Lake Garda, the site of the mot recent Whippet World Congress this spring.
Fri, 05/20/2022 - 10:23am

The 7th Whippet World Congress

… and Sighthounds in Italy

It's a little more than four years ago that the last Whippet World Congress was held on April 21-22, 2018, at the American Whippet Club National Specialty in Baltimore. At the end of that Congress, a well-known breeder from Italy, Arnaldo Cotugno, stood up and told us that he'd organize the next World Congress in his home country in 2022.

I'm not sure that we were entirely convinced that he would pull it off, but there's no question that he really did: The 7th Whippet World Congress was held on May 11-12 in Padenghe sul Garda, less than an hour's drive from Verona in northern Italy, and was unquestionably a huge success. All the arrangements were first class, nearly everything had been carefully planned, and I am sure that all the 150-something participants came away with good feelings of having learned a lot at the Congress, seen many Whippets at the two shows held at the same location on the following days and, in the bargain, made many new friends across the borders.

The Whippet fanciers came from many different countries, including the U.S. — notably AKC judge Sharon Sakson, panelist Iva Kimmelman and her husband Jeffrey, and the owners and breeders of the all-time top-winning Whippet, Justin and Cheslie Smithey. Paul Lepiane and I were also in attendance, of course, as were the Sighthound specialist judges Espen Engh and Åge Gjetnes, who live in Norway but are well known in the U.S.


Recognize Cheslie Smithey (whose arm is hiding her husband Justin), Iva Kimmelman (partly obscured by husband Jeffrey), Paul Lepiane or the article writer? Sharon Sakson? Åge Gjetnes and Espen Engh? Photo Pauline Oliver.


The author, Congress introduction. Photo Meri Fox.


A whole group of visitors came from the U.K., some of them with dogs. The most long-distance visitor was probably Euphemia Lee, who has American-bred dogs at home in Singapore. The total number of attendees was probably larger than expected, especially in view of the Covid-19 rules that still make international travel difficult, and the political tension that make Europe less peaceful now than before. (This has nothing to do with the Congress, but I have to mention it anyway: Shortly before leaving for Italy I sent a routine question to about 100 national kennel clubs around the world. I almost didn't bother sending it to the kennel club in Ukraine, because surely they would have more important things to do than to respond … but lo and behold, among the emails I received was one from the Ukraine Kennel Club with a response to my question and no reference whatsoever to the political situation in the country.)

Some background: The first Whippet World Congress was held during the AWC National Specialty in Vermont in April of 1996. I remember that we asked the English if they wanted to hold the first World Congress for what is, after all, their native breed — but they told us to go ahead: They would learn from our experience and held the second World Congress in 1999, in conjunction with the anniversary of the oldest existing organization for the breed, simply named The Whippet Club and founded in 1899.

Since then, there have been Whippet World Congresses in Belgium (2002), Australia (2004) and Sweden (2008): A 10-year gap after that is due to the fact that almost everybody was in touch anyway via Facebook … but by 2018 we realized that nothing beats direct, actual person-to-person contact, and everybody liked that Congress so much that here we were in Italy, four years later.


Villa and garden seen from the boat ride. Photo Paul Lepiane.


Having a wonderful location helps, of course. Padenghe is on the coast of Lago di Garda, one of Italy's most beautiful lakes. Some of the seminars were actually held on the boat, which made it difficult to decide if you should listen to the lectures inside or enjoy the spectacular views from the upper deck. (It turned out that there was time for both.) The first day's program took place at the host hotel, which was ideally suited for both congress and dog show: The Sighthound shows at Padenghe are famous all over Europe. The last time I was there they hosted an international Irish Wolfhound congress in addition to the show. The hotel has just about everything you can ask for: Congress facilities for a couple of hundred participants, conformation judging on a velvet-smooth lawn within easy walking distance from the guest rooms, an outside bar that never seemed to be closed, a restaurant, even two swimming pools. (It livened things up considerably when one of the hotel's golf carts was driven right into one of the pools … Fortunately the driver was apparently not seriously hurt.)


Golf cart in pool at the host hotel. Photo Paul Lepiane.


