The sport of dogs has its share of dynasties, multiple generations of breeders, judges and handlers whose canine endeavors are a solidly family affair.
But you’d be hard-pressed to find any who are more beloved than native Kentuckians Joseph Gregory and his daughter Evalyn.
Judging together in South Korea in January 2018.
At a spry 92 years, “Gentleman Joe” Gregory, as exhibitors fondly call him, has been judging for more than a half-century: Today, when AKC judges’ numbers have crept into the six digits, his is 851. Before he pinned on the badge in the mid-1960s, a couple of years after his marriage to fellow fancier Mamie Spears Reynolds, Gregory was a professional handler, showing a number of top-winning dogs – including his beloved Boxers – to some of the highest honors the sport has to offer. (Other breeds benefitted from him piloting them as well: Gregory was the first handler to win a Best in Show with a Siberian Husky.) In 1990, Iams and Kennel Review magazine named him Judge of the Year. And today, he is one of a handful of all-rounders approved by the American Kennel Club to pass judgment on every breed it recognizes.
Following in her father’s footsteps, Evalyn Gregory began judging in 2011, after three decades as a professional handler presenting the many breeds her family was involved with, including Chow-Chows, Afghan Hounds, Chihuahuas, Maltese and Brussels Griffon, a breed where she holds multiple records, including the first smooth to win a Best in Show. Keenly focused on whatever dog she was showing at the moment, she coordinated her impeccable outfits – along with her mother’s keen-eyed input – to suit not just the dog’s appearance but its personality, too.
Evalyn Gregory, age 12, showing at the Ravenna Kennel Club in August 1981.
Though friends call her Ev for short, Evalyn Gregory’s first name is a nod to her late mother’s own impressive pedigree: Mamie Gregory’s grandmother was Evalyn Walsh McLean, the last owner of the Hope Diamond, which now sits in the Smithsonian. (Evalyn’s brother, who shares their father’s name, has written two books about that allegedly cursed gemstone, which his great-grandmother purchased in 1911 when she was only 24.)
No spinning, please: Joe Gregory poses at the Grand Canyon in 2018.
When they are judging inside those familiar white accordion gates, both Joe and Evalyn Gregory transmit something just as rare as that famous blue diamond – a tangible sense of openness and appreciation. Over the decades, the senior Gregory has earned the moniker “Dancing Joe” for the “little hop and spin” maneuver he inevitably executes whenever he is judging.
“It’s just natural,” he says of his spontaneous spins. “At shows, people expect me to do it now. Sometimes they’ll say, you haven’t hopped much today.”
“He’s been doing that all my life – it’s just part of his personality and routine,” agrees Evalyn, adding that she finds that she too does “a little bit of a quick turn in the ring,” though in her case it’s because she doesn’t want to miss a beat following a dog on the go-around.
“Some people like it, and some people think I’m too old,” her father muses. “Maybe I am.”
Sightseeing together in Rome in March 2018.
Not if his judging schedule is any indication. The Gregorys judge frequently together – often joined by Evalyn’s beau, David Haddock, himself an active judge – going as far afield as Italy, Australia, Japan and South Korea in the last couple of years.
“It’s great because Ev helps me a lot at shows,” Joe Gregory says with a laugh. “She does all the driving and planning, and I do nothing. I just concentrate on the dogs” – something he’s been doing for the better part of 70 years.
Joe Gregory saw his first Boxer in the late 1940s, when linebred imports from Friederun Stockmann’s famed Vom Dom kennel converged on this side of the Atlantic to essentially create the American Boxer, typified by Ch. Bang Away of Sirrah Crest. That great showman – and the modern style of dog he portended – made a deep impression on Joe Gregory, who saw him as a 4-month-old puppy, soon after Stockmann herself put him up at a match show, pronouncing him a reincarnation of his famous great-great-great-grandfather Lustig vom Dom.
“Of course I followed his career to the end,” he says of Bang Away. “He had things that I’d like to see better in my opinion” – Frau Stockmann agreed on that score, too – “but you can’t dispute 127 Bests in Show.”
Joe Gregory bred to Bang Away once, producing Ch. Sovereign of Cloverdown and selling the new champion to a Japanese investor who was determined to have a Bang Away son. Months later, attending a dog show in New York, Gregory found himself riding in an elevator with two Japanese men. Suddenly, the strangers began chanting “Sovereign! Sovereign! Sovereign!” and Gregory realized he and his Boxer had become international sensations. (The recognition didn’t stop at Asia: Gregory was quoted at length in the 1966 book “Observations and Reflections on the Boxer” by Italian breeder Gaetano Carlevaro Persico, which was also published in South America by the Boxer Club of Uruguay.)
Evalyn Gregory, who has had the benefit of being immersed in dog-show history through her parents’ long-time involvement, thinks newcomers to the Boxer are poorer for the prevailing attitude that breed history begins with their arrival in it. At last year’s American Boxer Club show, which celebrated Bang Away’s 50th birthday with an elaborate display, “I felt some of the Boxer people didn’t have much interest,” she says. “And they should if they are passionate about the breed – they should know about the history of the good ones.”
Joe Gregory on his farm in Breckinridge County, Kentucky, with one of his "beauties."
Soon after his postwar introduction to Bang Away, Joe Gregory started breeding Boxers under the Cloverdown prefix with his childhood friend Burr Long, continuing into the 1950s and well into the ’60s. Long took care of the grooming, and Gregory did the handling and “meet and greet” – not surprising giving his unflappable air and beguiling Southern cadences.
