Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Whippet with Perth connection, Daisy, named ‘Select Bitch’ in Westminster dog show

Daisy the whippet was chosen as Select Bitch during the Westminster Kennel Dog Show in New York May 11 to 14. She is pictured with handler Laura Kieffer after earning her title. The dog is owned by Capt. Elisa Holland of Kingston. – Diane Han photo

It was a fantastic achievement for Kingston’s Capt. Elisa Holland as her whippet, Daisy, was named the Select Bitch in her category.

This is the second year Holland’s prized 2.5-year-old whippet has taken part in the Westminster Kennel Dog Show in New York. This year’s event took place May 11 to 14, where more than 2,500 canines from around the world were vying for the top prizes.

“I was so excited, especially since she is still young. To place second to the top whippet in the United States as an unknown is awesome,” Holland said.

Ray and Elaine Hook of Perth are the proud ‘grand-pawrents’ to Daisy.

“We watched on a Zoom shared screen with Elisa in Kingston,” Ray said. “Talk about shared live excitement!”

Ray said his daughter’s whippets, “Oksana, Daisy’s mom, Tabitha and Daisy, are our grand-dogs.”

The Westminster dog show’s annual event was established in 1877; it is the second-longest continuously held sporting event in the United States, after the Kentucky Derby. The show features a wide range of breeds competing in various categories such as conformation, agility, and obedience, culminating in the coveted Best in Show award – this year a miniature poodle named Sage.

To follow is an in-depth Q&A with Daisy’s owner and handler, Capt. Holland. Daisy’s full name is: Am GCH Can GCH UKC Ch Vrymeer Sonata CGN SDIN. She is co-owned by Laurie Rusticus.

Q: Can you walk us through the preparation process leading up to the show?

A: Only champion dogs are allowed to compete at the Westminster dog show; the top five of each breed get an invitation and after they have accepted or declined it is opened up to a lottery. Both last year and this year that is what we had to do, and were fortunate to get picked both times (via the lottery).

Daisy hadn’t been out much this year because of my schedule and we were focusing on her performance titles (the letters after her official name). Daisy and Laura Kieffer (professional handler and friend/mentor) are a new team. Daisy goes down to live with Laura and her family and they train together and learn how to work together.

To become a champion in the US the dog has to beat a specific number of dogs to earn points: 15 for ‘Champion’ and an additional 25 points for ‘Grand Champion,’ which are based on a complex point schedule depending on the state you compete in, what type of breed you have and whether it is a girl or boy.

It is challenging for an owner handler to do it, but if you have a good dog and present it well then can you can do it. I am proud to say that I completed Daisy’s championship and grand championship owner handled. I knew with my work schedule and my husband’s deployment, I couldn’t attend the US Nationals (held in April) or Westminster so that is why I reached out to Laura Kieffer to see if this partnership might be possible. Laura is a constant professional, and we decided to try it to see if Daisy could work with her. Her priority is always that the dog in her care is not stressed or unhappy.

It’s tough job being an award-winning whippet. Daisy, 2.5 years of age, just loves to snuggle in bed even though she’s a top-rated dog in shows across the US and Canada, including the Westminster Kennel Dog Show where she earned Select Bitch in the whippet category. – Submitted/Capt. Elisa Holland

Q: What kinds of training and grooming routines do you and Daisy follow?

For training, we started young, as I did puppy classes with Daisy at Luv-a-K9 in Kingston, then show handling classes and seminars with top handlers like Will Alexander. And I am lucky enough to have handlers like Laura and Karen Roberson (to name a few) mentor us at shows, giving us tips and tricks to get better. Daisy went full-time down with Laura and she got the fine-tuning of how to be fantastic in the ring. Things like dog treadmills, road work with a bicycle etc. But there is always the fun stuff included as Daisy LOVES frisbee, lounging in the sun and snuggle time on the couch/bed. I get regular updates, cute photos and videos of her being a dog.

Grooming is fairly low maintenance as they are a “wash and go” breed. Daisy’s biggest issue is grass stains as she loves to run, so baths usually happen before a show.

Q: How did your initial showing in 2023 prepare you for this year?

A: Daisy finished last year with a Reserve Best in Show in Canada, a Best in Show (owner handled) in the US and Group 2nd at a large US show. She then focused on a couple of lure coursing events and received two first-place finishes, three second places and a fourth place to be just two points short of her Field Champion title. She also got her Canine Good Neighbour title in Canada. I had a five-year plan for this and Daisy did so well and completed our goals in less than two years. I was actually trying to set new goals when this opportunity just came along.

