Yesterday at the 136th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show I caught up with our recent guest, Grand Champion Willcare To Fly Under The Radar, RN, better known as Walter. The chocolate-coated Labrador Retriever and his owner-handler-breeder Sue Willumsen were in good spirits—out of the 38 Labrador Retrievers competing for Best In Breed, he was the only the dog to win the Judge’s Award of Merit, his second consecutive win.
We chatted backstage in the benching area, a crowded service ramp in the depths of Madison Square Garden, packed with hundreds of the best canine specimens in the world waiting for their turn to prove themselves in the ring. Described by some as “a cross between a hair salon and Baghdad” the benching area was buzzing with the sound of blow-dryers and electric razors, but curiously few barks from the many dogs lassoed to their grooming tables for last-minute preening. Walter, however, was relaxing. “They’re wash n’ wear” says Willumsen, “the maintenance is not as extreme as other long hair dogs.”
Back home in Kingston, NH, Willumsen plans on teaching her prize pup how to be a hunting dog, one of the many jobs Labs were bred for. But three-year-old Walter’s show career is far from over, and Willumsen hopes to return to Westminster next year for an even bigger win. “He meets the American Kennel Club description of the Labrador Retriever,” says Willumsen, “but it’s his kind spirit and nature, as well as his sense of humor, that makes him my best buddy.”