Westminster Dog Show: Samoyed Attacker Enjoys Retirement

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TORONTO — No one who watched the Westminster Kennel Club dog show last year could have missed Striker the Samoyed, a blindingly white confection of fluff and enthusiasm who stole the show with his joie de vivre crazy. Unfortunately for his fans, Striker lost in the final round, defeated by a grim, dignified bloodhound and a cheerful little French bulldog.

But has he spent the last year moping around the house, complaining about what could have happened?

“Hell no,” said Judi Elford, Striker’s breeder and, along with Marc Ralsky and Correen Pacht, his co-owner. “Does he care that he didn’t win Best of Show at Westminster? As long as he gets attention, no, he doesn’t.

A 6-year-old dog by the strict standards of the show world, Striker was retired last year and will not return to Westminster for this year’s competition, which began Saturday and ends Tuesday evening. But he’s still a champion and he’s still busy – playing, frolicking, posing and losing in the home he shares with Pacht and Ralsky north of Toronto.

Samoyeds are an unusually cold breed, their owners say, and Striker is an unusually cold dog. “He wakes up happy and says, ‘Let’s go!’” Ralsky said. “He never has a bad day. Whatever you want to do: “Let’s go for a drive.” Let’s sit on the couch. Let’s watch a movie. Let’s have an ice cream cone, he’s up for it.

Striker has a special friend, a charming Siberian husky female dog who also shares the Pacht-Ralsky household. “She’s great,” Pacht said while introducing her recently. Turns out she’s literally awesome – that’s her name, given to her by her breeder – but she’s also a bit difficult. “Siberians are put on this earth to make people alcoholics,” Ralsky said.

If Awesome is the queen of the house in Striker’s eyes, who slavishly follows her everywhere in case she wants to play with him, she is happy to cede the spotlight to the celebrities. Striker is a natural ham who believes he is, or should be, the center of attention at all times.

“He’s always scanning the room to see who’s looking at him,” Elford said. Meeting other people while walking, he stops to “pile up,” dog show lingo for posing. “He’ll wonder, ‘Why is everyone walking around if not for me?’ “,” Ralsky said.

Sure enough, when a photographer and his assistant arrived, Striker climbed onto a box on the patio and stood there in perfect show dog configuration, his fur fluttering in the breeze, lounging like Norma Desmond under the full attention of six humans and many others. photographic equipment.

Elford, who raised Striker (full name: Lucky Strike by Ch. Vanderbilt ‘N Print) from a very young age, I always knew there was something special about him. It’s not just that he conforms to the breed standard, with his wedge-shaped head, almond-shaped eyes, powerful build and dual-textured coat; it was the addition of a certain ineffable quality.

“He always had that X factor,” Elford said. “It’s hard to explain. It’s the next level.

Elford met Ralsky on the dog show circuit a few years ago, when, alphabet being what it is, his Samoyed was positioned in the ring in front of his Siberian husky. Confused by her dog’s dazzling whiteness, Ralsky joked that he had “a can of black paint in the car and he was going to use it,” Elford said.

From this inauspicious beginning, a friendship was born and later the three humans agreed to share ownership and costs of Striker. Although they could make money to breed Striker, it has mostly been a losing proposition.

“It’s like having a child who plays hockey, gymnastics or another elite sport,” Ralsky said. “We would fly here or there and get up at God knows what time. Money is the same, and so is stress: the emotional highs and lows, the wins and losses.

The pandemic upended the normal dog show schedule, especially for Canadians when the Canada-U.S. border was closed. Striker lived with her handler in the United States for much of 2020 and 2021, although Elford crossed the border several times using various ingenious methods – once she rented a helicopter – when restrictions came. are relaxed.

Throughout 2021, Elford said, Striker was the top-ranked dog in the United States, despite tough competition. “There were dogs breathing down his neck,” she said, “a Lagotto Romagnolo and a boxer dog named Wilma.” That year, while Elford was secretly watching while hiding his identity behind a pair of sunglasses so as not to overexcite the dog, Striker lost Westminster to a Pekingese named Wasabi.

In 2022, he got a second chance.

First, he defeated all the other Samoyeds. Then, for the second year in a row, he won the working group, prevailing over dogs like Doberman Pinschers and Great Danes. (“Working dogs” were bred to do things like herding, herding, rescuing, transporting, and hunting, although it’s fair to say that modern show dogs don’t do these things.)

Entering the Best of Show competition, Ralsky and Pacht were nervous wrecks.

“I had a few Aperol spritzes,” Ralsky said.

“I’ve had quite a few,” Pacht said.

“It’s like reaching the final of the US Open,” Ralsky said.

When Striker came out, the crowd went wild for his cloud-like majesty and the funny way his tongue stuck out as he frolicked around the ring. He seemed happy to be there, which is more than you can say for some dogs. “Everyone was screaming and clapping,” Ralsky said. “He was perfection.”

“Everyone loves a Sammy,” Pacht said.

The best show judge in 2022, Donald G. Sturz, said in an interview that he managed to isolate himself from the noise of the crowd while considering the dogs in front of him. Although he found Striker “magnificent,” he said the eventual winner, a majestically wrinkled bloodhound named Trumpet, “gave me goosebumps.”

“He came out, planted his feet and stood there proudly and looked at me as if to say, ‘There,’” said Sturz, who is now the president of the Westminster Kennel Club. “And I thought: This is my winner.”

Striker returned to Canada as a celebrity, being profiled in newspapers and on television. A local business gave him purple and black custom dog boots. He became a brand ambassador for a dog vitamin company, earning maybe $2,000, Ralsky said. Another deal – with a grooming company – fell through when the brand reneged on its promise of free shampoo.

Perhaps the most exciting moment came when his photo appeared on “Jeopardy!” » and the host, Ken Jennings, gave him a shout out. “Here we see Striker,” Jennings said, “a type of that dog with the Russian name that won the 2022 Westminster title for best working group dog.”

Nobody had the right answer. “What is a Bolshoi?” a contestant guessed. (Wrong! Among other things, it is not a breed of dog.)

His owners fully admit that Striker is spoiled rotten, with constant access to a full assortment of wonderful plush toys, including plush versions of things like Cheez Doodles and bottles of rosé. (“It’s very weird, though,” Pacht said. “He only likes little baby toys, like he’s a baby.”)

He takes a bath every two weeks, a serious, hours-long undertaking that requires dizzying preparation of products and “a high-powered hot air dryer,” his owners say. To protect his coat from bad weather, he is made to wear a raincoat.

He gets two gummy bears as an evening snack and spends the night in and out of his owners’ beds, pawing at them to get their attention.

He may be the most successful Samoyed in dog show history, Ralsky said, “but at the end of the day, he sleeps with us.”


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