuss race horses; a big common interest.) I admired the Vin-Melcas in the 1970s while still living in Sweden and later showed Whippets under her in the U.S. The interview was published in the 2005 Dogs in Review Annual to enthusiastic reception.
Most of what Pat said then is still valid; I'm glad Dog News is republishing the interview. The main changes are that Pat and her husband, Charles (Chuck), both have become approved by AKC to judge all breeds, that they have moved to California from Tennessee and that Pat won an 11th Group at Westminster as an owner-handler in 2015.
To sum up, Vin-Melca Elkhounds have won more than 300 BIS since the late 1960s, mostly before 1994, when Pat stopped seriously campaigning her dogs and became an AKC judge. Eight Vin-Melcas won No. 1 Hound ten times, including #1 All Breeds 1970, #2 1978 and 1990, #3 1977 and 1988, #4 1979, #5 1973, #6 1992 and #7 1989.
Were you part of a doggie family growing up?
Not at all. I was the one in the family who wanted to bring home every animal in the neighborhood as a kid. My first dog was part Sheltie and part Chow, and my first purebred dog was a very well-bred Cocker Spaniel.
Where was this?
This was in Virginia. I got my first dog in 1947.
So you're not a California girl after all — I think of you as a California person.
I think of myself as a California person, too!
How did you find this Cocker?
We were all playing kickball at recess, and this lady was walking by with this lovely buff Cocker. I had never seen a Cocker Spaniel so perfectly groomed, and I was fascinated by it. In time, with Mother's permission, I started going over to this lady's kennel and working with these dogs. I was 11 or 12. I would hang out with this lady, work with her dogs, and walk the three miles home. I got a doggie fix, and in time I got this black Cocker bitch.
Who was this breeder?
She was Muriel Laubach, and her kennel name was Dau-Han. I showed a lot of her dogs later on. In fact, won my first Best in Show with one of her dogs. She was an excellent breeder. Her Ch. Dau-Han's Dan Morgan was one of the greats. I was working with different dogs in my neighborhood. You know, "Can I take your dog for a walk?" Then I had a little service where I would come to your home and bathe your dog. Anything to be with dogs!
Did school suffer a lot?
No, no. My mother and father were unforgiving of anything that would interfere with school. But I was dog- and horse-crazy; I would groom horses, pick feet and clean barns for the privilege to ride.
Celebration victory: Pat (then Vincent) was elected to president of Girls Nation in 1953.
What was the first dog show you went to?
My first dog shows were around the Tidewater, Virginia, area. My first ribbon was at a match held by the Tidewater Kennel Club, with my Cocker Spaniel. That was in the late ’40s.
Did that first Cocker finish?
No. She got all of her minor points and several Reserves at major shows. It was the heyday of the American Cocker, we had to show against people like Bain and Ken Cobb, Clint Callahan, Norman Austin and Teddy Young, so l was never able to get majors on her. We bred one litter from her. I think one of those finished.
Did you see yourself as eventually becoming a major dog person, winning at Westminster or breeding a hundred champions?
Certainly not, but I dreamed a lot. Our school library had a book, A Happy Tramp, which was the story of an English dog man's daughter. The father was hired to run this big sheepdog kennel in the Northeast. The child gets a runt puppy – in the old days they "bucketed" the runts and they were going to do away with it, so she raised it and it went on to win Best in Show at the "Eastminster" Kennel Club! Of course, I became fascinated with the whole process – if this little girl could do it, maybe ...
The First Shows
What do you remember from the first shows you went to?
The first shows I went to were with Muriel, and I showed Cockers for her. I got very interested in Dobermans — one of the neighbors had one, and I showed this dog some. There was a point at which I was maybe going to go into Dobermans. I worked part time at an Airedale kennel — Mrs. Frances Denny was the name of this breeder. About a mile past that kennel — bear in mind, we did everything on foot in those days and I walked a lot — there was a gentleman who had Dobermans and Elkhounds. He showed a few of the Dobermans, and he hunted with the Elkhounds.
When the Elkhound came to America in the early part of the 20th Century, most of the dogs went to Scandinavians living in Minnesota, but a lot also went to West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky as bear dogs. In fact, the first classes at the Kennel Club shows in England that included Norwegian Elkhounds were for "elk and bear dogs." Of course, the Norwegian word "elg" translates in English to "moose," so the breed has always been misnamed — it's not an elk-hound, it's a moose-dog.
Anyway, this gentleman hunted these dogs on brown bear in the Dismal Swamp of southern Virginia and North Carolina. One bitch had a humongous litter, and they were going to put down a couple of them; that was the practice then. School was out — this litter was born June 10, 1947, or 1948. I took a bitch puppy home and raised her on a bottle, and that was my first Elkhound.
How did you segue from Dobermans to Elkhounds?
The man was out in his yard one day, he started talking to me, and I wanted to see his dogs. My mom and dad would go with me to these places. They were very supportive of my fascination with horses and dogs. It wasn't their thing, but I guess they thought it was a healthy enough thing for a kid to do.
I was very athletic — my dad encouraged me to play softball and baseball with the boys. That's one of the reasons I got so into the Elkhounds — they were natural, they were athletic — I loved to run, the dogs ran with me. I didn't have to worry about their coats getting messed up, I didn't have to worry about taping ears. All my great dogs have been excellent athletes. I don't try to show dogs, or breed dogs, that are not athletic. Athleticism is a high requirement.
I've always wondered where all your energy comes from.
I've always been an overachiever. My dad told me when I was about 13, "Well, daughter, you're not the prettiest girl in your class, you're not the smartest, but you're gonna beat the rest of them because you'll outwork them!" Dogs were not my first competitive outlet — I competed in a lot of things other than dogs. I didn't really get into the group and Best in Show thing until I was late in college.
Getting back to that first Elkhound puppy. What was her name?
Her father's name was Ulf Sigurdssen, and her mother's name was Helga, so we named her Ulf's Madam Helga ... We called her "Candy." Later she became Ch. Ulf's Madam Helga, CD. The Cocker bitch was Dau-Han Sonata and we called her "Melody." So Vin-Melca came from Vincent — my name, Pat Vincent — Melody the Cocker and Candy the Elkhound. By the time I realized it was kind of corny I'd finished several dogs, so I thought, don't stop now, you're on a roll ...
Pat showing in the Hound Group in California, probably in the early 1970s. Pat says she has never seen it before and is not sure who the dog is. The judge in the background is Kay Finch, and the Borzoi is Ch. Kall of the Wild's Zandor with Evonne Chashoudian. This would be at the time Pat specialed Vagabond.
When did you realize that Elkhounds were it for you?
Pretty quickly. I liked the natural, innate intelligence of the Elkhound. My mother really didn't want me to get a Doberman, because she was a little afraid of them. She wasn't afraid of the Elkhounds, because she'd helped me raise this puppy.
Was she a good-quality puppy?
No, she was as long as a freight train. She had some quality dogs in the second generation behind her. She had a lot of nice things herself, but she was just too long. In breeding her, I was very fortunate because I was able to locate a dog that my idols, the Pecks, had brought over from Scotland. He was called Ch. Carro of Ardmere.
Where were Elkhounds at this point as show dogs in America?
Nowhere! We had the first ones south of the Mason-Dixon line. They didn't win anything! In order to get a major you had to go north — the only majors were at the benched show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and up in Westchester in New York, places like that.
Is Madam Helga still far back in your pedigrees?
Yes — the farther the better. But every single Vin-Melca dog has a number of crosses to her.
Finding the Good Ones
How did you find good Elkhounds? Where did you see your first good one?