Apprenticing under handler Phil Marsh – who put a Best in Show on one of their early homebreds, Ch. Truce Talk of Cloverdown – Joe Gregory soon became a professional handler himself.
“I think back then we had more people with money in the game, and they stayed in it for so many years because they were devoted to the breed and to promoting it,” Joe Gregory reminisces, ticking off the names associated with the Boxer’s establishment here in the U.S., including the Harrises of Sirrah Crest (their last name spelled backward) and the Wagners of Mazelaine, for whom Marsh handled.
He remembers Mazie Wagner as something of a “character,” showing up at the Armory in New York City one year with stars painted on her eyelids, so, she said, she could “close her eyes and see stars.”
“You need people that stand out to promote their breeds,” he says. “I like to see someone come in all flamboyant. That’s what makes the game.”
What today’s Boxer fanciers may lack in flash, though, they make up for in quality. Joe Gregory thinks Boxers are better today than when he started, particularly in terms of head type. “When I look at some of my old win pictures, I think, ‘I can’t believe I finished that dog.’”
Rose City Cluster, January 2017, celebrating Joe’s 50-plus years as an AKC judge.
Like any good judge, he doesn’t fixate on one part or piece, but wants it all. “You cannot put up a bum because he has a pretty head,” he says, adding that cow hocks, however, are a pet peeve. “A dog’s first appearance and go round the ring, the impression you get and the movement – they’ve got to move for me. Personally, I like a sturdy male – it’s got to be built like a male – and when you have a bitch with all those feminine features, it’s breathtaking.”
Joe Gregory knows from outstanding female Boxers. His most famous charge was doubtless Ch. Treceder’s Painted Lady, who won back-to-back groups at Westminster as well as the national specialty in 1963 and ’64, retiring as the top-winning Boxer bitch of all time until Gregory broke her record some 30 years later.
And it turns out she was aptly named.
Showing Ch. Treceder’s Painted Lady, 1962.
“I had to treat her like a lady, had to always be nice, otherwise she’d sulk,” Joe Gregory says. “When I first got her, she would hide under the bed.”
While Evalyn Gregory wasn’t yet born when Painted Lady was giving the record books such a shellacking, she’s absorbed the lessons that her parents taught her: Respect the exhibitors, and yourself. Always be able to articulate why you pointed the way you did.
“And judge the way you feel,” Evalyn Gregory says simply. “If you just keep that in the back of your head, that will keep you on the right track.”
For her part, she didn’t always know she wanted to be a judge, and even took a hiatus from the sport for a few years, to finish her schooling and get some perspective. Today, as a judge, she finds herself judging – and sometimes not ribboning – some of the very same people against whom she competed and with whom she often celebrated.
“Knowing a lot people not only through my showing but through my mom and dad’s career, I had to be true to myself from the get-go when I started judging,” she says. “And I made a lot of people upset with me. But you have to go in and do what your heart tells you. You need to go with your gut.”
“Same old thing,” her father intones. “Like I always told you – judge the dogs, and not the people.”
Sadly, the same kind of amnesia that is evident in Boxers regarding Bang Away afflicts the general dog world as well. As Joe Gregory says, it is a game, but a game in the best sense of the word. To play effectively, breeders and handlers need to know to whom they are exhibiting, what judges like or dislike, what their personal histories are, where they started and what they have accomplished since then. Without that, what’s the point, really?
“If you love the sport and you’re here for the dogs and not yourself, you should know who you’re showing to,” Evalyn Gregory agrees. “When I was a junior handler, my mom and dad always made it a point for me to go watch a judge, find out about them and what breed they started with. That made me a better handler. When I went into the ring under these judges, I had an idea of what they were looking for. And if I didn’t win, I understood why.”
Ch. Cilleni Mascarade (“Lincoln”), owned by Mamie and Evalyn Gregory, all-time winning Smooth Brussels Griffon, with 70 all-breed Best in Shows.
Joe Gregory lost his last dog, a Maltese, which was a favorite breed of his late wife’s, more than a year ago, and Evalyn shares her home with one Pembroke Welsh Corgi. But just as finding a super dog sometimes gives the elder Gregory the urge to quit the judging ranks and pick up the lead again (“I’m not young and fair headed, but I can still handle, and the pretty girls still love me!”), so too does his breeder’s heart beat a little faster when he contemplates an ideal pairing. The two are toying with the idea of having a litter with frozen semen from the last Boxer they had together, Ch. Schoolmaster’s Easter Noah, a sire of merit who was whelped in 1993.
“It would be an honor to have a litter with Dad,” says Evalyn Gregory, adding that all that’s missing is the right bitch.
American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida, watching the Miami Heat play.
As problems go, most would take that one. After all, today this father-and-daughter duo have dodged the tribulations of many in their respective demographics: At an age when many judges would be sitting on the sidelines, Joe Gregory is as active and in demand as ever. And rather than fretting about how her elderly father is getting on, Evalyn has the pleasure of joining him on the road, discussing their differing opinions of dogs and enjoying the sights and people around them. When they’re not at dog shows, these unrepentant basketball fans – Joe and Mamie Gregory owned the Kentucky Colonels from 1966 to 1969 – try to catch as many games as possible; the SEC basketball tournament is a standing date every March.
“It’s wonderful that I’m able at this stage of my life to do this with my father, whom I so much respect,” Evalyn Gregory says. “Every show that I’m with him, I’m always learning something. He’s not only my dad, but my best friend, too.”