Retrievers, Ridgebacks and lots of rosettes
11:02am Saturday 19th October 2013 in News
WINNING POOCH: Janet's daughter, Rebecca Morris from Pontypool with her Retriever (Chesapeake Bay) Jack, at the third day of Crufts 2013.
Dogs may be man’s best friend but for some they are also their hobby and livelihood. LAURA LEA met two Gwent women who have dedicated their lives to the world of dog showing.
NORAH Raymonds has been dog showing for almost 30 years.
She is the proud owner of nine dogs – all of which are award-winning Rhodesian Ridgebacks.
But her hobby doesn't just stop at the shows - she also runs her own dog spa too.`
Speaking about how she first got involved with dog showing, she said: “Somebody said you’ve got a very nice dog, why don’t you show her?
“And I won three classes. I didn’t have a clue, but bit by bit people taught me.”
Now, Norah takes part in around 15 to 20 shows a year.
Janet Morris, of Goytre, went to her first show in 1974 with an English Pointer.
She said: “I bought a dog as a pet and the breeder said I should show him.
“The first show was a dog match where the dogs go head to head. When I won this, you’d have thought I’d won Crufts. From then onwards, I was bitten by the bug.”
Janet now has eight dogs, all of which are Chesapeake Retrievers.
“I started getting more interested in working the dogs, so I got a Retriever. I like a challenge and I wanted a breed where nothing was changed. I wanted a dog that was well-balanced and very healthy.”
By 1979, Janet had her first Chesapeake. It had taken her four years to get it. Now, all eight of her Chesapeakes have been bred by her.
Dog shows happen all over the UK, all year round, but the crème de le crème of shows has always been the annual Crufts, held at Birmingham’s NEC Arena.
Crufts is the world's largest dog show and was established in 1891 by Charles Cruft and this year, more than 22,000 dogs competed.
All pedigree dogs must be registered with The Kennel Club in order to qualify for Crufts.
For the prestigious ‘Best in Show’, The Kennel Club-approved judge will watch the dogs take their lap of honour and mark them for their overall health and condition, coat, character, temperament, movement and how close they are to the Kennel Club breed standard.
Norah’s dog Ella is 13 and-a-half years-old and a current UK and Irish champion. She is the great-great-grandmother of the pups Norah will soon show.
Norah recently took one of the puppies to France despite not showing her. She said: “It’s all good learning experience, getting them used to the environment and the shows.”
Norah will take up to four dogs to a show. She says: “Showing isn’t for everybody. I think if people aren’t winning, they don’t like it. Plus a lot of people with Ridgebacks have young families and dog shows are not the best places for young children. They are long days, with lots of waiting around.”
Norah was showing years before she opened her dog spa in Pontllanfraith ten years ago.
“It did have a part to play in it. My background was working with people with learning disabilities. I didn’t want to do kennels, but something more challenging. I read an article on hydrotherapy and thought that’s what I can do. In 2003, we were the first in South Wales to set up. It’s just grown from there.”
The spa now offers training, grooming, a vetinary nurse and kennels. Owners often bring their dogs ahead of shows, to get them into shape.
“Showing is a base mark for others. They are fit and lean. This is what your dog should aspire to. Part of our training at the spa is nutrition and well-being,” Norah said.
Janet, who is now retired, has won ten best of breeds at Crufts. Her goal now is to win a group place at Crufts in the gun dog group.
“This year we came really close, when my daughter walked with one of the dogs. It was the first time a Chesapeake had ever been shortlisted for the group.”
Adhering to the strict regulations and standards of the purest breed presents a constant challenge to owners and breeders like Janet and Norah.
“You have to check the teeth, eyes and hips. Then you’ve got to hope it looks like it’s supposed to. It’s a minefield. I try very hard to have a dog that hasn’t got anything exaggerated and that looks and does what the breed should. It’s my challenge in life to do this.
“But you have to set your standards high.”
Exhibiting a dog is a learned skill and it even has a name - It’s called Ring craft. The Treharris Ring craft Association meet every Monday all year round.
“It’s making the most of your dog and enjoying it,” Norah said.
Over the years, it’s no wonder a community is formed between those who show.
As Norah said: “It’s a hobby. It’s about friends.
“If you’re going on a nice day out with friends, it’s more fun. We don’t just show our dogs together, we visit each other’s houses and even go on holidays.”
But the dogs still dictate some of these friendships.
Norah said: “Each breed attracts similar people. Within my breed I have friendships nationwide. But South Wales is very supportive of each other.”
For Janet, the dogs are just as well-known as the owners.
“You know every pedigree and every dog. You know its parents and its great great grandparents. I look at a dog and think those ears have come from its granny. It’s not just down to the length of time you’re in it all, but it’s what you learn.”
The friendships, like the dogs and the shows, cross international borders. Both women exhibit in the UK and Europe and Janet has judged on numerous panels abroad.
“It takes additional preparation, let’s say. It’s not that it was ever very difficult, but we got very anxious. But now the authorities and us are far more familiar with it, so it’s much easier,” Norah explained. “Next year we are not showing, but there’s a group of us going to Helsinki to the World show. Dog showing is so international so in Helsinki I will meet up with friends from Sweden and Australia.”
Both women breed, but what is soon clear is this is not a money making operation for either, which is impressive considering they each have enviable waiting lists full of names.
Norah said: “I breed about once a year. As a breeder I do feel it is important to have a good relationship with the potential owners of a puppy and all our pups go to their new homes with a contract which is to protect the well being of that pup, hopefully for the whole of its life.
“They have to be a pet first- a family dog first. There’s just no point otherwise. They have to live with the families and be enjoyed by them. That’s the priority.”
Janet is the self-professed ‘top of the tree’ in her breed.
“My dogs have taken me all over the world and I’ve sent dogs everywhere from Dubai to Bermuda.”
Janet currently has an order from a man in Brazil.
“They come over and they just find me.
“I want my dogs to go to working homes. I have exactly the same dog going shooting along the river Usk that wins best show in Crufts. I’ve got to keep my prices low so my breed is not exploited as money machines. You have to be responsible if you breed.”
But having such successes in the dog world comes at a price. The shows not only dictate social lives, but also finances.
“In the UK we have a very fixed calendar of events. You can plan almost two years down the line,” Norah explains. “You know that minimally you’re looking at about £150 per show. At most of these dog shows now there are photographers so you present yourself and dress up a bit.”
Janet has spent up to £5,000 buying Chesapeakes to breed with, but the time far outweighs the financial commitment.
“It’s a good six months of planning for Crufts,” she says. “It takes up all my time, especially as I train them for work as well.
“I think my husband has probably made more sacrifices. This is what I enjoy doing. For me, this is the natural thing to do. I don’t have to give up anything to have the dogs. This is what I’ve always done – this is my life.”
These women are competitive, proud and fiercely committed. But above all, they love their dogs and you sense, the feeling may be mutual.