Mr. and Mrs. A. Wells Peck were the guardians of the breed at a time when the breed was more or less new. They owned the Peck & Peck Co. on Fifth Avenue and had the Pitch Road kennels in Connecticut. They brought the most important dogs to America, from Norway and Sweden and so on. They had Ch. Tortåsens Bjønn II, but that was later — they didn't bring him over until the late ’50s. I think my first litter was in 1949 or 1950. The second litter I had was from a bitch I shipped to the Pecks. We had to send dogs by railway express in those days.
Did the Pecks have a big kennel?
I'd say they had about 20 dogs.
Did they hunt?
No, they didn't hunt their dogs. They showed. They didn't campaign all over the country — they showed in the Northeast and at the Nationals — but what they did do was invest their money in bringing breeding stock in. The wealthy people today invest their money in the campaigning of one big special at a time, and when it's all said and done, the breeding stock hasn't been improved by what they've done. I wish more people today would invest more money in improving breeding stock rather than just in campaigning.
How did the Pecks find these dogs — did they travel a lot?
They traveled a lot, they went to Norway a lot, and they were very good friends with the most prominent people in Norway, including the King of Norway at the time. These were very prominent, wealthy people.
Did they have a good eye for an Elkhound?
Yes – Mrs. Peck did, especially. She had a great eye for a dog.
Did anybody else use their dogs?
Oh, yes, everybody did. They were a great influence on the breed. Let me tell you the kind of thing these people did for the Elkhound club. In those days our parent club met annually at Westminster. There might be 13 or 14 Elkhounds benched (which is more than we have today). Mr. Peck's kennel help would take care of all the dogs on the bench after judging, and Mr. Peck would take all the Elkhound exhibitors to lunch at one of the best restaurants in New York. Then we would go to the annual meeting. And all of our dogs were being cared for by Mr. Peck's staff. Isn't that special? The age of civility!
What did you get from that first litter?
From the first litter by Carro I got a very nice dog that went into a home where he was never shown, but he was the best dog in the litter. By the time I got through college I had no bitches to breed from. I graduated from college in June of ’58, and my mother said she would buy me what I wanted for graduation, which needless to say was going to be a new brood bitch.
This unshown dog I had bred was intact and not too old to breed from, so we bought a bitch to go with him. Mrs. Peck helped me find her, and she was sired by a Swedish dog. Her name was Ch. Vin-Melca's Rebel Rouser; she was bred the first time to my old dog and the second time to Bjønn.
Was Bjønn really outstanding for his time?
Very much so — he was a turning point for the breed. His younger brother was imported by a Norwegian woman who lived in Washington State. The two dogs couldn't have been any more different — the one being a really compact, correct type but a little on the feminine side, and the dog, the one in the Northwest, being a big, masculine stallion of a dog. That one was three or four years younger than Bjønn, and in time what I did was utilize that dog, and the dogs down from him, when I moved to California.
Bjønn brought the square, up-on-leg look to the American Elkhound, which in those days tended to be longer and a less correct type. Bjønn was the first Elkhound to ever win the Group at Westminster, handled by Tom Gately, in 1959. He is in the pedigree of every single Elkhound who has ever won the Group there since then, which are the ten Groups won by five dogs of mine. [Since this interview was conducted, Pat won her 11th Westminster Hound Group, in 2017 with GCh. Vin-Melca’s Daggarwood Delight. — Ed.]
Bjønn brought attention to the correct, square, hunting-type dog that the Norwegian masters of that era were teaching us to appreciate. He not only got breeders' attention; we had such wonderful judges in those days that they were able to see the difference in this dog, and how this dog was so much more like what the breed standard was describing than the longer, off-type dogs they'd been seeing.
Bjønn didn't go on to a huge Best in Show record, though, did he?
He won three or four Best in Shows, but the Pecks spent more of their energies concentrating on their breeding program, and their dogs were shown basically in the Northeast.
I want to ask you about the Norwegian people. Were you in touch with anyone?
I had a correspondence that lasted a couple decades with Miss Gerd Berbom. She saved the breed during World War II. She took some of the very best stock to England, and the dogs were saved. A lot of good dogs were lost during the Nazi occupation, and it wouldn't surprise me if some of them were eaten for survival. Thank God she had taken these dogs to England, including this great dog, Ch. Steig av Jarlsberg. He sired Bjønn and Viking, the dog in the Northwest, who was in many respects more like the sire, and Bjønn was more like the dam. Interestingly enough, the best progeny from Bjønn were his daughters. Two of his daughters were what made me as a breeder: Ch. Vin- Melca's Rabble Rouser and Ch. Vin-Melca's Moa of Pitch Road, owned by the Pecks.
How did you find Gerd Berbom?
She judged our national specialty. The first Elkhound national specialty was in Ohio in 1962. They had them every three years then, and they always had Norwegian judges. The second one was at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1965, and she judged it. We had an entry of 120. I went Winners Bitch with one of my Bjønn daughters. She gave BOB to Arctic Storm of Pomfret from the American-Bred class, and eventually he ended up in my kennel. Miss Berbom came to a round-table talk with a dozen of the Elkhound people after the judging, including Mrs. Peck, and lectured us about the degree of difficulty in keeping the high-stationed, correct look of the dog. She emphasized to us, and these are Gerd Berbom's exact words, that "The breed tends to breed small, so you need to value large dogs that have correct type." She was the one who influenced me to prefer a dog a tad over ideal, as opposed to any under ideal.
Have you found that to be true?
Absolutely true. I have a litter of puppies right now that I'm biting my fingernails for, wondering if they're going to make size. There's plenty of size behind them, but the breed breeds small. Unfortunately, people aren't aware of that. You want a 20½-inch dog to have 10½ inches of leg from elbow to ground, or even more.
What about the other Norwegian judges?
Johnny Aarflot was absolutely one of the greats. Olaf Roig, an all-rounder, was wonderful. I think he was one of the greatest judges I've ever seen. Olav Campbell was a very good Elkhound judge.
What was your first really good Elkhound?
Rebel Rouser, the bitch that Mrs. Peck helped me locate and which my mother bought me as a graduation present, was a turning point for me. I consider Rebel Rouser my true foundation bitch. She was very up on leg, very square. She's a bitch that I could use today.
Did you get yourself set up with a kennel at this point?
No, I never had a kennel. I still don't. I was teaching school by now. I started teaching school in Virginia.
How many dogs did you keep?
I had three. I got Rebel Rouser in 1958, I was living at home, and we had a litter from her. The second litter I had from her was by Bjønn, and when I came to California in the summer of ’61, I brought Rebel Rouser and two puppy bitches with me. The puppies were a couple of weeks too young to show at the Ventura/Santa Barbara weekend. I took Rebel Rouser, who wasn't quite back in great coat, and she won the breed at Ventura under Eva Hill, and the next day she went Best of Opposite Sex at Santa Barbara to a dog George Payton was showing, Ch. Windy Cove's Silver Son, that I later bred to.
While I was in California I visited some friends in Carmel Valley — they were Doberman people and owned Ch. Val-Eric's Slip Stitch. I showed her a few times that summer, and I also started showing a couple of Arline Swalwell's Windridge Cockers. My friends suggested I get a job and stay in California for a while. I got a job teaching, and I got into Carmel the next year, which was wonderful. When Tom and Ann Stevenson stopped breeding Standard Poodles, they gave their whelping box to Arline. She was well into her 60s at the time, so she gave me the whelping box, and all of my dogs have been whelped in that whelping box — I've rebuilt it two or three times.
Do you still have it?
Oh, yes, it's my lucky whelping box!
Were the Elkhounds out West different than in Virginia?
They were really good. They were far better than the ones in the East. The people up in the Northwest had gotten some stock from Bjønn. The people back East didn't seem to have the same handle on breeding that the people in the Northwest did. There were two or three kennels in the Northwest that had quality dogs. I was able to utilize dogs that came down from them.
