|[Home Page] [This Week] [Classifieds] [Legals] [Obituaries] [Newsstands] [Subscriptions] [Advertising] [Deadlines] [About Us] [FAQ] [Archives] [Community Links] [Contact Us]
New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, February 25, 2010
Gedeon bounds to the top of the dog show world, fulfilling the dreams of his humans
By Philippa Stasiuk
GLENVILLE A compact, muscular blinding force barreling to the stars: Gedeon has a dog-show career not unlike himself.
On Tuesday, Feb. 16, the vizsla, who lives in Slingerlands with his owner Natalie Russo, became a celebrity after winning the Best of Breed title at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
For Judy Saddlemire of Glenville, who is Gedeon’s breeder and trainer, his win over the other 31 top vizslas in the ring was proof of a lifetime devoted to the breed and the study of its bloodlines.
“I always predicted that I could breed a dog and win it. I knew the lines and I felt that the dogs I’d picked to sire Gideon were the right way to go. My goal was to at least breed, if not own, a Westminster winner.”
For those who have never heard of a vizsla, let alone know how to pronounce it, (it’s veesh-la), it is a medium bodied rust-brown short-coated hunting dog. Until its mid-20th-Century arrival to the United States, the vizsla had spent perhaps thousands of years hunting rabbits and waterfowl for Hungarian noblemen.
It was in Saddlemire’s grooming shop in Scotia that Russo, a long-time customer, first came to know the vizsla breed and the show-dog world. Saddlemire has owned vizslas since her first job out of high school 35 years ago, working at a boarding kennel for a man who bred them. By the time Saddlemire and her co-breeder had chosen which dogs to mate, hoping to sire a champion, Russo was ready for her second vizsla.
Saddlemire already owned Gedeon’s mother, Zoe, but the chosen father, Warrior’s Mark, lived in California. With thousands of miles between them, breeding was not as simple as leaving two randy dogs in the yard and discreetly pulling the shades. Instead, Zoe was artificially inseminated and, out of the litter of three, Gedeon went home with Russo.
But for Russo and Saddlemire, the challenges of Gedeon did not end with conceiving him. When dogs are judged at conformation shows like Westminster, they are not supposed to be compared to each other. Instead, the judge scrutinizes each dog for how it holds up against an ideal or standard. The American Kennel Club, an institution in the dog world that is like the Houses of Parliament and the monarchy rolled into one, is the standard authority.
The way a purebred dog looks is directly linked to what it was originally meant to do. Poodles, for instance, have fur cut in puffy balls not to sashay down the sidewalks of Park Avenue, but because shaped fur helped them swim faster while chasing waterfowl in ancient Germany.
Vizslas, like other dogs in the sporting group, were bred to be sight hounds and pointers. The AKC states that battle scars or brawny muscles are never supposed to be counted against them in a show ring. However, anything even hinting at a timid temperament can send a vizsla home faster than the blink of its burnt umber-colored eyes.
Enter Gedeon, a dog so outgoing that the word timid actually sees the dog and runs.
“The judges want to see a vizsla animated to the point of being naughty. They want them sassy and bold, and Gedeon is more than happy to oblige,” said Russo.
However, as the owner of only her second uncastrated (called intact) male vizsla, Russo said the process of learning to live with a dog with that much personality has not been easy.
“I call them my 9-1-1 calls to Judy. From the beginning, Gedeon was big, with a lot of attitude, a bully,” said Russo. “He even had his own spot in the whelping box. He wasn’t the puppy that you say, ‘Ooh, I’ll take that one.’ But then Judy gave me her famous, ‘I’ll help you.’ She’s the dog whisperer of vizslas.”
So far, Russo’s challenges with Gideon have included dealing with the adjustment her other intact champion vizsla, Chip, had to make to such a dominant male, and how to handle behavior issues like growling when Russo had the audacity to roll over in bed.
“You have to pick your battles with him,” said Saddlemire, recalling her advice to Russo, “and give him an outlet for his behavior because you can’t squelch his attitude. In the ring, that’s what the judges want him to have.”
Gedeon’s outlet is not a tempered walk around the block but a breakneck sprint alongside a 4-wheeler driven by Russo through Saddlemire’s snow-covered grass fields with a few sniffs and sprays for good measure.
Inside, Saddlemire’s kitchen walls are plastered with ribbons in protective covering and framed photos of herself in the winner’s ring with Gedeon’s extended family evidence of her lifelong pursuit of top-dog honors with the breed. She even showed Gedeon herself for his first couple of years, spending weekends with him at local dog shows as he accumulated the points needed to become a champion.
However, once his show career went from promising to scorching last year, she and Russo began to look for a professional handler to show him in the ring.
“The stars aligned,” said Russo, speaking of hiring Alessandra Folz, a renowned dog handler and daughter to a vizsla breeder. “Two years ago, Alessandra’s Weimaraner, Marge, had a big win and we knew that she could do good things with this dog in the sporting category. But we also wanted someone who would like him and could see he had special qualities.”
Between handling fees, travel expenses and shows almost every weekend, Russo pays up to $5,000 each month to send Gedeon around the country. She also pays for advertisements in dog specialty magazines, which are meant to showcase his accomplishments to potential judges and breeders.
“It’s a very challenging sport and it’s also very expensive,” said Saddlemire, “but we’re now beyond the average person who takes a dog to the dog show.”
“If he can be a top winning vizsla in sporting dog category, I’d like to see him get that title and recognition and then retire him on a high note. There are new dogs coming in all the time. This is his window,” said Russo.
On the day Gedeon had his own Westminster miracle near 34th Street, both Saddlemire and Russo were in the audience, tucked away in the bleachers where Gedeon couldn’t become distracted by their familiar scent.
“Our fists were clenched and we were biting our nails,” said Saddlemire. “In each of the rounds, we saw the judge making the cuts and the intensity kept building. In the final round, Gedeon was at the head of the line but it’s not until the judge points that you know you’ve won. Then we were screaming and yelling and there were tears.”
“I’ve watched Gedeon for four years,” added Russo. “I can tell how he looks when he comes out and I thought, ‘He’s on his game today. He’s acting like he’s asking for the win.’ I asked myself, could this be happening in front of my eyes? I didn’t breathe for the last full minute. I don’t know how I didn’t pass out.”