Three Newtown women with ties to other towns in the region are slated to be judges at the 2012 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the world’s most famous dog show.
The three – Pat Laurans, Terry Hundt and Joy Brewster – are among the 38 judges at Westminster this year, 15 of whom are women, or about 40-percent.
That's ironic when you consider that the Westminster Kennel Club, the sponsor of the show, is an all-male organization. The officers, the Board of Governors and the entire dog show committee – the group that selects the judges for the WKC Dog Show – are all men.
This area, specifically Newtown, also holds the record for the number of judges from one municipality. In fact, all of the other judges come from different towns and cities.
Hundt and Laurans said they knew each other well before their move to Newtown.
“The first time I visited Newtown many years ago, I fell in love with the town," Hundt said. "Coincidentally, my former college sorority sister, Pat Laurans was already living here.”
By that time both women were already deeply involved in the pure-bred dog world. Hundt and Laurans started their careers in education – Hundt as a physical education teacher in New Milford and Laurans as a guidance counselor in Brookfield.
Hundt began her journey to this – her third judging assignment for Westminster – when she acquired her first dog, a Doberman Pinscher in 1963.
Soon, after realizing that working with dogs was her calling, she apprenticed as a handler in Kent and then worked with Bedford, NY resident, the late Peggy Westphal, a nationally-known breeder of wirehaired and smooth dachshunds. This relationship began Hundt’s life-long attachment to wirehaired dachshunds, a breed she currently owns.
Preparing for Westminster can be a daunting task even for experienced judges.
“I will be studying the standards and all of the literature I can find on the breeds I’ll be judging, the Leonberger, Newfoundland, Komondor, Tibetan Mastiff, Kuvasz and Corgi," Hundt said. "I’ll also be reviewing the AKC standards
for Junior Showmanship.”
In 1965, Brewster, a professional dog handler, purchased a piece of property in Newtown, a former kennel, to house her growing group of personally-owned dogs and the dogs she was handling for other breeders. This Newtown property ultimately evolved into its current incantation, the on Mount Pleasant Road.
For Brewster, studying the standards and literature before judging is vital to her preparation.
”Not only is it imperative to be up on all of the standards of the breed, but immersing myself in the literature takes my mind off the tension that builds in anticipation of any show, but certainly for this one, my first Westminster judging experience,“ she said.
Laurans, retired from the Brookfield School system, met Brewster, and began attending handling classes, also in Kent. In fact, Brewster handled Laurans’ first champion Wire-haired Pointer, Cheesecake.
For Laurans this is her 12th judging assignment at Westminster and is the "grande dame" of Newtown's judging trifecta having been involved in dog world for more than 45 years.
She is a former member of the AKC Board of Directors, and current chair of the AKC Parent Club Committee.
“Studying the standards and reading all the literature I’ve acquired over the years from the breed parent clubs is necessary even after all these years of judging," Laurans said. "Westminster is the pinnacle of a judge’s career.”
Laurans is also one of the founders of “Take the Lead,” a non-profit organization that assists individuals involved in the sport of pure bred dogs suffering with a terminal or life threatening disease.
The journey from breeder to handler to judge is a long and arduous one. Usually beginning as a junior handler, under the age of 16, with a fierce love of the pure bred dog, handlers spend years honing their skills in the ring – how to gait a specific breed, learning the standards (required conformation) for each breed, entering matches for experience, endless classes of leash handling – and that’s just the handler’s end of the leash, so to speak.
Having to master the standards of each breed is the second part of the equation as each breed requires a different set of skills. Sportsmanship, ring procedures, grooming and learning to develop a strong bond with each dog rounds out the curriculum.
Westminster continues to be the "crown jewel" of the Junior’s Competition.
Moving from handler to AKC judge is not an easy feat. It requires showing one breed to championship for at least 12 years, breeding and raising five or more litters of one breed and breeding four or more champions in that breed.
Beyond that, the applicant must steward six assignments within three years of an application to the AKC, judge six AKC assignments and attend the AKC Basic Judge’s Institute. Then its on to an open book test on canine anatomy and judging procedure and later an interview with AKC staff.
Once you reach that level, there’s one more open-book test on the standard of the breed applied for and then a final interview with AKC staff.
“Judging is not for everyone," Hundt said. "Even if you have acquired exceptional knowledge of the breed standards. You have to have the courage of your convictions to point to the winning dog.”
The show culminates with the award of Best of Show the evening of Feb. 14, a Valentine to the pure-bred dog.