The First Top Dog
Which was the first really successful show dog you had?
Ch. Vin-Melca's Howdy Rowdy. But I won Groups with the Rebel Rouser bitch.
Ch. Vin-Melca's Howdy Rowdy, BIS under Charles Kellogg in the late 1960s. He was the sire of 166 champions and won Pat's first major win at Westminster — Group 3rd in 1968.
How did you get Howdy Rowdy?
I had left a bitch from the litter Rebel Rouser had by my old dog with my aunt in Virginia. She was bred to Ch. Trygve Vikingsson and I got a bitch from that, Ch. Vin-Melca's Vikina. I bred Vikina to Ch. Windy Cove's Rowdy Ringo and got Ch. Vin-Melca's Howdy Rowdy.
Sounds to me like you had a pretty carefully mapped out breeding program, even then.
Yes, it was in some ways better then than it is now, because I was with my dogs all the time and not separated from them as much as now. One needs to focus on each dog, as well as the family in general, to improve the breeding program.
My early mentors were breeders who influenced me to think like a breeder were the Pecks, Muriel Laubach, Johnny Davis, Heywood Hartley, for example. Your perspective is enhanced when you have mentors from more than your own breed, because you get out of the box. Sometimes when your mentors are all in your own breed they tend to influence you more than they might if you had mentors from a variety of breeds. It was very enriching to have people who were very good dog people in their own breeds to guide me. Norman Austin was one of my really good mentors, and that's where I learned to appreciate fronts. When you grow up in Cocker Spaniels, neck and shoulders is a run-on word. You learn to appreciate neck and shoulders.
Sounds as if you were on your way as a breeder ...
What I had hoped for, when I bred Vikina, who was a Rebel Rouser granddaughter, to Ringo, was to get a bitch to breed to Ch. Vin-Melca's Vickssen, who was a Rebel Rouser son sired by her own grandson. Well, I didn't get a bitch — I got three dogs, and Howdy Rowdy was one of them. Because Vikina was in a pet home, there would only be one more litter, so she was bred to Vickssen, and that produced Ch. Vin-Melca's Vagabond. Here's a bitch who had, like, nine puppies in her entire life, and two of them were Howdy Rowdy and Vagabond — one was the all-time top sire with 166 champions to his credit, and the other was the #1 Dog All Breeds.
Was she wonderful herself?
She was an improvement over Ulf's Madam Helga, that's for sure, and she had the best head of any bitch I had at the time, and her son Howdy Rowdy was also noted for his wonderful head. She could have used a little more leg and a little shorter loin, but when bred to Vickssen, who was really leggy and short in loin, she produced those desirable qualities.
You could say that Ulf's Madam Helga was my personal foundation bitch, because she was my first bitch — but that's not a real, true foundation bitch. A true foundation bitch, in my opinion, is a foundation bitch for the breed. That's what Rebel Rouser was, and even more so what Vikina was. We had very good luck with Rebel Rouser — in those days to win a group with an Elkhound was unreal, and Rebel Rouser won several groups under some very respected judges to become the #2 Elkhound ...
The interesting point is that the judges obviously appreciated what they saw.
Yes. I credit Bjønn and those dogs in the Pacific Northwest with helping to educate the judges' eyes. Ramona Van Court, who was one of our greatest all-rounders in those days, came to our national specialty and watched the Norwegian judges pick these leggier, square, upstanding dogs, and it totally changed her judging, and she became one of our very most talented Elkhound judges — she was a gifted Elkhound judge after that experience.
Do you think it happens very often that judges manage to turn around like she did?
Yes, those who want to get it right keep an open mind to continue learning from breed experts. Perhaps it is difficult for some to turn it around, because we are creatures of habit. Nonetheless, we owe it to the breeds we judge to expand our knowledge.
Were Elkhounds getting noticed in other parts of the country?
Yes, by the ’60s there were a number of Best in Show Elkhounds in the Pacific Northwest, and the Crafdal dogs in Ohio also brought attention to the breed. Ch. Trygve Vikingsson was a big winner. Previously the group was dominated by Afghans, Dachshunds, Beagles, Bassets and Whippets, but Mr. and Mrs. Robert Crafts and the Pecks, as well as the conglomerate of people in the Pacific Northwest, changed that.
Do you think that your handling had a lot to do with your early success?
Yes, thanks to Johnny Davis and Norman Austin, who were so gifted at bringing out the best in a dog. I was very lucky to have such wonderful people teaching me how to handle. Also, I was a nut about conditioning. Over the years on the hottest of days when even the desert dogs were wilting in the group, my dogs outlasted the others because they were so fit. They had "bottom"!
Which means what?
"Bottom" is when a horse puts that extra kick at the finish line at the Belmont — when he's so exhausted he can hardly do it, but he does it anyway. What it means is that the animals are conditioned so that they're able to stand tougher elements than others.
How did you achieve that level of condition?
I ran with them a lot.
Nimbus on the beach in California with Pat. Photo Jayne Langdon.
Where did you jog them — in the streets?
Sometimes. I liked to mix it up, because I think dogs can become very bored with routines. Most days I'd take them to the beach and run along a path above Point Lobos, which swings around where the dogs could see the seals — all sorts of things to keep them interested. When l had horses, I used to work them beside the horses. Sometimes we would work by a bike or — with great care — by a car.
You didn't feel that having these fun workouts with you made them bored at the dog shows?
No. My dogs had a good work ethic! I'm not going to say you can always keep them interested — most Elkhounds can be totally bored by what they consider the repetition of the dog show. We had to think of ways to keep their interest. The expert in thinking of tricks to keep a natural-eared breed turned on is Jimmy Moses. He's always working with his dogs. The one that tested me the most was Ch. Vin-Melca's Last Call, "Gilda." Sometimes I would crinkle the cellophane off a cigarette pack to get her ears up — it would be a different sound; then the next time I would do something different. A different taste of bait — one time chicken, the next time liver, and the next time this or that — and even then you couldn't count on her.
You said Howdy Rowdy sired how many champions?
One hundred sixty-six, all by natural breeding. I don't remember how many litters there were, probably about 65 — someone averaged it at about three champions per litter. In those days people who bred Elkhounds in California showed them, and the competition was keen.
Was that the all-time record then, for any breed?
No, the Springer Ch. Salilyn's Aristocrat sired 188 champions. Both dogs of course got their records without frozen semen. They'll be broken, which is fine — that's what records are for.
Too Many Shows?
In the mid-’60s, when you were showing the Cocker, how many shows were you going to a year?
The Cocker was #1 Parti-Color in ’59. I probably went to 25 dog shows that year. When Vagabond was top dog all breeds in 1970, I went to exactly 87 dog shows.
Ch. Vin-Melca's Calista en route to Group 1st under Mrs. Robert V. Lindsay at Westminster in 1990. She was Top Hound in both 1989 and 1990, #2 of All Breeds in 1990, and won 66 BIS. Photo Michele Perlmutter.
That's less than half of what many go to today.
A lot less than half. When Ch. Vin-Melca's Calista ("Sarah") was #2 all breeds in 1990, I went to 120 shows. On a recent circuit a handler told me there were eight shows in eight days, with one set of shows in one area and another set of shows in another; then all would go to a third set without ever going home. The handler said something about "too many shows that are killing us all," but if he goes to 140 shows and his competition goes to 180, he's not going to win the honors his client wants. I'm told some of the dogs are going to 200-220 shows in a year now.
Do you think there's a solution?
One horse registry uses a formula that counts only the first 100 shows of the year for statistical purposes. Exhibitors can show as often as they like and it tallies for the animal's complete record. However, yearly stats are based only on the first 100 shows for the given animal.