As the Congress opened, I gave an introduction, provided a little background and introduced the speakers. (Arnaldo obviously wanted to emphasize the long tradition of the World Congresses: He said I should come and “be a Good Father to us all” — or grandfather, more likely …) The speakers were Iva Kimmelman of the Merci Isle Whippets from the U.S.; Ann Beckett-Bradshaw, who has the Hutaka Whippets in the U.K. and until very recently was chairman of the Whippet Breed Council over there; Bitte Ahrens Primavera, who (like me) is Swedish by birth but unlike me lives in Italy these days and with her husband Pierluigi Primavera owns the internationally recognized Sobers kennel, and Thomas Münch, who has the FlicFlac Whippets in Germany. There were also three Italian veterinarians: Dr. Federica Balducci, who spoke on Intervertebral Disc Disease in the Whippet; Dr. Deborah Fratucello, whose subject was Nutrition of the Sports Dog, and Dr. Alessio Franini, who talked on Traumatology: Sport-related Orthopedic Surgery. (I couldn't help but noting how convenient it is for us English speakers that these presentations are always made in English: It is obviously not as easy for everyone else, but we are lucky that English is the lingua franca of dog people everywhere these days.)

Thomas Münch's subject was “Type and variations of type” — illustrated with a selection of illustrations of both good and bad examples of the breed, including quite a few older, black-and-white photographs of Whippets from different countries. Both Thomas and the next speaker, Bitte Ahrens Primavera, have judged Whippets in the U.S. during the last few years. Bitte spoke on “Whippets vs. Other Sighthounds” and was uniquely qualified to make comparisons between Whippets, Greyhounds and Italian Greyhounds, as she owns all three breeds. She pointed out that there are other differences than size between the them, even though a lot of judges don't seem to be aware of this.

After a lunch break, Ann Beckett-Bradshaw spoke on her chosen subject: “Whippet Breed Standard – Why?” It should be noted that the FCI and the British standards are identical these days, while AKC includes some requirements (larger size, insistence on pigmentation and darker eyes, for instance) that don't fit with the standard in the breed's native country. The U.K. and FCI have now added to their standards that “merle” Whippets are not acceptable, but Ann also pointed out that black-and-tan is not a typical color for the breed. (Tricolor, although very rare, is acceptable: Even a few white hairs in an otherwise black-and-tan Whippet would qualify it as a tricolor.)

Finally, Iva Kimmelman told us about “Building a Multi-Purpose Whippet to the Standards (or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Process).” Iva is definitely the right person to tell you about this, since she has not only finished more than 100 AKC conformation champions but at least 75 lure-coursing champions as well. To those of us who have a hard time doing ANY conformation showing, these are incredibly impressive totals … and judging by the beautiful photos the Merci Isle dual-purpose dogs are incredibly handsome as well!

In addition to the lunch there were two coffee breaks: As you probably know already, Italian coffee is the best, or at least the strongest, in the world. Even the cookies that accompanied the coffee were imprinted with the Whippet World Congress logo!


Congress cookie (above) and lanyard (below)! Photos Paul Lepiane.


The following day, during the boat trip on Lake Garda, there were talks by Dr. Diletta Dall'Apa (“Disc Disease in the Whippet”) and Stefano Paolo Marelli (“Genetics of Coat Colours in the Whippet”), but a few congress participants chose to sit outside and admire the views instead. The boat stopped temporarily for lunch in Garda, the small community that gave the lake its name. It truly was a magical day on the lake.




The next day was the “Raduno Whippet del Congresso” — the Congress Whippet Specialty. The total number of dogs entered was 153, which was more than sufficient for the four judges: Iva, Ann and Thomas were joined by Yvonne Hull of the Palmik Whippets in England, while I was not supposed to judge anything that day. (But see below …) Obviously you cannot be expected to judge as many dogs as at an AKC shows, as according to FCI rules every dog gets a “quality assessment grade” (Excellent, Very Good, Good, etc.) and also a written critique.

