By: MARY ULLMER
Photography: TERRY JOHNSTON
NEW YORK – When Jay Richardson entered the ring at Madison Square Garden, he was greeted with some familiar – and some not so familiar – faces. But it was the half-black, half-white face that captivated him.
Richardson, of St. Charles, Ill., was chosen as the Terrier Group judge for this year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. It was Richardson’s responsibility to select the best of the best from a gathering of 30 terriers who were selected tops among their breed earlier in the day.
His choice would move on the Best In Show judging, earning a shot at becoming “America’s Top Dog.”
“I’ve grown up in this business,” Richardson, 59, said. “For anyone who shows dogs competitively, winning something at the Garden is the ultimate. Everybody would love to judge in New York. I am extremely fortunate to be chosen to do the terrier group in just my second assignment (with the WKC).”
Richardson’s only previous judging assignment with the WKC, in 2008, was a preliminary for junior showmanship, where the handler, and not the breed, is the focus.
“You don’t judge the quality of the dogs, but you judge the handler and how they present,” Richardson said.
Growing up, Richardson was surrounded by poodles. His parents raised and showed poodles, primarily the standard poodle. After school, he worked in a kennel that featured collies. He has shown different breeds, but mainly soft-coated Wheaten terriers. Presently, two older miniature wirehaired Dachshunds and a young Brussels Griffon (his daughter’s) call the Richardson household home.
But judging terriers is Richardson’s passion. Terrier judges are a rather small group, Richardson said, and he thinks that might have played into his selection to be a group judge. He found out about his assignment in April 2011, when a letter from the WKC arrived in the mail.
“It basically said, ‘We invite you to judge and your assignment is as follows,’ ” Richardson said. “I thought, ‘Great, I get to go back (to WKC) … I wonder what breed I’ll be judging.’ When I saw it was the Terrier Group, I thought, ‘Wow.’ It’s something I never imagined or planned on. This is as good as it gets, doing a group, and especially the Terrier Group at the Garden. It’s the ultimate.”
He said it’s the challenge of judging terriers that attracts him to the group.
“Someone once said it’s hard to hide things on a smooth-coated dog, and that’s true,” Richardson said. “Terriers provide a great challenge to a handler. I think what sets them apart from other dogs is the conditioning that it entails and the grooming … the ability to groom the dog and take that hard coat and make it into what it’s supposed to be.
“When you get into the bigger shows, the level of dogs you are judging is superb. As a judge you really have to think. It gives you the opportunity to be a little pickier than you normally are. At the Garden, all the group dogs will be in perfect condition. You have the best of the best … the best dogs in the best condition, and you hope they show the best they can. It presents a challenge.”
For those who have watched the WKC Dog Show and wondered how one dog could possibly win out over another, Richardson offers insight into his approach. Given that he judges terriers, attitude sometimes plays a role.
“It’s very subjective and I always feel there’s no right or wrong way,” he said. “The way I approach it is I try to determine how good of a specimen is that individual dog of his breed. Is that Airedale terrier a better Airedale than the Kerry blue is a Kerry blue? The level you’re talking about at Westminster, something that factors in is who wants to win that day? Great show dogs tend to rise to the occasion.
“My personal feeling is that in most situations when you have a very difficult decision, one dog seems to help you out a little more than others. It sort of says, ‘Hey people, this is my space. Kiss my ass.’ They have that fire in their eyes, they watch you the whole way and if you got into a staring match with them, you would blink first.”
It was the stare that captured Richardson when he selected Adam as winner of the Terrier Group at Westminster. The smooth fox terrier’s head is split right down the middle between black and white. Adam, a 5-year-old owned by JW Smith of North Collins, N.Y., had also won the Terrier Group in 2011 and was second in the Group in 2012.
It wasn’t the first time Richardson had judged Adam. He had seen him four years ago as a young dog in California and gave him second to a Scottish terrier, Sadie, who went on to win Best in Show at Westminster in 2010. He awarded Adam best in breed and best in group in another show in Louisville, and also had previously judged him Best in Show.
This year at Madison Square Garden, Adam stood out again, Richardson said. He selected Adam over the wire fox terrier, Sky, who had won the Eukanuba and National Dog Show championships coming into Westminster and was handled by Gabriel Rangel, who took Sadie to Best in Show.
“In my opinion, Adam is as good a fox terrier as any that has come down the road,” he said. “I believe he was a better smooth than the wire was a wire. I was happy with the group and happy they all showed as well as they did. I just thought the night belonged to the smooth over the wire.
“Logic would say the wire would be the one to beat. I don’t think Gabriel lost a show with her all year. She had won consistently week in and week out.”
Sky finished second in the group, followed by the border terrier, Mia, and the Russell terrier, Bosse.
Richardson said he was surprised as anyone to see Adam competing. Group judges are sequestered and are not aware of which dogs they’ll be judging until they are in the ring.
“It’s my understanding that they didn’t decide until Friday or Saturday that they were going to show him,” Richardson said. “I didn’t even know he was going to be there until he walked into the ring.”
Richardson himself pulled off somewhat of a surprise, judging the 5-year-old Russell terrier from Sawyer, Mich., fourth in the group. It was the first year the Russell terrier was entered in the WKC Dog Show, and it’s a rarity for a new breed to score in its first year.
“I had never judged that dog before,” Richardson said. “I had seen it from a distance. I actually read the Russell terrier standard several times on Tuesday just to be sure. It was a great show dog … his head, his ears and the standard calls for that collapsible chest. When I put my hands on him and pressed, the chest collapsed just like it’s supposed to.
“I was very happy with the four dogs I placed.”
When it came to placement, Richardson said everything about Adam on that night made it clear he was the top terrier.
“He is just a superb example of what I think the smooth fox terrier is supposed to look like,” Richardson said. “From the nape, the neckline, the beautiful face, such wonderful eyes and ears… and that piercing terrier expression.
“His eyes just burn through you when you come up on him. He is just a beautiful dog.”
Mary Ullmer is a pets blogger and editor of Dogs Unleashed, a lifestyle magazine for dog lovers distributed in West Michigan. Contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter, @pressunleashed.