That's a very practical idea. It would level the playing field, owner-handlers versus professionals, and would level it out for the professionals.
There's no way to separate the dog game into an amateur/professional thing, so this would serve to allow amateurs and professionals to plan a more sane campaign in the ratings race while protecting both dogs and exhibitors from exhaustion. Obviously, your total record would be compiled, but the ratings would be based on the first 100 shows, or whatever other criteria could be established.
How did you travel to shows? You always drove yourself?
Oh, yes. I did fly to the occasional show, but that was the exception.
And you were always the owner-handler?
How did you finance this, if you don't mind my asking? You were a schoolteacher — you were working. How could you do it, working full time?
Well, I married John Craige and we bought this new house in Carmel in 1969. I was sitting on the stoop looking at this scraggly front yard, thinking, I don't really want to take care of the yard, so why don't we put a pool in here? So we got a pool. Then a few months later Vagabond won the group at the Garden. Rick Beauchamp has a sense of the dog game, and he encouraged me to go for it early on. He said the shows count just as much now as they do at the end of the year. In those days the only show in California in March was the Oakland benched show, so I flew to the circuit three consecutive weekends with Vagabond, and he did very well. Anyhow, Rick encouraged me to make a run for it, and I asked John what he thought, and he said we could always borrow money on the house ... By the end of the summer we were wondering what they would repossess — the hole or the water if they took away the swimming pool! Anyhow, John supported me, and I supported the dogs.
Vagabond won the Group at Westminster in 1970 and 1971, and was Group 2nd in 1972. The photo is from 1971 and the judge is Peter Knoop.
You didn't have a co-owner on Vagabond, did you?
Who was your main competition that year?
Corky Vroom. It's almost like fate — it was Corky every time. He had the Dobe, Ch. Rancho-Dobe's Maestro, who was #2 of all breeds to Vagabond. I knew the Rancho Dobe people, who were still breeding then, and used to visit them in Los Angeles. In the Group my big competition was the Beagle, Ch. King's Creek Triple Threat, with Marcia Foy.
Did you ever compete with them?
Only at the big shows back East. I think maybe Somerset Hills and Westchester, and of course the Garden.
What was the first time you went to the Garden?
In the ’50s. Even in those days you could miss your entry to Westminster because of the limit to numbers. I was showing the Cocker and I had this wonderful weekend with him — placed in the group in Philadelphia and went Best in Show at Camden the next day. This was the first weekend in December, and Muriel decided we'd take him to the Garden. She got the entry in too late, but I had the Elkhound bitch entered, so I went to Westminster anyhow. A Cocker breeder from Ohio had me show one of his dogs, and he won the variety, so that was my first win at the Garden. My Elkhound bitch went Best Opposite to Bjønn, and Bjønn was third in the group that year.
Have you been to Westminster pretty much every year since then?
Pretty much. The first year I won the breed there was with Howdy Rowdy, in 1969, I think, and he went third in the group.
Ch. Vin-Melca's Homesteader winning the Hound Group at Westminster under Haworth Hoch in 1974. He was Top Hound that year. Photo Evelyn Shafer.
The Best Westminster
Please reminisce a little about the times you've won the Group at Westminster and competed in Best in Show. Which was the most fun? The biggest surprise?
The most fun and the biggest surprise were both with Vagabond when he won the group in 1970 and 1971. No competition was stronger than that between Nimbus and "Punky" [the Greyhound Ch. Aroi Talk of the Blues. - Ed.], with them alternating groups — they won two groups each in alternating years — starting in 1977. I don't know what to think when it comes to BIS at the Garden, but I still covet my copy of the book with the fictional Old English and the girl who wins Eastminster with it!
Pat and Ch. Vin-Melca's Vagabond on the cover of Kennel Review, February 1969. In 1970 he was No. 1 All Breeds. Photo Jayne Langdon.
Backtracking a little, what was it like having these three outstanding males – Vickssen, Vagabond and Howdy Rowdy at stud all at once? Were people interested in breeding to them?
I think they were. There were a lot of young breeders at the time, and Howdy Rowdy won the National under Olav Campbell, Vagabond was a baby and went Reserve Winners Dog. Vickssen won Stud Dog. It really spotlighted Howdy Rowdy, because Mr. Campbell commented on his virtues and how much the breed needed them. He had been used at stud a few times prior to that win, and the puppies were very promising, so in Northern California all the people bred their bitches to him. The breed was very strong for a number of years because of his progeny. You have to bear in mind, his mother was sired by a top producer – Trygve Vikingsson — and his father was the first dog Corky Vroom ever got a Best in Show on, and that was Rowdy Ringo. He was a very strong, masculine dog, too, and Howdy seemed to have the best of both Trygve Vikingsson and Rowdy Ringo to pass on to his progeny.
Who was your best sire?
Howdy Rowdy. In my opinion, he was probably the strongest sire the breed ever had.
Ch. Vin-Melca's Hondo winning the group at Santa Barbara Kennel Club under Swedish judge Carin Lindhé. Hondo followed Vagabond and was very special to Pat but died while temporarily with a handler. Photo Henry Schley.
Did you continue to special the year after Vagabond?
I started showing Ch. Vin-Melca's Hondo, and then we lost that dog ... I still can't talk about it. [He tragically died while temporarily with a handler. - Ed.] It wasn't until the summer of 1972 that I got interested in specialing a dog again when the Valley Forge dog got a Best in Show from the classes. I thought maybe I'd do this again, so we ran him in ’73.
Then it became a habit, right?
Yes, you get caught up in it.
How did you go about getting co-owners for the various specials after that?
It was interesting, because sometimes people would come to me — they would have one of my dogs, and they would want to be a part of it. All those early people were Elkhound people. They had a dog in the classes they were showing. We had a wonderful Elkhound community in those days. All of my top dogs were bred from the others before them. Barnstormer sired Bombardier, Nimbus sired Smuggler, Calista and Bombardier produced Marketta. As far as we have been able to research, Marketta is the only dog of any breed to ever win Quaker Oats and have a Quaker Oats sire and dam. She and her dam Calista together won four Westminster group firsts, a great feat for any mother-daughter combination.
Have you had any problems combining the show career with producing?
Not really, and I think it's tragic when a great bitch doesn't get into the gene pool. I think it's a loss to the breed. We've tried to avoid that with our bitches. If the bitch is kept fit and you don't show her too long, you'll get puppies from her. They have a saying in horses, "If you race a filly too long, you leave her foals on the track." Last Call ("Gilda") was bred before she was shown, and became, in time, the dam of 27 champions — every one of her puppies finished.
At what ages did you breed her?
She was bred for the first time at a little over a year because Vagabond was 14, so I didn't dare wait any longer. (We weren't using frozen semen then.) We showed her two years, so she was retired at four years of age. Calista, Sarah, was not bred before she was specialed, because I had Carol Andersen anxious to go on as co-owner. Later, when she retired with 66 BIS, several people thought I should keep her out and try for the magic 100. But I didn't want to risk her potential as a brood bitch, so she was bred at four years of age. This was a fit bitch who whelped a litter of seven in an hour or so, and her daughter Marketta later did the same thing.
A Change of Pace
When did you stop specialing?
When Chuck Trotter came into my life, in 1993. Marketta won the group at Westminster, and right after that Chuck asked me to marry him, and we got married in April of ’94. I didn't show her for the whole year but went back to the Garden the next year, and she won the group again in 1995.
Chuck and Pat Trotter ringside at Morris & Essex. Photo by Mary Bloom.
Has there been a year when you haven't been specialing, between Vagabond and when you started judging?
I specialed dogs on a regular basis from 1970 through 1993.
