By Glenway Dymock
THE BROAD smile said it all. The big Lotto ball of dogdom had landed fair on the head of Marie Burns and she was unable to contain her excitement. Her homebred West Highland White Terrier, Ch Burneze Geordie Girl, had just been crowned BIS at Crufts 2016 and Marie was quite literally jumping for joy.
“Oh my God, I could not believe it”, said Marie who bred and owns Geordie Girl – pet name Devon – in partnership with her mother Ann. “I saw out of the corner of my eye that the judge had turned back towards my direction but I let him come a little closer before I looked up. All I saw was this gentleman coming towards me with the biggest smile on his face looking me straight in the eye and with his hand outstretched. He looked as thrilled as I was to be picking me out. The photographers captured a picture of me in the air as I jumped up and down with delight. I was bursting with happiness and was doing all I could to hold back the tears.”
The breed, as its name suggests, has its origins in the Scottish Highlands and is a beloved favourite of the British public as well as worldwide. Affectionately referred to universally as the Westie, the breed has twice before swept all before it at Crufts by winning BIS – Ch Dianthus Buttons in 1976 and Ch Olac Moon Pilot in 1990. Both these dogs feature in Devon’s ancestry.
Marie and Ann are Kennel Club Assured Breeders who live in County Durham, so Devon is indeed a true Geordie girl born in the North East of England. Ann had owned a Westie before Marie was born and was taken in by what she calls the breed’s ‘marvellous character’. They competed at their first championship show in 1992 and since then have made up nine UK champions including three bred by them in one litter. One of these, Ch Burneze Chatter Box, had been their biggest winner up until now with 13 CCs and it was a daughter of his, bought in by Ann and Marie, who is the maternal granddam of Devon’s dam, Ch Burneze Plan Bea, whose other three grandparents are all UK champions bred in the Bellevue kennel. Devon’s sire is Ch Brychdyn Diamond Geezer, a very typical dog who Ann and Marie hoped would complement Plan Bea’s sturdy frame.
The mating more than lived up to their hopes. Devon showed great promise from an early age, although she made her debut as a raw baby and was placed fifth in a class of five. However, she soon gained ground, winning BPIS at her next show, Scottish Breeds, and since then her career has snowballed with further BPIS wins at National Terrier, Blackpool and Bath and three group 2 wins. Crufts was her first group win.
Of course, luck plays a part in the ‘story’ of every Crufts BIS winner, but dogs such as Devon are also the result of hard work, skill and devotion to a breed – the fact that she is homebred must make her success all the sweeter.
Even with a successful puppy career under her belt, Devon did not exactly come into Crufts as the bookies’ favourite. The show is a notorious graveyard for top dogs with many favourites sometimes falling at the first hurdle – the breed judging. The judge for Westies this year was specialist Helen Dangerfield of the Lusundy kennel who clearly was very impressed with Devon. “Radiates quality, health and vitality”, she said. “Excels all through, inside and out. Effortless true movement, beautifully balanced. Full of character, intelligent and attentive. Mischievous twinkle in her lovely dark eyes. She looks deep into your eyes and touches your soul. I’m in love, will always cherish the moments we shared. I think we might have something a bit special here. So very happy she went all the way, well deserved.”
Marie is a successful groomer with her own salon including a grooming school, TopTrimz, so it is no wonder Devon looked so immaculate in the ring. Marie is qualified with City and Guilds and is now one of only 28 members of the Guild of Master Groomers. She absolutely loves grooming dogs and describes Devon as very cheeky and full of fun and mischief.
As terriers were judged on the final day of the show, Marie did not have much of a chance to relax before competing for BIS. The group was judged by Sweden’s Dan Ericsson, a judge with plenty of experience of the Westie breed – it must be said – and famed for his Raglan Scottish Terriers. In fact, a Scottie bred by Dan, Ch/Swed/Norw Ch Raglan Rose Maiden at Brio, came within inches of kicking down the big Crufts door when she stood as Reserve BIS on the famous green carpet in 2004.
Dan said of Devon: “I found her quite wonderful in every way and she is a model of the breed combining all the breed requirements coupled with outstanding movement, temperament and first class presentation. Her overall quality and extra dimension of style made her simply irresistible and I feel privileged to have judged what is possibly the best Westie that I have ever seen. She put on a flawless performance in true diehard spirit taking it all in her stride and I was overjoyed to see this wonderful little bitch win BIS.”
Marie went into the BIS ring in a surprisingly relaxed frame of mind: “I was nervous in the group as I really wanted to be shortlisted to the last eight”, she said. “However, I was so relaxed in the BIS final as I was convinced I would never win this. I thought that being down to the last seven at Crufts is a great honour and I may never get to do this ever again in my lifetime ‘so just go in there and enjoy it’.”
Derek Smith of the Clickam Rough Collies had the honour of judging BIS at Crufts this year, which celebrated the 125th anniversary of this event beloved of dog enthusiasts the world over. He is a judge more entitled than most to hold the title of ‘all-rounder’, as he has handled many top winners in Rough Collies, Long-haired Dachshunds and other breeds and nurtures a genuine interest in a number of breeds across various groups.
Derek had this to say about Devon: “A total star. Super head and ears, with lovely dark eyes, strong jaw and typical expression, good neck, shoulder and immaculate front and feet, well ribbed with just the right amount of weight, strong in rear and topline with lovely set on. Hard coat, expertly trimmed and presented, super pigmentation, she even had black nails! She has all the style in the world and a look of feminine greatness about her. She defied me to find something to beat her and I couldn’t! At only 20 months, she must have a serious future ahead of her. She just stole my heart.”
Marie and Ann have been overwhelmed by the way in which their fellow dog lovers have shared in their joy. “The positive reaction to our win has made this special occasion all the more magical”, said Marie. “Everyone, both in our breed and other breeds, has been so complimentary which has brought us to tears many times. We have received hundreds of message, cards, flowers and gifts. We actually hosted a celebration party at National Terrier so I could celebrate with everyone and thank them for their amazing support. So many people came to join us – it was a fantastic day.”
And what has been the reaction of the general public? “My neighbours were putting cards through the door before we even got home from Crufts”, said Marie. “Local people were popping into my grooming shop to offer their congratulations and bringing cards and flowers. People were telephoning me at work to say ‘well done’ – it actually got to where we were putting the phone down and it kept ringing again straight away. Schoolchildren have written to me and I have agreed to visit a local school with Devon in the coming weeks. I have emails from all over the world, even overseas exhibitors telephoning to congratulate me. I never dreamt this would be the reaction.”