Photo by Mary Bloom
Sat, 05/16/2020 - 12:12pm

Westminster's Top Judge

For Pat Trotter, the 12th Time's the Charm

Over the past 50 years, Patricia V. Trotter of Carmel, California, has stepped into the finale at Westminster 11 times with one of her world-famous Vin-Melca Norwegian Elkhounds. And on each occasion she left the ring without the breathtaking Best in Show rosette.

But in February, Trotter will return for the dozenth time — as the 2021 Westminster Kennel Club Best in Show judge.

"This time I won't have my own dog to lean on," she says of the role reversal. "But I will have seven wonderful dogs to focus on that have been sent on by very knowledgeable and respected judges. When dogs get to that Best in Show finale, they're all superstars."

Trotter judging Longhaired Dachshunds at the Garden in 2008. Photo courtesy Mary Bloom.

 

Trotter's almost-dozen Group wins at Westminster spanned 1970 to 2017, with every one of those Elkhounds related to each other. Indeed, all her dogs descend from her foundation bitch, acquired in 1949 from an accomplished bear hunter. In the 1970s, half of the Westminster Hound Group winners were Vin-Melca Elkhounds. Trotter's breeding program produced the top sire and dam in breed history as well as 39 different Best in Show winners, and she handled Top 10 all-breed dogs on 10 different occasions — all while working as a teacher full time.

But Trotter considers her greatest Westminster accomplishment to be taking a relatively unknown breed to such heights at the nation's — and perhaps the world's — most high-profile show. "An amazingly happy surprise," she muses, thinking back to her first-ever Westminster win in 1970 with Vagabond.

Best in Show judge Anna Katherine Nicholas walks the lineup at Westminster in 1970, the first year Trotter won the Hound Group at the Garden. From left, Corky Vroom with Pointer Ch. Counterpoint’s Lord Ashley, Pat Trotter (then Craige) with Norwegian Elkhound Ch. Vin Melca’s Vagabond, Jane Forsyth with Boxer Ch. Arriba’s Prima Donna, Ric Chashoudian with Wire Fox Terrier Ch. Holmwire Reliants, Harry Classen with Boston Terrier Ch. Star Q’s Brass Buttons and Frank Sabella with Pekingese Ch. Beaupres Tomsjoy Lea Chim. "Suzie" the Boxer was ultimately victorious.

Best in Show judge Anna Katherine Nicholas walks the lineup at Westminster in 1970, the first year Trotter won the Hound Group at the Garden. From left, Corky Vroom with Pointer Ch. Counterpoint’s Lord Ashley, Pat Trotter (then Craige) with Norwegian Elkhound Ch. Vin Melca’s Vagabond, Jane Forsyth with Boxer Ch. Arriba’s Prima Donna, Ric Chashoudian with Wire Fox Terrier Ch. Holmwire Reliants, Harry Classen with Boston Terrier Ch. Star Q’s Brass Buttons and Frank Sabella with Pekingese Ch. Beaupres Tomsjoy Lea Chim. "Suzie" the Boxer was ultimately victorious.

 

Two of Trotter's Group-winning Westminster dogs were mother and daughter — Ch. Vin-Melca's Calista and Marketta, respectively. Each won the group there twice — likely a record for that venue.

An all-breed judge who has judged at the Garden four times before — including the Hound Groups in 2009 and 2019 — Trotter is also in great demand as a national-specialty judge. Doubtless this has to do with her reputation as a "breeder's breeder": Trotter bred her first litter in 1951, and her most recent this year. And, fittingly, her conversation with this reporter came to an end when a call regarding shipping frozen semen buzzed in on the other line.

Vin-Melca Westminster Group Winners

1970 and 1971 • Ch. Vin Melca's Vagabond
1974 • Ch. Vin-Melca's Homesteader
1977 and 1979 • Ch. Vin-Melca's Nimbus
1986 • Ch.Vin-Melca's Call to Arms
1989 and 1990 • Ch. Vin-Melca's Calista
1994 and 1995 • Ch. Vin-Melca's Marketta (pictured with Group judge Lee Canalizo in 1994)
2017 • GCh. Vin-Melca’s Daggarwood Delight

 

Not merely focused on bringing her carefully curated line of dogs into the world, Trotter is also intent on keeping them here. "I value longevity in my dogs," she says. "And I truly respect the concept of preserving the breed that was passed on to us by master breeders of the past."

After kicking off the Vin-Melca legacy at Westminster in 1970, Vagabond returned at the age of 14 in a parade of champions for previous Group and Best in Show winners. (He's pictured here on that day.) Trotter remembers announcer Roger Caras saying that as far as he knew, Vagabond was the oldest dog ever to walk onto the floor of Madison Square Garden. He lived to be 17.

Chuck and Pat Trotter ringside at the Morris & Essex Kennel Club show.

 

With all her wins at Westminster, Trotter is keenly aware of the crackling energy that suffuses the Best in Show ring on Tuesday night. "It's electric, and so very exciting," she says of her times exhibiting there.

Will the sparks fly just as brightly when one is judging the dogs rather than presenting them?

"You better believe it!" Trotter responds with a laugh. "And I'm looking forward to it."

 

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