Do you think campaigning dogs has become much more intense in recent years?
I think we've lost sight of the dogs while we concentrate on the show. It is a dog show, and the dogs should be the most important element. People today seem to be more interested in the process of showing than they are in the breeding that produces the dogs, and all the things that go into dogs. The dog show is just another competitive thing, like any sport, but nobody would think of trying to play professional golf without having the skills. I don't know that dog people are addressing the basics the way they once did.
You stayed a breeder through all your exhibiting, of course.
To me, the exhibiting is an extension of the breeding. There's nothing that thrills me more than going to a big Elkhound specialty — to see what the other breeders have, and to discover a young dog and then research his pedigree and find out that he might be of interest in your gene pool.
Vin-Melca Norwegian Elkhounds winning Kennel Review's Breeder of the Year in the Tournament of Champions. Photo Booth.
How much did you breed? How many litters per year?
Three, maybe. We have not had a litter after January 1, 2004.
Is it possible to place Elkhound puppies?
It was a lot easier when I was teaching school — I had all those kids!
How did you cope with teaching school all week and then driving hundreds of miles, and re-bathing the dog, and showing, and then driving through the night Sunday night, and teaching school on Monday?
What's this about re-bathing? No. The year Vagabond was campaigned he was not bathed the whole year! The dogs were usually bathed at home.
How did you clean him up?
He was groomed thoroughly every day, and he was misted and toweled, and if I felt that he needed something to go through his coat I would use the foo-foo on him and then groom it out. He was never bathed, because I was afraid it would trash his coat. He was powdered at every show from elbows down — his legs were soaked, baby powder was packed into them, and then he sat in his crate and it dried and fell out, and he was brushed and shown.
In 1973 Mary Roberts, who had the top German Shepherds for many years, and I got to discussing how to keep the dogs in coat when you're campaigning them all the time. I told her I had never bathed Vagabond for the whole year I campaigned him. She had gone through that with one of her earlier dogs, and later decided to bathe the dog every week, and she thought it was easier and kept the coat moving. So then I started bathing them every week. I bathed the dog Thursday night and left for the show on Friday. I never used a blow dryer at a show, and I don't to this day. I bathe and then I use one of the coat products in a mist, and then water, and then powder the legs and brush it out.
When I got to Nimbus, we had a severe water shortage in California in the late ’70s and it wasn't possible to bathe every week, so I didn't bathe him as much. Basically, it works either way as long as the routine brushing work is done.
Ch. Vin-Melca's Nimbus won the Hound Group at Westminster twice, and remained among the top four of all breeds in the U.S. for three years (#2 in 1978). The Westminster Group win in 1979 came under Melbourne Dowling. Photo Gilbert.
I really want to know how you coped with all that working and driving.
There's something about driving in the middle of the night, by yourself out there on the highway, that gives you an opportunity to think and evaluate your breeding program, or anything else you're doing in your life. There is an energizing element to doing something while the rest of the world sleeps. I never minded it. I would pull out of my driveway on Friday afternoon, and I felt this rush: I'm off to the shows with my dogs, and it was always therapeutic — win, lose or draw.
What did you travel in?
Dodge vans are great. I still have a Dodge van. I used to name them. I had Van Johnson, Vanessa, Van Dyke and Van Gogh.
What was your actual kennel facility like? How many dogs did you have?
There were so many people in what I would call the greater Elkhound community with whom I co-owned dogs that we had our animals scattered all over Northern California. I probably had 15 dogs, at the most, at home …
Do you think it worked well, co-breeding litters?
Yes. Everybody worked cooperatively. If there was a situation where somebody wanted a dog more than I did, I let them have the dog. All I wanted them for was to breed them anyhow.
So you didn't have stringent contracts and that kind of thing?
No. We weren't as litigious in those days as we are today. We've drifted away from the days when a person's word was their bond.
How could you go to work on Monday morning after a whole day at the dog show and driving all night?
I've never required a whole lot of sleep. I was always there on Monday morning ... But when I got home from school on Mondays, after I got my dog exercised, I turned in early. The only time l'd ever stay up late on Mondays was for Monday night football, and in California it's over by nine or so.
What did the kids think — did they know you were going to dog shows?
Oh, yes. When Sarah won her first Group at the Garden the kids had just learned how to make those big banners with computers, and they had them strung all over the school.
Did you usually travel with just the one special, or did you have a couple of dogs with you?
Usually I would have class animals with me. Occasionally I'd have two Best in Show dogs in my van and decide at the last minute which one to show. When I could set up outside the show limits I would take puppies to socialize and school.
Later, when the shows proliferated, was it a handicap that you weren't able to attend as many Thursday and Friday shows?
It was. If it was a Friday and a Monday show, I would try to make the Friday show, because I thought you had to make the first one. Then I would leave and not make the Monday.
What was your relationship with the professional handlers?
Great. They were my best friends, and still are.
Of all the handlers, Corky Vroom probably showed more for you personally, right? Why was that?
Yes, I guess it just sort of evolved down from Ch. Windy Cove's Rowdy Ringo. He showed Ringo, and he always took a lot of interest in Howdy. He won a specialty with Howdy when Howdy was 10 years old. Corky and I stayed very good friends through some stressful campaigns.
Of all the dogs you've specialed, which ones were your favorites? Did you have a personal favorite that you liked best?
Probably Sarah, Ch. Vin-Melca's Calista. The reason is there were some stressful things happening in my life in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and of all the dogs I've ever owned, Sarah was the truest soulmate. She knew what I was thinking. She was like another person. Sarah was the most understanding animal I've ever known. She was able to read your needs, and she tried her best to do those things for you.
Interestingly enough, Mike Scott felt that way about Ch. Vin-Melca's Silver Shadow ("Royce"), when he specialed him a couple of years ago.
Did Sarah want to please you in the show ring, too?
I wouldn't say that — it took a while to convince her of that. But Sarah was the epitome of a bitch that would personify the phrase "man's best friend," and Nimbus was the dog. For me, that is.
If you had to pick one as the model to show judges and other people, "This is what an Elkhound should look like," could you pick one?
I don't know that I could. I think Vagabond would be the prototype most people would have, because he was so up on leg and square, and such an excellent mover. As a breeder, two dogs that appealed to me greatly were Smuggler and Bombardier.
Judging and Showing
When did you start judging?
I think I judged my first show in 1994 or 1995.
Since then you haven't been specialing at the all-breed level as much as before, right?
I show about half a dozen weekends a year, so I wouldn't call that very serious. It's because my judging and doing seminars and educational things only occasionally allows me to show my dogs. I try to schedule it so I can make our National and occasional specialties, but my schedule doesn't allow me much time.
Since she became a judge, Pat Trotter has only shown the occasional special. Ch. Vin-Melca's Debonair won BIS at Little Fort Kennel Club in 1998 under judge Robert A. Fisher. Photo Booth.
Do you miss showing?
Very much. I love being with my dogs — I'm happy to be in the ring. It's great. You can't love breeding and never want to be in the ring with your dogs. I still love to get in the ring with the dogs I've bred occasionally. It's a very controversial subject. I hear all these people who gave up their breeding programs when they started judging, because it wasn't "fair" for them to do that.
What are your feelings about this — do you think it's a conflict?
For me, no, I don't have a conflict with it.
Do you think exhibitors have a problem with it?
Does AKC have a problem with it?
You'd have to ask AKC. I think many judges have a problem with it — they're uncomfortable.
I like to go in the ring occasionally with my dogs, because first of all, I think it keeps me out of the couch-potato syndrome. It keeps me in touch with my dogs, and my dogs are my family. You wouldn't want to have grandchildren and never have dinner with them. Also, I like to be in the ring with something that I feel is correct type for the breed and represents my breeding program.
