Championmakers by Ronald Lukins and Beth Babos by Ronald Lukins and Beth Babos - Read Online

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Championmakers - Ronald Lukins

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Rhodesian Ridgeback

Specialty Winners Dog

Sunlight peered from over nearby hills, through the morning mist and onto the dew laden show grounds where we stood. A collective mood of excitement stirred as the crescendo of the National Anthem signaled the official start to another glorious day in the sport of dogs. The Palms Springs dog shows would again start off the new-year with over three thousand dogs to be shown over four days. Today was Day One and I would be judging the only Rhodesian Ridgeback specialty this weekend.

Twenty years earlier on the same show grounds my wife Mary showed a young Basset Hound we owned named Cecil. He had already won winner’s dog, the best non-champion male there at the show on that day. Etched into my memory is his last go around with all the other champions ahead of him in the ring. Mary asked Cecil to move out and show with all his heart just one more time. He cocked his head slightly to one side and purposefully trotted out strong with his front legs reaching out and his rear propelling him forward just as the judge looked at him. It seemed to me that he was showing Mary, the judge, and the entire audience (3 deep around the entire ring) he had an attitude, as if he knew he was extra special. He gave a performance, that when it was all said and done, understanding he would achieve in the ring that unique and special something he had come to desire – the love and admiration from his handler.

The long rows of white and blue tents characteristic of the Palm Springs shows stretched across the polo field with the white clouds and blue skies above. This image filled my mind just as the judge raised her arm to point at Cecil for best of breed. Immediately a deep ongoing roar of cheer emanated from the crowd. Goose bumps oscillated up and down my back and at the same time I became a little confused.

We had already won the five points towards the championship, so it really wasn’t the win itself that was extra exciting, although it was unusual and amazing to win best of breed from the classes. I realized it was the connection between Mary and Cecil that had been growing for the past few months that came alive right there in the ring. I was so happy about seeing him turn on for her that my emotions over-flowed. It was all I could do to hold back my tears, all of them except a few. It was yet another experience in the sport of dogs that I would never forget.

I was just as excited as I had been during Cecil’s win while standing there in the Rhodesian ring. Nine months earlier we returned home late from a three day dog show weekend. Mary checked our messages and ran the phone directly upstairs so I could hear the new message as soon as humanly possible. In amazement, almost shock, I spun my chair around the room in surprise. It was an offer to judge today’s Rhodesian specialty. Over 100 entries were anticipated and I felt like my name might have been pulled out of a hat in a random bit of luck. As a relatively new Rhodesian judge I knew this was a coveted assignment even for a specialist in the breed. A specialty show is so named because it specializes in one breed of dog as opposed to an all-breed show where over 100 different breeds might be judged. Specialties are indeed extraordinary, as generally the best of the best show up to compete.

Up to now I had judged the breed less than half a dozen times. My provisional assignments were well behind me and the show representatives had given me positive reports. I was quite happy judging Rhodesians, yet I considered myself to be still fairly new to the breed. Just ten years earlier, as a ring steward at the same event, I spent the day keeping the ring organized for 108 entries, and had watched large entries of Rhodesians at this show almost every year since. Enamored by the breed I continued to learn about them year after year. So when the offer arrived I was beyond thrilled to judge this particular show.

When I returned a call to the corresponding secretary for the Rhodesian Club to humbly accept the assignment, my words conveyed that this was a marvelous challenge for a relatively new judge. The club show chair offered to explain that my name kept coming up during the board’s process of choosing a judge. He said several board members had done their homework. They had looked up my past results on the show website that track judges and said that I judge the dogs. He said that the club felt that I knew the merits of the breed, that my past entries were all fully considered during the show, exhibitors enjoyed their experience, and that I judged the dogs. They also thought I was good with pups in the ring and, oh yes, that I judge the dogs! After accepting the remarkable offer, a contract came quickly and my name was soon listed as judge for the event. Finally, today was the day that I would judge the Rhodesian specialty.

