This will be Inuk’s 10th appearance at Westminster, where he’s previously won eight best-in-breed titles and was awarded the title of “select dog” last year, for a second-place showing.
Robertson, who’s been showing American Eskimos for almost 20 years, says she knew he was a champion when she first saw him as a puppy.
“He was just one of those dogs that you spot an attitude, you spot — and it sounds dumb — but I call it, ‘It.’ It’s just a quality that every time you look in the box and see six puppies that’s the only dog you see. And that was Inuk,” said Robertson.
Exactly what happened to the dog on that New Jersey highway, no one really knows. This much is true: Fanucci the young German shepherd was so shattered, so bloodied after jumping out of a broken-down van hooked to a speeding tow truck, his life was in jeopardy.
“You see the dog, you see the pain. You don’t want him to suffer,” co-owner Stephanie Schrock said. “For half an hour, we thought about whether we needed to euthanize him, trying to come up with the right decision.”
Come Monday morning, he’ll step onto the carpeted ring at the Westminster Kennel Club, showing not a scratch from his 2014 wreck.
Rumor the German shepherd won last February, and then she retired. That leaves a clear path for five-year-old Fanucci, named for a character in The Godfather Part II and considered by many the best of his breed in the nation.
He’s already twice competed at Westminster, once taking home an award of merit. It’s been more than a century since two different dogs of the same breed have won this show.
“If he never does anything in his career, he’s done more than you ever have imagined,” said handler Sue Condreras, a physician’s assistant from Farmingville, New York.
Back around Labor Day 2014, Fanucci was off to a fast start. He’d won two herding groups that weekend and was riding with a pack of dogs inside a van that stalled.
It was hot, and co-owner Leslie Dancosse made sure to crack the window before climbing into the tow truck. They were headed to a garage, going nearly 100 km/h, when a car suddenly waved them down.
The driver’s words nearly paralyzed Dancosse: “A German shepherd just jumped out of the van!”
His right rear leg was as badly broken as anything Dr. Guy DeNardo had ever seen at the Valley Central Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center in Whitehall, Penn. Surgery took five hours or so, cost about $ 10,000 (U.S.) and included rods, pins, screws and wire.
“It was in quite a few pieces. It truly was a puzzle to put back together,” he said.
DeNardo’s prognosis: Fanucci would eventually walk, “but to make it back into the show world, that might’ve been doubtful.”
Now, he’s ready to possibly to take his biggest steps yet.
Schrock, a retired vet tech from Milton, Del., has never been to Westminster. She’ll be there this time.
If Fanucci earns a place in the best-of-seven final ring, DeNardo also would like to attend.
“I do remember this one, piecing that thing together,” he said. “I remember
Canadians have had a solid track record at Westminster, the second-oldest continuous sporting event in the United States, after the Kentucky Derby.
Canuck dogs have won best in show at Madison Square Garden six times, most recently Miss P the beagle in 2015.
Miss P’s handler, Will Alexander, returns this year to show eight pooches from the U.S. and Canada.
“Your whole year, this is what you strive for, making your dogs look good for this show,” Alexander said as he prepared for the trip from his home in Milton, Ont.
“Westminster is sort of the Olympics of dog shows, right?”
The judging panels, too, feature a healthy Canuck contingent, with Vancouver native Betty-Anne Stenmark presiding over the all-important finale.
Stenmark, who moved to California in 1975 after meeting her husband at a dog show in Michigan, will be the fourth Canadian to judge the category, and the second Canadian woman.
She spent many years as an exhibitor and breeder, cultivating a specialty in Dandie Dinmont terriers, but discovered an eye for judging in the 1970s.
“I was watching this judge do a terrible job with the breeds and I can remember saying to myself, ‘I can do as good a job as that,’ ” Stenmark said with a chuckle.
But it’s not easy to be a judge. Qualifications require applicants to have bred dogs, produced champions, judged apprentice shows and completed exams on anatomy and specific breed standards.
Stenmark, who now lives in the Sierra Foothills, says she’s licensed to judge about 130 breeds, including all breeds in the sporting, hound and terrier groups.
Generally speaking, she’ll be on the lookout at Westminster for good breeding stock.
“When you’re faced with two lovely dogs before you, you think to yourself, ‘I would be happy to have that dog at my house’ and that’s the one you choose. It’s simply judging the quality of the dog and its abilities to reproduce and improve the breed with every litter,” she said.
Other Canadian judges include Pamela Bruce of Toronto; Stephen Dainard of Niagara Falls, Ont.; John Reeve-Newson of Toronto and Canadian-born Elliott More, now of New Hampshire.
Then there’s husband-and-wife judging team Michael and Rosemary Shoreman, who head to Westminster for the first time, although they’ve judged all over the world.
“It’s a great show, it really is,” said 73-year-old Michael Shoreman, who will be judging 170 dogs over two days in the terrier, toy and non-sport groups.
“Very often, Canadian dogs do very well. The Canadian breeders in a lot of breeds are very strong,” he said.
Rosemary Shoreman said the Phelpston, Ont. couple will likely take more time than usual to assess the dogs, mindful of the big stakes at the televised event.
“Because it’s a prestigious show, you don’t rush through what you’re doing,” said the 70-year-old, who will be judging 159 dogs in the terrier and toy breeds.
“It will take a little bit longer than it would at a regular dog show. We’re probably going to be judging in total each day about four hours.”
Whittling some 2,800 dogs down to a single best-in-show winner is no easy task.
Stenmark has judged at Westminster 10 times, but admits the best-in-show category can come down to “a real lottery.
“The competition at that point is phenomenal, and as a judge, when you get to those seven dogs you can’t make a mistake — they’re all good dogs,” she said.
“It becomes more: Who’s really on that day? Who’s out there seemingly wanting it? And we’ll see what happens.”
The Westminster Kennel Club dog show runs Monday and Tuesday in New York City, with the best-in-show prize to be announced by 11 p.m. Tuesday.