Do you think that as a judge it's good for you to be an exhibitor on occasion?
You take a puppy in the ring and it makes an idiot of you, and it certainly does remind you of how they can humble you. I respect the fact that many judges don't want another judge in the ring, and I'm comfortable with whatever they choose to do with the dog. I can live with it. I respect their discomfort and understand it. In return, I would hope they would respect my right to walk into the ring and exhibit an animal I believe to be of correct type. That's all I ask of them.
What do you think of the Elkhound club's policy of having the National every other year, or every three years, as opposed to other breeds that have one every year? Does it make it more special because it's more seldom?
I think it does. What they do is have the futurity and another specialty on the off year. I don't think you necessarily have to have one every year to make it meaningful. Maybe it's more meaningful to have it every two years.
You say you don't have a kennel, but I think you mentioned that you've got 18 dogs right now. How do you keep them? What kind of help do you have?
We have a barn and a huge basement as well as three acres fenced. Dogs take turns in paddocks and get moved around a lot by Mark Munson, who manages our place and is like our son.
Have you always wanted to judge?
I never planned on being a judge at all. I think anybody who breeds is a judge, whether they realize it or not, because you judge your own breeding stock. You judge what bitch you want to put into the breeding program, you judge what sire to take her to, then you judge the resultant progeny and decide if any of them are worth going on with, or if this litter didn't quite live up to your expectations. I never planned to judge with a badge until I met Chuck, and it was obvious that, in order for us to have a meaningful life together, I would have to judge some. Do I enjoy it? Yes, it's a lot of fun. It's great to have a dog you really like, a puppy coming up, to enjoy other people's dogs, too. Sometimes you want to take them home.
Where does your husband come from in dogs?
Chuck started out in German Shepherds. He has a great appreciation for front ends. He really strongly rewards dogs that are correct there in his judging He went from Shepherds to Afghans. In time he became an all-breed handler, and was a rep for the PHA [Professional Handlers Association]. He started judging in 1980. He's approved to judge six of the seven Groups.
Which breeds did you start with?
I started with the Hounds, and in time I got into the Cockers and the Sporting dogs. I always felt just as at home in the Sporting Group as in the Hound Group.
Judging the Hound Group at Westminster in 2019.
You didn't get the whole Hound Group right away, did you?
As far as I know, I'm the only person who ever got tabled and voted on by a secret ballot of the AKC board. I had applied for the group, and apparently that was inappropriate.
What breeds did you get?
Elkhounds and a few other Hounds.
Judging New Breeds
How do you approach a new breed when you start judging it?
Before I hope to add a breed, I want to do a lot of research on that breed. I keep a file, and I have everything I can find on the history of the breed. I have quite a library, and I use it in the work I do, in writing my columns and lecturing. A great learning experience for me at national specialties has been when a parent club has invited me to talk to their breeders. I do a lot of research on a breed then, and I ask the parent club to send me materials, and I go to the breeders and find out what parts of the breed relate, and so on. I really do a lot of research, so I utilize that type of study on a breed before I get into it. Then I try to not only get the history and the purpose of the breed, but how does the standard represent that history and purpose? Then I try to go to some kennels — I try to get people who really know the breeds to point out the strengths and weaknesses of the breed, and those things that most exemplify breed character, and go from there. I try to get hands-on experience with the dogs. I talk to the world-class dog people — several — and try to get their perspective on the breed. You try to use an assortment of resources to help you get a feel for any breed.
Pat awarding Group 1st at the 2019 Westminster Kennel Club show to the Standard Longhaired Dachshund GCh. DC Walmar-Solo’s OMG, SL, JE, handled by Carlos Puig. Photo Ashbey.
What have been the highlights of your judging so far?
The English Setter national specialty, for one thing, and several other comparable situations, where the opportunity to compare breeding stock in depth was present.
You know how kids today look up to athletes or entertainers? That's how I felt about Ch. Rock Falls Colonel, the English Setter who was one of the first dogs to win 100 BIS. When I was a child one of my most thrilling experiences was when Bill Holt let me foo-foo the Colonel. So I could hardly wait to go to the English Setter National. There was a beautiful bitch named Ch. Reidwood Poetry in Motion that was absolutely breathtaking. It ended up that her daughter was Best Puppy under me, and she won the breed, and her sire was Best Opposite. That experience was such a thrilling experience because the work of two great breeders cooperating was evident in the glorious animals that resulted.
Then I kept falling in love with some beautiful Salukis all over the country. One day at a Hound show in Canada, a magnificent aged stallion of a Saluki came into the Veterans class and bowled me over. After awarding him the top honors it turned out to be Ch. Clarinda's Sunna Sarea Bashir, the sire of these marvelous animals, such as Ch. Carma's Drivin' Miss Daisy and Ch. Sundown Alabaster Treasure and others I had been admiring. Treasure first appeared before me as a very young class bitch at the big California summer hound show in a huge entry of Salukis ... I think she was entered in Bred-By Exhibitor, but it could have been the 12-18 Months class. Anyhow, she was BOW and pushed her half-sister Miss Daisy for BOB. What a thrill to see her mature into the top Hound and Westminster group winner she became, and then later to see her sire looking like dynamite and so much younger than his 13 years.
In the 1980s, two young men in California used to talk about their Afghans with me and how to breed them. They did a breeding we discussed and in time a daughter of that mating went on to produce a granddaughter that I saw first in the group at Trenton years later. So three generations down the road my eye went to Ch. Beachbrook Diamonds R Forever for the blue, and of course it delighted me to find out her lineage while the picture was being taken.
In the late ’80s a beautiful parti-color Cocker, Ch. Empire's Brooklyn Dodger, caught my eye as he sat on the grooming table. It had been a while since I had seen that head, neck and shoulder on a Cocker, and the dog captivated me. He became a super sire and his exciting son, Ch. Rendition's Triple Play, was #2 Dog All Breeds in 1995 and also a great sire. In time Triple Play's daughter, Ch. San-Jo's Playing To Win, walked into my ring with Michael Pitts and I couldn't take my eyes off her. Her so correct headpiece, her proper Cocker coat and Sporting dog type — in a bitch! — is so difficult to achieve, and now she has produced a top-winning son that does this family proud. So four generations later outstanding breeder-selection is validating the entire dog-show process.
Another delight for me was to put up a beautiful, broken-coated 6-month-old Ibizan Hound puppy BOB in a large supported entry and then to see her mature into a beautiful adult. Also, the beautiful Borzoi bitch Ch. Kyrov Kinobi Dancing Star with her superb outline, correct movement, great definition of bladed bone and detail of traits provided a highlight at the Borzoi National, where she was BOB under me, and again when it was my honor to award her an all-breed BIS. Breeders who produce these quality animals contribute so much to our sport.
Judging Best in Show
You've done quite a bit of Best in Show judging. Have there been any particularly memorable occasions?
I've had the opportunity to give some beautiful animals Best in Show: the Bichon, "J.R.," and "Mick," the Kerry Blue [Ch.'s Special Times Just Right and Torums Scarf Michael, respectively. - Ed.] — getting my hands on that dog was a wonderful thrill. Casey Gardner told me 35 years ago that a Kerry Blue is just like an Elkhound under that coat, headpiece and all. When I got my hands on that dog, it was wonderful. I felt the same way about Ch. Melbee's Chances Are, the other Kerry who was #1 all breeds 35 years before Mick.
It was a memorable occasion to award BIS to the aforementioned Ibizan, Ch. Gryphons Stellar Eminence, JC, three years after falling in love with her as a baby. Of course I eagerly await future puppies from her coming in the ring.