Q: Do you (ever) show Daisy yourself?

A: Not this year. My husband has been deployed for a year and only the dog that is entered in the show can attend. I had no one to look after my other two (Daisy’s mom and aunt) and with my work schedule I was not able to take time off. I am very fortunate that Laura was able to showcase Daisy to her full potential.

Q: How is Daisy in the spotlight?

A: She absolutely loves the spotlight; the more people clap and pay attention to her the more she is happy! 

Q: What were your expectations this year at Westminster?

A: Actually, we didn’t have any, as we knew the No. 1 was there and she had just won the National a couple of weeks before, and there were some top whippets there. She is in excellent physical condition, has a lot of excellent qualities of the breed standard and with Laura showing her to her full potential she had a good shot of being up there. We enter to win, and at this prestigious event to get any of the top ribbons in your breed is a huge accomplishment. I totally understand parents watching these high-level athletes as I was shaking watching the live video of them as the selection got closer and closer to the end.

Q: How is Daisy responding to all that fame?

A: Unchanged, because Laura took her home and she got to play Frisbee and then snuggle on the couch. Win or lose, Daisy does everything Laura or I ask so she doesn’t know the difference. Daisy’s thoughts on previous ribbons won? She doesn’t care. She just loves that she stole my bed at the hotel.

Q: Were there any memorable moments or challenges you encountered during the event that you’d like to share?

So many. Showing dogs has huge highs and terrible lows. It is a judged sport and people are involved so it can be very challenging sometimes. As I said before, winning Reserve Best in Show in Canada last August under a very respected hound judge, Mr. Stewart Danker, and then to win a Best in Show (owner handler) and group second in the US in December last year was thrilling, as shows in the US have more than double the number of dogs than in Canada.

Q: What advice would you give to other dog owners who aspire to compete in prestigious dog shows like Westminster?

A: I could write a book, but I would say, attend a dog show in your area (canuckdogs.com is a great resource for finding events). Hard work, practice and time will pay off. Get involved in a local club, learn how the events work, volunteer and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Always have good sportsmanship, be a gracious winner or loser. Always believe that you can do it, you can start at any age. I didn’t start until my 30s. Your dog doesn’t care about the ribbons, they just want to please you and you always go home with the best dog.

Q: What do you hope people take away from seeing your whippet’s performance at the Westminster Kennel Dog Show?

A: Honestly, I just want to showcase that Daisy is always a pet first, and that when you have a good support system, you work hard and have patience that rewards do come. It takes a team of caring people that support your dreams and I feel very privileged that I have resources to do this. Daisy’s wellbeing is always first priority and if she was not enjoying this we would be just as happy to have her relaxing on the couch.

Daisy the whippet gives her owner/handler Capt. Elisa Holland some smooches after earning a Reserved Best in Show ribbon at a competition last summer. – Submitted/Capt. Elisa Holland

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your bond with Daisy and how it has evolved through your journey in dog showing?  

A: Miss Daisy Doo — one of her nicknames — was the pick of my second co-bred litter (with my mentor Laurie Rusticus) from Oksana (my first real show dog) from a litter of 10. Daisy is our fourth whippet. Charlie was our first. He was a rescue who passed away just after Daisy was born. Oksana is Daisy’s mom and is almost 10 years old. She was my first real show dog, and I learned so much from her as I was a very green handler.

Q: How has Daisy’s success at Westminster impacted your life and your involvement in the dog showing community?

A: We are not sure the impact yet. People know who Daisy is now, so hopefully it will help in the future, but she is always a pet first. [Her success] doesn’t mean she will be out every weekend travelling across the country, as we don’t have funds for this. It is still a hobby/passion but Daisy’s wellbeing will always take priority.

My involvement in the community is always growing and adapting. I am vice president of the Great Lakes to Atlantic Whippet Club Canada and performance chair. We just completed two sanctioned events last weekend so that we can hold performance events from Ontario to New Brunswick for not just whippets but all breeds in the future. We are now gearing up for a specialty show in September, held in conjunction with Oakville Kennel Club (all breed shows) and fundraising to buy some equipment for future events. As I love showing dogs, I am privileged that some of my friends allow me to show their dogs in both Canada and US — not as a professional but mainly because I love to show dogs.

I also love working with juniors and new exhibitors, helping them avoid some of the mistakes I made and showing that it can be a good community. Like all sports, there is a negative side and sometimes ugly side, but I really try to focus on showing that with hard work, patience, mentoring and practice, honestly you can achieve goals.  

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