The road to qualify to judge different hound breeds, beyond Rhodesian, took a lot of effort and time. Basset Hounds were my original breed. I had been breeding and showing Bassets for over 20 years so they were, of course, the first breed I petitioned to judge, quickly followed by Dachshunds. After judging as a provisional judge three times with positive evaluations from the show representatives and without too much grumbling from the dog fancy, I was granted regular judging status for these breeds. The process continued as my name was listed in a formal show magazine where the entire dog-fancy could write in and make comments, recommendations or complaints. Moving forward, after enough study, training, and mentoring, which was much like the research effort required for a masters’ degree, I applied to judge additional breeds. It took 10 years of consistent, ongoing effort before I was qualified to judge Bassets, Dachshunds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Bloodhounds and Beagles, then Ibizan Hounds, Saluki’s, Scottish Deerhounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Borzoi, Whippets, Harriers, Portuguese Podengo Pequeno’s, Pharaoh Hounds, Bluetick and Black and Tan Coonhounds, Basenjis and Afghan Hounds.

Looking back, though, my training actually began while at the shows outside the Basset ring, I had my own challenges from the beginning. While spending twenty years hauling crates, carts, canopies, and a variety of tack and grooming bags to ringside at countless dog shows it was natural and automatic to learn how dog shows actually function. Mary would show our Bassets and I would lift, carry, pack up, setup, and hold the dogs at ringside. My official title, as I remember it, was Plebe. Once in a while two of our dogs would end up in the same class competing for the win. Probably in an act of desperation and with no other candidates around, I was called upon to handle one of the dogs. As a consequence, over the years I slowly learned to show a dog almost by default. It was a process, a long process, but for better or worse I became Mary’s second string handler!

The day came when the local Basset hound club called upon me to judge their annual practice match. They couldn’t come up with someone else, so they asked me. They knew I had the style of dogs that fit the standard type, form, and function. As it turned out, I also knew more about the history of the breed than most as I took full advantage of my mother-inlaw’s extensive library. Kati had a 40 × 40 foot square den containing years of Basset hound and other hound history.

Listening to Mary explain Basset conformation again and again, unraveling the history of the breed through the mountains of Kati’s monthly Basset publications, club newsletters, and letters among breeders of the 1940’s and 1950’s, I had gained a detailed understanding of the many Basset kennels throughout the United States. Of particular interest was the Santana Mandeville kennel from the early 1950’s where Paul and Helen Nelson developed a line of Bassets that would help to improve the breed for generations across the United States and elsewhere.

For over twenty years my attention focused on care and love for my dogs, and my breed. We had bred 2 litters and kept most of the dogs with us or in nearby homes. Apart from a few exceptions our dogs were born in our hands and died in our arms. We invested our money, time and emotions in our dogs. I realize those years of hauling gear, spending long days at the shows with Mary and our dogs, and reading about all things Basset, I had actually been in training to be a dog show judge.

At the end of that first day judging the Basset match, Mary asked if I was interested in judging at regular shows to give out championship points. The answer was a natural yes. It was another way to not only express my love of the breed, but also to facilitate and promote positive connections with the dogs for myself and for others through ongoing evaluation of the dogs in terms of the written standard. Judging might also provide opportunities to travel and see wonderful dogs throughout the country.

Being in plebe status for the first 10 years I felt I was along for the ride. In the second 10 years I became a partner in breeding champion Basset Hounds with Mary. And now, after 30 years, this passion and felt sense of responsibility connects me with all recognized hound breeds.

I knew of others who had applied to judge and were turned down. This was not surprising as their motives were confusing. It was clear their desire to judge had little to do with the dogs, but seemed to be more about a means for social interaction. Who would participate in the sport of conformation dog shows without appreciating and demonstrating a positive genuine connection with the dogs? With so little experience and only a minimal appreciation for the history and purpose of the breed, how would they find the best representative of the breed? Who would knowingly enter under such a judge? In my heart I felt that with proper mentoring from those who felt the same way about their breed as I felt about Bassets, I could learn to judge not only Bassets, but all hounds. Would it be an easy process? No. But it could be accomplished with integrity over time.

Fortunately in the hound world I had support and encouragement to take on the many challenges that come with learning to be a dog show judge. Once the word got out that I was interested in judging Dachshunds, Beagles and Bloodhounds, owners of these breeds took a chance and asked me to judge at sweepstakes and specialty club matches. Dog show officials were helpful in learning ring etiquette, how to deal with misconduct and how to implement the rules of sportsmanship.

Bassets and Dachshunds with their long bodies and low profiles were easy for me to understand particularly considering they both are scent hounds used for trailing and flushing up