Whenever a lovely lineup appears before you, it is a special honor just to be in the ring with them. The German Shepherd "Dallas" (Ch. Kismet's Sight For Sore Eyes) was a stallion dog I was privileged to award BIS, and the results of his siring ability are winning honors all over the country. The biggest honor for me as a judge is for an animal that I select in the show ring to validate the selection by producing quality in the generations that follow.
This interview was done long before Pat judged Best in Show at Westminster 2021 -- it likely now tops her list of notable assignments. Flanking her are, from left, Westminster Kennel Club co-show chairs David Helming and David Haddock, and club president Charlton ("Chat") Reynders III.
You already mentioned Rock Falls Colonel. Are there any other great dogs that jump out in your mind over the years?
Colonel, Chances Are, J.R. and the Mick dog are personal favorites, but there have been many great dogs that jump out — too many to name. Certainly the Lakeland Terrier, Ch. Jo-Ni's Red Baron of Crofton, was a magnetic show dog as well as a great producer, as was Ch. Salilyn's Aristocrat, the Springer Spaniel.
Did you ever go back to Norway to look at Elkhounds?
Mrs. Peck was the person with all the ins in the old days, and more recently Paul and Nina Ross have gone to Norway a lot and given me feedback. No, I didn't go to Norway to search for their dogs, because it seemed the best ones had ended up here anyhow.
Do you get any input from Norway these days?
Yes, we still get judges from Norway.
Does anyone send dogs over?
I haven't seen any from Norway over here in a long time. You have to understand, in Norway today, just like with us, the wilderness areas are dwindling. In the old days there were hunter-farmers who kept Elkhounds and bred them, because a farm family had to have a moose or two to get them through the winter. Many more people have moved into town and are living in apartments. The Elkhound, although it's the national dog of Norway — I have coins with Elkhounds on them — is not a popular breed at the shows in Norway. You see more Poodles and American Cockers at the shows in spite of the registration numbers. Most Elkhounds are on farms and are family pets.
How Shows Have Changed
How do you think dog shows today have changed, from what they were when you got started?
I think that in the past breeders would concentrate on taking youngsters, and maybe a potential brood bitch and a potential sire, to a dog show, and they'd show a cross section of their breeding program at a few shows a year. We don't have that much anymore. Everyone finishes the good dogs so quickly — in many breeds, when you're judging the Open classes there's not much quality there. Most of the time, the puppies are where the quality is.
I believe that the increased number of shows has watered down the quality of the dogs at any given show, except for maybe Westminster and the national specialties, and the Invitational. The sad thing is that we are continuing to devalue the quality of the championship title all the time, because of the logistics of so many shows and so many dogs. A number of years ago it took 15 Elkhounds for a major in California — now it takes five. It took 48 dogs for a major in German Shepherds, now it takes 15. I feel we are hurting the breeders of the future by giving an inflated value to championships, many of which are not deserved.
Also, as to records — some kennels in breeds that are easy to house a lot of, and are not competitive in a given area, can finish a lot of dogs and get Registers of Merit (if that's what the parent club offers) on dogs that really aren't producing quality — they're producing numbers, and because it's not a competitive situation, dogs get inflated records. I'm very concerned about that, because once a dog is two or three generations removed, a record speaks for itself; the dogs are gone, and people coming along don't know, and I think it gives them a false feeling of quality that may not be there.
In 2009 Pat judged the Hound Group at Westminster and placed the Scottish Deerhound Ch. Gayleward's Tiger Woods first, handled by Cliff Steele.
What do you think can be done to improve that situation?
We could consider doing away with the BOB class and have everybody in Open, even though it would be unpopular. I believe it would serve to enhance the title.
You don't think it would discourage even more people, by not even being able to get points?
With as many shows as there are, they'd find them. When I go to Australia and all these Best in Show dogs are in an Open class, I think it raises the bar to achieving the championship.
Doesn't it also raise the bar for the judges, in that the judge isn't told this is a champion?
I think it raises the bar for everybody. I think that when quality dogs are knocking heads with each other, everybody benefits — most of all the breed. Look how the Williams sisters have raised the bar for women's tennis. They're so powerful! It hasn't been that many years since a man, Pancho Gonzalez, was one of the first to ever hit a 100 mph serve. These girls are hitting serves of 125 mph, just like the men. They have raised the bar for women's tennis by going head to head with each other.
With so many shows, and the dogs being so widely dispersed, maybe it would be good if we didn't have champions competing only for Best of Breed. If all the dogs were in Open, the judge would pick which one was the winner from those. I like that process. When we judge in Australia we find some real quality dogs that are the result of that process of judging. Anyhow, it is something to think about.
Do you think there's any way to decrease the number of shows?
Of course, there's been the suggestion that some shows could be "class A" shows and some "class B" shows, or whatever. I don't know what to think of that. I don't know which kennel clubs you would ask to back up or how you could sort it out.
There are so many shows, though. I always thought AKC would be able to control it, but when we interviewed Ron Menaker he said, "We can't do anything. We can't stop clubs from applying for shows."
AKC's hands are not tied to a Best of Breed class, with the Best of Breed class, though. They could try the system that works in Australia and England. They could at least bring it up before the delegate body and see what they think. Perhaps the answer would be to try it for one year and see how it works. People are very discouraged by mediocre dogs making their championships. It's very disheartening to withhold a ribbon from a dog you feel doesn't represent championship quality, and then find out it just needs a point to finish.
The Bred-By Exhibitor Class
What about the Bred-By Exhibitor class?
I feel that is the place where the best dogs ought to be at any given show. It isn't, because a lot of people who are breeders — who think themselves as breeders, new people and inexperienced people — are really just owners of bitches who mate them. Sometimes they'll have their best one in Open and they'll just have their filler in Bred-By, because it was a cheaper entry fee. I think they don't totally respect the Bred-By Exhibitor class. I'm always so glad to see quality in the BBE class. It's embarrassing when someone brings mediocre or less dogs into Bred-By. I wish there was some way to make the Bred-By Exhibitor class so that breeders understand you really need to know what you're doing when you go into that class — to make them appreciate the meaning of it more than they seem to.
Do you think AKC could do anything more to encourage the Bred-By class?
If there were some way we could evolve the breeder-education program, we would have better dogs in the Bred-By Exhibitor class. I also think a lot of breeders don't realize that, many times when they show against the professional handler and they think they're being unfairly treated by judges, they could switch dogs with the professional handler and he could take their dog and still beat them. They don't realize the things they do to interfere with their dog's opportunity of achieving the most it's capable of achieving. Many times the dog is not properly schooled before it is brought to the ring, so it doesn't know what's expected of it. The owner has not practiced moving it with a knowledgeable friend so they know the best way to gait it. There are a number of ways to enhance a dog and a number of ways to interfere with it. One must understand that the two minutes in the ring is the cumulative result of a lot of work.
Do you feel the owner-handler is at a disadvantage?
The owner-handler has a lot of advantages. First of all, he knows the family of the dog if he's a breeder, so he might have a head start on knowing how to deal with the dog's psyche, and its inherited behavior characteristics. He's with his dog all the time. He has really made it his business to perfect his skills of handling for that breed — putting it down correctly for the ring, the right trim, presentation and grooming for that breed.
The owner-handler who has made it his business to become as skilled as the best pros at grooming and presenting the breed has an advantage. The owner-handler has more time to spend with the dog, more time to focus on one dog. They have a disadvantage if they think that simply by being the owner-handler, they can compete, and they don't recognize that an excellent handler can beat them with his dog, but also could take their dog and give them his dog and still beat them — if they don't understand that, then they need to take a look at their handling skills.
