Like some doyenne of dachshundom, Iris Love parades among the
autograph hounds, pup-arazzi and assorted party animals at her
annual bash before the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at
Madison Square Garden. With its ice carvings of fire hydrants,
its dachshunds molded of chopped liver and its bottled-water
pooch bar, Love's Central Park soiree at Tavern on the
Green--held this year on Feb. 13--is the highlight of the doggie
social season. Indeed, the pedigrees of the canines are as good
as or better than those of their owners. "I've invited cats,"
Love says in her soft, velvety purr. "I just don't think they've
had a very good time."
Love and her prizewinning dachshunds have shown up costumed as
Egyptian deities, Greek gods and goddesses and Indian chiefs.
(The dachshies came in feathers and war paint, with bows and
arrows strapped to their backs.) Two years ago Love arrived in a
kimono as a Japanese noblewoman; her dachshies came as helmeted
samurai warriors and their geisha consorts. Love fed them hors
d'oeuvres on dachshund-shaped crackers and let them sip from her
Campari. "Dachshunds are bon vivants who know how to hold their
liquor," says the sixtyish archaeologist. "It probably helps
that they're built low to the ground."
Though a dachshund ain't nothing but a hound dog, Love is
deliriously gone-gone about the breed. She owns 34 smooths, and
two of them--Ch. Dachsmith Love Adamas Tyche and Ch. Hermes
Tuxh--are slated to show at Westminster, which will take place
on Feb. 14 and 15. Most of the others are padding around Love's
house in Vermont. Many are champs, and nearly all are named for
figures in Greek mythology.
Love has bred or cobred four dachshunds that won the National
Specialty, which encompasses all three varieties as defined by
their coats: smooth, wirehaired and longhaired. Ch. Tyche Tyche,
which she named for the goddess of good fortune, is a three-time
American Kennel Club Dachshund Bitch of the Year. Tyche's nephew
Ch. Dachsmith Love Diomedes has been the top-ranked dachshund
two years running. Yet Love's labor has been largely lost at
Westminster, at which no dachshie has won Best in Show in the
123 years of the event. "The dachshund is a difficult breed to
win with," says handler Peter Green, who doesn't show dachshunds
but is a four-time Westminster Best in Show winner with
terriers. "They have to be almost perfect. There's nothing to
hide: What you see is what you have."
"They're nude, with no coat to hide faults," Love explains. "A
lot of all-breed judges won't even look at them."
Having attended Westminster for at least five decades, Love sees
dachshunds differently from lots of us. We may look at a young
male and see a poorly designed suspension bridge or a wiener
with paws. She evaluates him pretty much as if he were
auditioning for Chippendales. "You want your smooth to be toned
and well-balanced," Love says. "The neck should be long and
She's saying this while caressing the coat of Adamas, a
promising bitch who has just won Best of Variety on Day One of
the Northeast Winter Classic in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She lays
Adamas on a grooming table, steps back and views the dachshund's
front, back and profile, like a fastidious art critic sizing up
a newly found masterpiece. She clasps Adamas's head between her
hands and gazes into her ears. She runs her hand down the dog's
shoulders, back and hindquarters.
To reach the bristling perfection required by the breed
standard, Love has enlisted Pam Tillotson, a professional
handler. "I am but a handservant to my handler," Love says of
Tillotson, who manages the dogs' show-ring careers and fusses
over their external and internal well-being.
Young Adamas has lived all her life in the lap of lapdog luxury.
Smooths require very little care, but she still gets her
whiskers and nails trimmed regularly, her teeth brushed every
morning and a bath once a week. In 1999 Love's dachshunds
covered more than 100,000 miles on the show circuit, journeying
as far as California to amass breed points for the AKC standings.
She limits her champions to two years of show competition. "A
dog's life is very short, and much of a show dog's is spent in
crates," Love says. "I retire my champions while they're still
young, so that they'll have time to play and run and be dogs."
In their relentless pursuit of blue ribbons, some owners spend
as much as $150,000 a year on a show dog. "I don't have to,"
laughs Love. "Dachshunds don't eat as much as big dogs or take
up as much room in the van."
Besides boarding, conditioning and travel expenses, Love springs
for dozens of full-page advertisements in dog fanciers'
magazines. The ads, which trumpet her dachshunds' achievements,
are targeted at judges. "It's a shame," Love says. "Some people
who can't afford to advertise have wonderful dogs. Are we
judging dogs or ads?"
Supposedly, what makes a dog Best in Show at Westminster is not
that it's prettier or better publicized than the others. A dog
gets to be best because it is judged to be, say, a better chow
chow than a competitor basenji is a basenji. Yet winning in the
Garden often has less to do with conformation than with
sentiment and pooch politics. Love says there was buzz around
the circuit about which dogs would win the last four
Westminsters months before the actual competitions. "Showing
used to be more of a sport," she laments outside the ring in
Saratoga Springs. As if to prove her point, she correctly picks
the Saratoga Best of Group and Best in Show winners by surveying
the handlers instead of the dogs.
Rumor has it that a boxer named Ch. Hi-Tech Johnny J of Boxerton
will take the 124th dog-run-for-the-roses. In the unlikely event
that Johnny doesn't make it out of his breed, Love predicts a
free-for-all among a giant schnauzer (Ch. Skansen's Tristan II),
a white standard poodle (Ch. Lake Cove That's My Boy), an Afghan
bitch (Ch. Tryst of Grandeur), an English springer spaniel (Ch.
Salilyn 'N Erin's Shameless) and her long shot, the
affenpinscher Ch. Yarrow's Super Nova. "On the other hand," Love
allows, "sometimes a total surprise happens at Westminster that
can change the whole balance."
This year's surprise won't be a Best of Group victory by
Diomedes. Love has decided to retire the reigning National
Dachshund Champion. Nor is his first cousin Adamas likely to go
very far. "For Adamas even to take Best of Breed this year would
be next to impossible," Love says. "She's less than two years
old and has just begun to show."
Adamas won't be showing up at Love's Tavern on the Green doggie
do. The bitch might commit some faux-paw, such as wolfing down
the chicken liver. "If she did, she'd probably get the trots,
which would keep her out of Westminster," Love says. "And if she
didn't, she might look at my plate and shoot me her soulful look
to let me know I'm eating and she's not."
COLOR PHOTO: BILL EPPRIDGE "I retire my champions young," says Love, with Diomedes, "so they'll have time to play."
It's a Dog-Eat-Dog World
Iris Love's Dachshunds have lots of nonwinning company. There
will be 156 breeds judged at Westminster. In the 123 years of
the show only 38 breeds have won Best in Show, leaving the rest
shut out from the top prize. Of the 38 breeds that have won, 18
were single-time winners. Of the remaining 20, here are the top
10 winning breeds.
BREEDS BEST IN SHOW
Wire Fox Terrier 13
Scottish Terrier 7
Smooth Fox Terrier 4
Airedale Terrier 4
Cocker Spaniel 4
Standard Poodle 4
Doberman Pinscher 4
Sealyham Terrier 4
Eng. Springer Spaniel 4