There were 2,721 entries from 187 breeds at the 137th Westminster Kennel Club dog show this year. Seven made it to Tuesday’s final — and two of those were co-owned by Washington’s Ellen Charles.
To have one dog competing for Best of Show is huge; two is almost unheard of. It was very, very exciting,” Charles told us Wednesday. “I was nervous — not crazy nervous, but pins and needles.”
In the dog world, Westminster is the Oscars and Super Bowl combined — a wagging, barking mass of fierce four-legged competition in Madison Square Garden. Charles was there in Manhattan rooting for Jewel, a 3-year-old American foxhound, and Honor, a 4-year-old bichon frise. Both made an impressive showing in the ring, but the top honor went to Banana Joe, a feisty little black affenpinscher who looks like an Ewok.
“Cute as a button,” said Charles. “Tiny little thing marches around like he’s a bigger dog.”
Dogs — owning, breeding, showing — have been a family tradition for Charles, the granddaughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post who currently serves as president of the Hillwood estate, Post’s mansion-turned-museum near Rock Creek Park.
“I think I went to my first dog show 70 years ago,” said Charles, 75. Her mother once judged at Westminster; Charles has been breeding purebreds all her life and had two other dogs compete for Best in Show at Westminster.
Like so many other athletes, champion dogs need sponsors. Which is where Charles comes in: As co-owner, she doesn’t keep Jewel and Honor in her Georgetown home — they reside with their handlers — but she pays for expenses and promotion.
How much? “A lot!” she said with a laugh. Showing a champion can cost up to $100,000 a year. Charles decided to back Jewel, who won Westminster’s Hound group, because “there’s an aura about her — you just knew she something special.” Honor, who took the non-sporting title, is the “best [bichon] I’ve ever seen.” Both will continue to compete until they retire and begin producing championship puppies.
Charles has her own beloved pack at home: A standard poodle and three toy poodles (a grandmother, mother and puppy.)
“They’re my clowns — and my joy,” she said. And yes, they all sleep with her. “I’m thinking I might have to get a king-size bed.”
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