Maybe they need to have someone videotape them when they're in the ring. Maybe they need to have somebody they trust suggest to them how they could move the dog a little differently, how they could stand the dog a little differently, how they could get the dog to use itself. If someone thinks they're being beaten unfairly by the professionals, a video might show them how they can learn to do the same thing.
Pat judging the Hound Group at Westminster in 2009.
Do you genuinely believe there's a place for the talented owner-handler at the top, that you can beat the pros?
Absolutely. Look at Leon Goetz, who went over to Crufts and won the group with the Australian Shepherd just last year. I don't think he has been in dogs very long. He had a wonderful record on his male, and now look what he's doing with this bitch. I think the sport of dogs opens its arms to people from all walks of life. That includes owner-handlers. How you decide to go about achieving your goals will determine how far you can go.
What percent of the judges do you think give owner-handlers a fair shot?
Most of them. I really think judges want to do the right thing. I think breeders and dog people who are competing want to do the right thing. The biggest problem that we have is that we're not always on the same page as to what the right thing is. Nobody enters a dog show to lose, and nobody goes to judge a dog show to mess the breed up. Nothing is impossible. But if people keep doing what they've always done, they'll get what they've always gotten. It's like behavior modification. If you want change, you have to effect it; you have to change what you're doing.
This is what I tell people at my seminars. If you're satisfied with your breeding program, and you're producing what you want, you don't need to make any changes. But if you want something different, then you have got to look at your dog with a jaundiced eye, and start looking at the dogs of those who are beating you with a litttle bit more rose-colored glasses. Most people are very forgiving of things that are wrong with their own dogs, and totally unforgiving of anybody else's. When they learn to be forgiving of other people's and less forgiving of their own, they make progress. No dog is as bad as the competitors think he is, and no dog is as good as the owner thinks he is.
I love the quote in your books [Born To Win — Breed To Succeed] that says you learned early on that you couldn't ever guarantee that you'd have the best dog in the show …
… but I could have the best-conditioned one. That was in my control. You can't control whether or not you'll have the best dog. You could know all of the dogs in competition, and know you have the best one, and somebody comes in that's got a better one that you didn't know was coming in. But you can control whether or not you have the best-conditioned dog. Another point I make that I think is a very valid one is, you as a breeder/owner/exhibitor need to be the best judge of your own dogs, and if you aren't, you need to make it your business to become that.
When did you retire from teaching?
I retired when I married Chuck. I didn't want to start over again at the bottom of the pay scale when I moved to Tennessee. But teaching is a high — to think you could teach one kid, or one breeder, and make a difference, in the case of a kid, to mankind, and in the case of a breeder, to his breed. And you learn by teaching. Every adult needs a child to teach — that's how adults learn …
When you look in the group ring at a nice, regular show, what's your impression of the quality of the dogs in general, as opposed to looking at a line-up of group dogs 40 years ago?
Much better than you might think, at certain levels. It depends on what else is going on in the rest of the country on a given weekend, on what the entry is at that show, and so on — but I think at certain venues the group line-ups, some groups especially, are as strong today as they've ever been. There's not any reason in the world to think we can't keep breeding great dogs, but we need to make it a little more difficult to earn certain honors so that we have better quality dogs across the board.
What are your plans for the future, and where do you see yourself being with the dogs in the sport in a few years?
We plan to return to Carmel, and Chuck and I hope to get on the beach with some of the dogs for some romps and runs. There will always be dogs in my life as long as I am able to care and provide for them, because dogs are my life. I also hope to keep working with the young people coming up in the sport so they will be the future guardians of our breeds.
Westminster Group Wins and Placements
1969 Ch. Vin-Melca's Howdy Rowdy, Group 3rd
1970 Ch. Vin-Melca's Vagabond, Group 1st
1971 Ch. Vin-Melca's Vagabond, Group 1st
1972 Ch. Vin-Melca's Vagabond, Group 2nd
1974 Ch. Vin-Melca's Homesteader, Group 1st
1977 Ch. Vin-Melca's Nimbus, Group 1st
1979 Ch. Vin-Melca's Nimbus, Group 1st
1982 Ch, Vin-Melca's Last Call, Group 3rd
1983 Ch. Vin-Melca's Before Dawn, Group 3rd
1985 Ch. Vin-Melca's The Smuggler, Group 2nd
1986 Ch. Vin-Melca's Call To Arms, Group 1st
1989 Ch. Vin-Melca's Calista, Group 1st
1990 Ch. Vin-Melca's Calista, Group 1st
1994 Ch. Vin-Melca's Marketta, Group 1st
1995 Ch. Vin-Melca's Marketta, Group 1st
2002 Ch. Vin-Melca's Silver Shadow, Group Зrd
2015 Ch. Vin-Melca's Daggarwood Delight, Group 1st
Top Hound Rankings
Only number of BIS reported in annual all-breed stats are reported.
1968 Ch. Vin-Melca's Howdy Rowdy, #9 Hound, 3 BIS
1969 Ch. Vin-Melca's Vagabond, #3 Hound, 4 BIS
1970 Ch. Vin-Melca's Vagabond, #1 Hound/#1 All Breeds, 15 BIS
1971 Ch. Vin-Melca's Vagabond, #7 Hound, 5 BIS
1972 Ch. Vin-Melca's Valley Forge, #9 Hound, 3 BIS
1973 Ch. Vin-Melca's Valley Forge, #1 Hound/#5 All Breeds, 11 BIS
Homesteader also winning Best in Show at Santa Barbara KC in 1974 under English judge Robert M. James. Photo Missy Yuhl.
1974 Ch. Vin-Melca's Homesteader, #1 Hound, 3 BIS
1975 Ch. Vin-Melca's Viscount, #4 Hound, 3 BIS
1977 Ch. Vin-Melca's Nimbus, #2 Hound/#3 All Breeds, 18 BIS
1978 Ch. Vin-Melca's Nimbus, #1 Hound/#2 All Breeds, 22 BIS
1979 Ch. Vin-Melca's Nimbus, #1 Hound/#4 All Breeds, 20 BIS
1981 Ch. Vin-Melca's Last Call, #3 Hound, 6 BIS
1982 Ch. Vin-Melca's Last Call, #3 Hound, 3 BIS
1983 Ch. Vin-Melca's The Smuggler, #6 Hound, BIS n/a,
1984 Ch. Vin-Melca's The Smuggler, #2 Hound, 6 BIS
1985 Ch. Vin-Melca's The Smuggler, #7 Hound, 5 BIS
1985 Ch. Vin-Melca's Southern Rain, #9 Hound, 2 BIS
1987 Ch. Vin-Melca's Barnstormer, #7 Hound, 1 BIS
1988 Ch. Vin-Melca's Barnstormer, #1 Hound/#3 All Breeds, 21 BIS
1989 Ch. Vin-Melca's Calista, #1 Hound/#7 All Breeds, 15 BIS,
1989 Ch. Vin-Melca's Beau Geste, #8 Hound, 6 BIS
1990 Ch. Vin-Melca's Calista, #1 Hound/#2 All Breeds, 45 BIS,
1990 Ch. Vin-Melca's Bombardier, #10 Hound, 1 BIS
1991 Ch. Vin-Melca's Bombardier, #2 Hound, 14 BIS
1991 Ch. Vin-Melca's Calista, #8 Hound, 7 BIS
1992 Ch. Vin-Melca's Bombardier, #1 Hound/#6 All Breeds. 19 BIS
1993 Ch. Vin-Melca's Marketta, #2 Hound, 13 BIS
1999 Ch. Vin-Melca's Top O'The Mark, #8 Hound, 2 BIS
2002 Ch. Vin-Melca's Silver Shadow, #1 Hound, 18 BIS
2003 Ch. Vin-Melca's Silver Shadow, #4 Hound, 6 BIS