As one Baton Rouge native’s dream ended Tuesday night at the 138th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York, another’s became reality.
The proud breeder of Sky, the wire fox terrier crowned Best in Show in the center of Madison Square Garden, is Catholic High of Baton Rouge and LSU graduate Alton Pertuit Jr.
“I’m not shocked she won, but I started shaking a little. When (the judge) asked them to stack and she stacked, it gave me goose bumps,” he said, referring to the term used to describe the statue-like pose of dogs during judging.
Ever since he began breeding wire fox terriers around 1980, Pertuit longed to have one of his dogs make it to Westminster, the nation’s premier dog show event, and take home the top spot.
But he never thought it would happen.
“You never know what they’re going to do,” he said of the competition judges. “Until the judge points the finger, you don’t know. But I thought she showed well.”
Sky was born more than five years ago from a male, or sire, Pertuit owned and a female, or dam, owned jointly by him and a lifelong friend and fellow dog breeder, Betty Seaton.
Terriers have won Westminster’s Best in Show a record 46 times, with wire fox terriers taking home the trophy 14 times, the last one coming in 1992.
Sky bested Coco the Cardigan Welsh corgi owned by Baton Rouge resident Dina Manship Planche, as well as a bloodhound, an Irish water spaniel, a Portuguese water dog, a miniature pinscher and a standard poodle.
Four of the seven dogs had each won more than 100 Best in Shows during their respective show careers.
At Westminster, dogs are not competing against each other, but against a written set of standards of what the ideal dog in that breed would look and move like.
The dog that wins is the one that comes closest to meeting those standards.
Before punching her ticket to Best in Show, Sky breezed through the breed judging to win best in breed, then beat out 30 other terriers to win best in group.
Sky went into the competition as one of the favorites and showed why she was the top show dog in the country last year based on the numerical system used by the American Kennel Club.
Pertuit said he was more nervous during the group judging than he was during Best in Show judging because of the hurried nature of group showing as opposed to the drawn-out final competition.
“Once you get into a group, all those dogs are good and it has a lot to do with how you show,” Pertuit said.
Sky is not only the first Best in Show winner for Pertuit in his more than 30-year breeding career, she was also the first dog he bred to win best of breed and best of group.
“She’s a really good little show dog and she really likes to do it,” Pertuit said. “That’s very important.”
Pertuit’s love affair with the wire fox terrier goes back his childhood when he became enamored with the “Thin Man” movies, especially the terrier named Asta.
But his parents wouldn’t let him bring the dog into their France Street home in Baton Rouge. Instead they got him a smooth fox terrier because they thought that dog sheds less than the wire fox terrier.
“What they didn’t know is that the smooth fox terrier sheds madly,” he laughed.
He bought his first wire fox terrier, named Mike after LSU’s mascot, while a graduate student in horticulture at the University of Maryland in 1970.
He said he loves the breed because of their temperament and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde nature.
“They’re naughty. They look very proper, but they’re very naughty,” he said.
He attended his first dog show with friends from Louisiana in 1980 in Greenville, S.C., where he met a woman who introduced him to the dog show world. He quickly became hooked.
Pertuit resides in Clemson, S.C., having retired from Clemson University in 2003 after a long career as a horticulture professor.
Despite having bred more than 60 champions in his illustrious career, including Sky’s sister, Pertuit is still breeding, looking for the next champion.
“It’s still fun,” he said.