Hickory, Westminster Kennel Club's 'best in show' dog, is from Va. hunt country

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is America's second-longest continuously held sporting event, behind only the Kentucky Derby. To win, you have to be mentally fit, physically fit and, of course, be careful where you step.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 16, 2011; 8:38 PM

After winning "best in show" from the Westminster Kennel Club, a dog has every right to get cranky, to go diva, to not sit, to not stay. But over the past 24 hours, as paparazzi have trailed her around New York, Grand Champion Foxcliffe Hickory Wind has borne her title with quiet dignity and grace.

She's a hometown gal. She's a lady of the Virginia hunt country. She's a 5-year-old Scottish deerhound from Flint Hill, 90 minutes west of the capital. And now she's the best of the best, which means she has obligations. Like a 6:30 a.m. appointment with "Fox and Friends."

"Do you think this will enhance the rivalry between Scotland and England and Ireland?" asked co-host Brian Kilmeade, inexplicably, Wednesday morning.

"Well it's a possibility, I suppose," handler Angela Lloyd, a Warrenton resident, answered charitably, on only an hour of sleep. "Last year you had Sadie the Scottish terrier, and now you have Hickory the Scottish deerhound."

The canyons of Manhattan are not the hills of Rappahannock County, but Hickory has made do. She calmly visited the "Today" show and "The Early Show," where she stood with her hindquarters facing the hosts.

"You have to own the ground you stand over," Westminster host David Frei explained on "The Early Show." "Whether you call it charisma, personality or showmanship - she had it all."

She lunched at Sardi's, where an eight-ounce fillet was presented to her, medium rare, on a silver platter.

So how does it feel?

On the phone, the champion issues light, whispery breaths through her weeping-willow whiskers.

Her co-owner uses words to describe the elation.

"Amazing, magical, cloud nine, whatever you want to call it," says Cecilia Dove, who has bred deerhounds for 35 years with her husband, Robert, a veterinarian in Gainesville. "She always thought she was very special. She exudes that sort of 'I'm the queen' mentality, that she deserves to be pampered."

The queen has a goatee. She weighs an undainty 85 pounds. She looks as if she eats Pekingese for breakfast. Her bearing, though, is aristocratic, and she moves in a kind of slow-motion, suspended trot. She's been sleeping on her own pillows on the floor of her hotel room near Madison Square Garden.

Sir Walter Scott called the Scottish deerhound "the most perfect creature." On Tuesday night the show-ring judge Paolo Dondina agreed, making Hickory the first of her kind - and perhaps the tallest canine ever (nearly 30 inches at the withers) - to win Westminster in 135 years of competition. Out of 2,500 entrants and seven finalists, she was the most perfect.

Tuesday was triumphant. Wednesday was a whirlwind. After lunch, Hickory visited the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Thursday morning she will open the New York Stock Exchange - a most metropolitan honor for a creature of pastoral origins.

Foxcliffe Hickory Wind was born to Thistleglen Newell and Foxcliffe Summoning Charms just before Christmas 2005 in the Doves' converted cattle-feeder barn, on 56 acres abutting the Rappahannock and Jordan rivers. The litter of six was beautiful, with the desired curves, head shape and coat texture. The Doves name their pups thematically, and Hickory and her siblings received bluegrassy titles (after the late D.C. musician John Duffey's cover of "Hickory Wind").

Hickory has been the country's top Scottish deerhound for the majority of her life. Lloyd, a professional handler who went to Damascus High School in Montgomery County, met Robert Dove through his veterinary practice three years ago. In November 2009, Minneapolis breeder and dog fancier Sally Sweatt signed on as a sponsor to help bankroll Hickory's sprint for greatness. A team cohered and the stars aligned.

Hickory, totally prepared, came face to face with a judge with a soft spot for hounds. The Westminster victory is Hickory's 15th all-breed, best-in-show award.

"We came to show and do our best," says Lloyd, 31, who won the junior competition at Westminster in 1998 and has attended every year since she was 9. "This year she happened to win. It's just like any other day on the job as a professional handler. You get your charges ready in order to go and win."

The Doves belong to a small fiefdom of deerhound breeders in central Virginia, where the open range accommodates the dogs' hunting instincts and desire for fast, focused runs over miles of terrain. There are no more than 1,000 of them in the United States, and they are normally sold for $2,000 to $2,500, according to Oakton resident Janet Porter, president of the Scottish Deerhound Club of America.

"The Scottish deerhound has not gotten a lot of national recognition, and this is icing on the cake for the hard work that the breeders have been doing to keep our dogs as beautiful as they are," said Porter, who jumped and wept after Hickory was feted on national television. "If you look at pictures of deerhounds from 500 years ago and you look at today's dog, they look the same. We're very proud of that."

The Doves live under the same roof as a dozen deerhounds and a stable of horses, so Cecilia is expecting a warm greeting when they get home Thursday night. Hickory's mother, 10-year-old Summoning Charms, is waiting there, as is her brother Foxcliffe the Boatman, a champion in his own right. (He won the Eastern Regional Specialty in 2009.) It's an esteemed lineage; Hickory's aunt, Thistleglen Margot, won best of group at Westminster in 2006.

Hickory's next task is to continue the line. Somewhere out there, a lucky potential sire is destined to bed the best of the best.

"She has a list of six eligible bachelors," says Cecilia, who is researching mates. "We need to make sure they're not only a pretty face but also healthy. You breed the best with the best and hope for the best."

© 2011 The Washington Post Company