It all began with Topsy
Yes, I’m one of those people who has a gorgeous black bag to carry one of my beloved Toy Poodles. A staff meeting here at BerkshireStyle wouldn’t be complete without Whisper. She sits quietly in her comfy little bag while I work on editorial calendars and strategize layout with my team.
My love of dogs began early on. I grew up showing ponies – confirmation hunters – almost every weekend. That part of my life surely set the stage for learning how to compete but I didn’t connect with horses the way I did with my very first dog, Topsy. In fact Topsy sparked a love for dogs that would change the course of my life in so many ways.
Topsy was a terrier mix with wise and wonderful eyes. She would sit quietly in my room and listen to my records, to my joys and to my sadness. She had an intuitive sense about her – she just knew me. I’ve been in love with dogs ever since.
Fast forward a few years to the late 90’s and the beginning of my show dog life. My first love was Bichons. We had one as an adored family pet and I was hooked on the breed. These dogs are kind, friendly, loving, have a hypoallergenic coat and are just so damn cute!!! Let’s just say I was smitten with those adorable faces way back when and those eyes still delight me today.
While showing my Bichon, Porter, my handler called to offer me the opportunity to own an amazing Toy Poodle – Champion (CH) Foxmore Faren who had just won Best of Breed at the Poodle Club of America (PCA). To win at this annual show, composed only of poodles, is the highest honor. I jumped at the opportunity. Faren went on to break many show records and, suffice it to say, I added another breed to my smitten list.
As an owner of champion show dogs, I often get asked what my proudest moment has been. To be honest, I’m so incredibly blessed – there are just too many of those moments to count. Faren, my first Toy Poodle, won many All-Breed Best in Shows and the most Best in Specialty Shows of any Poodle in history. She had two Variety wins at Westminster and a Group 3 placement.
Faren leaves an amazing legacy that lives on to this day. Her daughter, Whistle, won Best Toy Poodle Puppy at PCA and Best of Breed at Montgomery Kennel Club Show, a prestigious show held once every five years. Her other daughter, Whisper, won Best of Variety at Eukanuba.
Porter, my adorable Bichon is right behind Faren with many Best in Shows and a Best in Breed at BFCA (Bichon Frise Club of America) and a Best of Breed at Westminster.
I would be remiss if I didn’t brag just a bit about my darling black Toy Poodle, Charlie, just home from his career. He won Best in Variety at PCA 2018 and Best of Opposite to Best of Breed 2019!
A stunning career for a dog before his third birthday.
The show life is exciting, intriguing, competitive, and can be completely overwhelming and intimidating to a newcomer! It’s like moving into a small country with its own vocabulary, rules and hierarchy. Like any country there are the good guys and the bad ones – it takes time to navigate the field and find your place amongst the good.
My advice to someone who is interested in entering the show ring is do your research to first determine the kind of dog you want to own. This dog will live with you long after the show career. Attend a benched show where breeds are available and talk to the breeders. Each breed has its unique characteristics and needs; it is important you match your situation and personality with the needs of your breed – and above all you MUST fall in love. You’ll just know when you look into the eyes of your first show dog – trust me.
The other question I ALWAYS get asked by my Berkshire friends is how I keep all my dogs in New York City! Most people might find it overwhelming but I love having my three dogs with me in the City - today, one Bichon and two Toy Poodles. They are small and don’t need a great deal of exercise, so they are perfect for co-op life!
I walk them often and love that they force me to take a break, leave the apartment and provide a good excuse to get outside and enjoy Central Park. An added perk, my pups travel well. Their small crates fit easily into my car so, on a moment’s notice, we can pack up and head to the country. I’m just not a big dog person – I leave the Labrador Retrievers to others!
“But Toni – what about all those rescue dogs who need adopting?” I say, “Adopt these wonderful beings!” Be it an adorable mixed breed like Topsy or a pure-bred Poodle or Newfoundland, there are facilities and groups who can find you the perfect dog, one that needs a loving home. Don’t forget to support the facilities who do the hard work of saving and rehoming dogs. So many need our help – write them a check, donate supplies, volunteer or be a foster mom or dad.
I have always known that my dogs are my greatest spiritual teachers. The lessons are without limit. Trust. Patience. Unconditional love. Living in the moment. Dignity to name a few. Dogs contribute such love, energy and joy. I cannot imagine a life without them.