Sarah Montague, Senior Producer
Sarah Montague is in her seventeenth year as producer of the fiction series Selected Shorts for WNYC, and also produces features, dramas, and documentaries.
Tuesday night, a Scottish deerhound named Foxcliffe Hickory Wind floated past six other champion dogs to win Best in Show at the 135th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden. The win is the first for the breed, which is thought to have originated as far back as the 16th century. Judge Paolo Dondina called it a “super win” for this beautiful mover, and in a post-show press conference quoted Sir Walter Scott, who described this rangy, elegant sight hound as “a most perfect creature of heaven.”
The job of the judge in the Best in Show category is to determine which of the dogs (among the seven group winners that make the final) most epitomizes the breed. For Judge Dondina, Hickory, who was named for the bluegrass song by John Duffy, “was the one that, in between fantastic dogs, was to me most close to her standard.”
Dodina added that he particularly loved sight hounds for their complex personalities, being “very sensitive and at the same time they get excited when they chase, and so, it is like to have two personalities—one very soft and in some ways timid, and then, in the moment, they need to prove that they are hunters and killers.”
Hickory’s soft side was definitely in evidence Tuesday night, as she pressed close to her handler Angela Lloyd under the barrage of cameras and microphones in the crowded press room at Madison Square Garden. “She says ‘You guys don’t look like a bunch of squirrels and deer,’” Lloyd translated, and went on to praise her dog’s presence in the ring. “I think that all dogs are easy to love, but the thing is that—sometimes you find those ones where everything clicks, and she is certainly one of those dogs," Lloyd said. "We’ve been through a lot together, and that builds bonds for sure.”
Hounds can be “stubborn by nature,” Lloyd noted, “and see things their own way for sure, but if you have determination, and help them to think they are doing something they like to do, it works out in the end.” The proof was clearly in the pudding last night.
Co-owner and breeder Cecilia Dove (Hickory’s other owners are Dove’s husband Scott and Sally Sweatt) said Hickory was "the most beautiful, beautiful deerhound ever.”
Tuesday night’s win is sure to call attention to this breed, which is not as well known as some of the other contenders for Best in Show honors, which included a Pekingese, a cocker spaniel, a Portuguese water dog, a smooth-coated fox terrier, a bearded collie, and a Chinese shar-pei.
However, Dove did qualify the breed's win by saying deerhounds wouldn't be good pets everywhere: “They’re a large breed and need to be raised carefully. They’re very gentle, and they’re the dog world’s best kept secret—until tonight.”
After the usual post-show round of media appearances (including an annual lunch to be held at Sardi’s on Wednesday that had one reporter quipping, “Will there be venison on the menu?”) Hickory will be retired to the Dove’s farm in Warrenton, Virginia, where she lives with a pack of twelve other hounds, and there are plenty of deer.
Lloyd, for one, will be sorry to see her go. “She’s a wonderful dog to live with. I’m going to miss the nose nudge in the middle of the night.”