There were very few absentees, as entries closed just a couple of days before the show. This was possible because no catalogs were printed! I was informed that no Italian dog shows have printed catalogs anymore: Apparently the Italian Kennel Club (ENCI) has taken over superintending all the shows and instead publishes catalog information on the internet. This is part of a computerization of the dog shows that has its bright side — results were immediately available via the internet, for instance — but obviously printed catalogs will HAVE to be made available for those who are willing to pay for them. It is not just an old-fashioned preference for something a little more permanent and tangible than digital information on your iPhone: You have to be able to write your personal notes on the dogs exhibited, for instance, and important catalogs — like this one! — must be saved for future reference.

A few foreign visitors were visibly upset about the absence of printed catalogs, and a few of us got print-outs of all the catalog information by paying a few Euros at the front desk of the hotel. Exactly how this will be handled by AKC when they are ready to go completely digital I don't know, but there is obviously a major saving to be made by the show organizers … and as long as printed catalogs can be made available for those of us who want them (through a printer at the dog-show superintendent? Or at Kinko's?) I don't think anyone will object.

Thomas Münch judged Puppy, Junior and Veteran Dogs, while Ann Beckett-Bradshaw had the Intermediate, Open, Working and Champion dog classes. Iva Kimmelman took on Baby Puppy, Puppy, Junior and Veteran Bitches, and Yvonne Hull got to go through the Intermediate, Open, Working and Champion bitch classes. The largest classes were Open Dog (18), Champion Dog (11), Junior Bitch (20), Intermediate Bitch (14), Open Bitch (24) and Champion Bitch (15). The presentation and handling in general were more uneven than what we see in the U.S.: the best handlers were every bit as good, if not better, but quite a few exhibitors were obviously new at this. The general quality of the dogs seemed high to me, but the judges differed in their opinions: Most were impressed, but Ann Beckett-Bradshaw said she had to “forgive a lot” and did not award Excellent to several of the champion dog entries, which of course meant that she did not feel they were of champion quality.

All four judges were expected to decide which of the class winners would win Best of Breed, which they, perhaps not unexpectedly, could not agree on. This was fortunate for me, since as referee I got a chance to go over all the undefeated class winners and decide the BOB winner on my own. It was obvious to me right away that the quality of the best bitches was superior to that of the males, and in the end it was very close between the winner of the Open class, Créme Anglaise's Irish Cream from the Netherlands, and the Champion class winner, Italian Ch. Sobresalto La Donna E' Mobile, shown by Arnaldo Cotugno but listed as owned and bred by his wife. (It would of course never happen in the U.S. that an event's organizer would also handle a dog, but we were in Italy, remember …)

Both bitches are brindle and obviously of very high international quality. In the end I felt that the substance and smoothness all-over gave the Dutch bitch the upper hand, but there was very little in it. Irish Cream was one of at least three Crufts CC winners who were shown that day: She was BOB and Group 2nd at this year's Crufts, BIS at the Whippet Club championship show and is already a champion in the U.K.

BOS was the young male Majestrian Everdell, who defeated both the Champion and the Open class winners.


Whippet Congress Specialty: Jan Willem Akerboom with BOB Ch. Crème Anglaise’s Irish Cream (left) and Mauro Perna with BOS Majestrian Everdell. Behind them from left: Bo Bengtson with BOB ribbon, Iva Kimmelman, Yvonne Hull, Shelby Mowbray, Ann Beckett-Bradshaw and Thomas Münch with BOS ribbon. Photo Paul Lepiane.




The next day, Saturday, May 14, there were 367 Sighthounds entered. The organizer of the Sighthound show was Club del Levriero, and exactly as many Whippets were entered as at the specialty. (Not necessarily the same dogs, though, as I thought at first; most were entered both days but at least a couple of dozen were different.) Yvonne Hull was not judging that day; instead I was given the Puppy, Junior and Veteran dogs and was part of the four-judge team that had to determine who was BOB. The same two bitches stood out again, but the Dutch bitch was not moving as well as the day before, and I was quite happy to agree that the Sobresalto bitch should win BOB.


BOS (left) and BOS at the Sighthound show. The BOB winner was also BIS. Photo Paul Lepiane.


Since this was a Sighthound show, I also got to judge the Pharaoh and Ibizan Hounds that were entered. Three of the four Pharaoh Hounds were bred by the Reedly kennel in Russia, and the large but stylish male Ch. Reedly Road Qosmos Quest was BOB. Wire Ibizans are judged separately from the smooths, but I did not take advantage of the opportunity to reward the single Wire entry and awarded the smooth bitch Simka Rjabina de Bergerac the CAC and BOB.


Pharaoh Hound BOB and BOS. Photo Paul Lepiane.


Best in Show was judged by Elisabet Janzon from Sweden, earlier a breeder of Irish Wolfhounds of international importance — her and her husband's Wolf Tone dogs are, for instance, several times behind this year's IWCA National Specialty winner — but more recently has focused on Whippets. The Whippet Ch. Sobresalto La Donna E' Mobile was BIS, followed by the Irish Wolfhound Ch. Sarabi della Bassa Pavese (a BIS winner at all-breed championship-show level in the U.K., I'm told). Third was a red Greyhound who according to the list of awards was Ch. Sobers Geraldine.


Ibizan Hound BOB. Photo Paul Lepiane.


We were not present for it, but apparently there was also a Sighthound show on the Sunday, without Whippets, as they were lure coursing that day. The BIS judge was André van den Broek from the Netherlands; the win went to the Irish Wolfhound bitch from the day before.




I must also mention a competition that took place at the Saturday show. This was the “Club Championship” (Campionato Sociale), which is not part of the regular judging but  considered very important by the exhibitors. If I am correctly informed, entry is limited to dogs that have won one (or two?) CACs at specialty shows, and a win in this competition is necessary to confirm the dog's championship. Obviously, the quality is much higher than in a regular class, and I was pleased to judge the Campionato Sociale for Whippets. At least 10 dogs and a half-dozen bitches were entered, and even though you don't have to place them in order — one winner per sex is sufficient — it is hard work and very competitive.


Judge Bo Bengtson with Campionato Soziale winners Ch. Sobresalto La Donna E’ Mobile, handled by Arnaldo Cotugno, and Ch. Majestrian Blue Vertigo with handler Mauro Perna.


In dogs I narrowed it down to a litter brother of the BIS bitch, Ch. Sobresalto Latte Macchiato, now living in Poland but Italian born, and to the Crufts CC and BOS this year, Ch. Majestrian Blue Vertigo, finally putting up the latter, who was also the sire of BOS at the specialty the previous day. Among the bitches, it was close between Ch. Sobresalto La Donna E' Mobile and the Crufts BOB winner of a couple of years ago, Ch. West Chelan Quick Look At Me (sired by a Crème Anglaise dog out of a Sobresalto bitch). I have given a group to the latter and still think she's wonderful, but she's more than five years old now and obviously not quite as fresh as before. Another win for “the Fickle Woman” …




Afghan Hounds and Italian Greyhounds, although very much a part of the FCI Sighthound group, have their own specialty clubs in Italy. Abbe Shaw from Santa Barbara Kennel Club in California judged a great entry of 57 Afghan Hounds on Saturday; I did not get to watch, but her BOB was Ch. Xenos Sandor and BOS Ch. Avril Lavigne Gandamak Slovakia — somehow the country her breeder is from has become a registered part of the name. The Sunday specialty judge (46 entries) could not come, so at short notice Åge Gjetnes from Norway (well known in the U.S. as a Westminster judge) had to agree to judge, with Ch. Way Up 2pac Shakur as BOB and a young daughter of the previous day's best bitch as BOS: Harley Quinn Gandamak Slovakia.


Afghan Hound BOB (left) and BOS, judge Abbe Shaw. Photo Mikhael Conistabile.


The Italian Greyhound specialties were judged by Elisabet Janzon (38 entries, BOB Ch. Enjoy The Silence Camilla) and André van den Broek (26 entries, BOB Quality of Life dei Raggi di Luna).

By the time of the Sunday specialties we had already left: There were no plane tickets available for Monday. United Airlines had also cancelled the last leg of our flight — from San Francisco to Santa Barbara — without telling us. There was nothing for it but to rent a car and drive through the night. My back still hurts after sitting for more than 10 hours on the plane from Frankfurt (a short hop from Verona) and six hours in a rental car. But it was really a fun visit!




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