By Andrew H. Brace
Speak to anyone who is remotely involved with the Pekingese breed and the mention of David Fitzpatrick’s name will result in a degree of awe and reverence for this American gentleman is acknowledged as being as fine a handler and presenter of a Pekingese as has ever been seen.
David handled the UK bred Am Ch Palacegarden Malachy to win Best at America’s most prestigious dog show, Westminster Kennel Club, in his own inimitable style and in many ways this was the pinnacle of his career as a handler, breeder and owner of the breed to which he is clearly devoted.
David’s finest hour … winning BIS at Westminster 2012 with the UK bred Pekingese, Am Ch Palacegarden Malachy, under Cindy Vogels. Also pictured are President Peter van Brunt, Chairman Thomas H. Bradley III and Chief Steward Sean McCarthy who is now the Westminster President. Photo Ashbey
A High School photo of David at 13.
David always wanted to own a dog as a small child but his parents refused to indulge him, mainly David suspects as he had a brother who suffered from many allergies. In the absence of a dog of his own, David would walk neighborhood dogs and at one time hid a cat in his closet until it was discovered by his parents.
When he was fourteen years of age, in 1970, David was visiting his Aunt Helen to help her clear out her garage when he stumbled across a copy of Popular Dogs magazine that fascinated him.
“I opened up this magazine and saw all these beautiful pictures of wonderful dogs and was completely blown away. In the small ads was one placed by a lady named Hermine Cleaver who lived in Newark, Delaware, around fifteen minutes away from my home. She had Pekingese but I loved all dogs and maybe my breed of choice may have been a Cocker Spaniel, but she lived so near that I wrote her a letter asking if she needed help with her dogs. I told her that I was interested in dogs and would be happy to help her in any way she needed. She took me up on the offer and very soon she was picking me up after school in her station wagon, taking me to the kennel, and there she taught me how to clean kennels, wash dogs, groom dogs and so on … and I was getting $5 a day for doing something I loved!”
The first dog show David attended was the Valley Forge Kennel Club to which his sister-in-law Betty had taken him. There he walked around looking at all the different breeds, but he started going to dog shows in earnest with Mrs Cleaver whose kennel name was Pencader. At the shows he helped groom and exercise her dogs and act as general factotum, rapidly becoming transfixed by the dog world. David continued to help Mrs. Cleaver for around six years, by which time he had graduated from high school and left full time education to work for her full time … “much to my family’s chagrin”, recalls David.
At the time professional handlers were licensed by the American Kennel Club and David had to apply for an Assistant Handler’s license which he duly obtained. This allowed him to show dogs that were in Mrs. Cleaver’s care, as she was actually a handler showing dogs for other people.
“Dutch by birth, Mrs. Cleaver was a strict taskmaster and somewhat eccentric. She actually showed some of the first Shih Tzu when they were getting established in this country and handled for Gilbert Kahn amongst others. I remember one dog she had for him was an English dog called Chang of Kandu who became an American Champion and she had several English Pekingese that she finished too.”
When he was about twenty years old David was approached by Michael Wolf who at the time was working for the very wealthy Pekingese fancier and owner, Mrs. Walter M. Jeffords Jr, and asked if he would be interested in working for her. David remembers, “We knew each other through the Pekingese, they weren’t too far away and I guess they must have figured that I was a hard worker and I could groom Pekingese. So I moved back home and stayed with my parents for a while, the job with Mrs. Jeffords being rather like a day job, then I would go to shows with them at weekends. I was a little cautious before I made the move a living-in job, but when I could see that it would work out I moved there full time. Bear in mind that I was thirsty for any kind of dog exposure and Mrs. Jeffords kept around 250 dogs in a huge kennel property. To me this was doggy heaven and it wasn’t just Pekingese that were kept … there were Pomeranians, Maltese, Yorkies, Pugs, English Toy Spaniels, Italian Greyhounds, Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs, Standard Poodles, Shih Tzu, Greyhounds, Lakeland Terriers and more that I have forgotten by now. And of course Mr. Jeffords had a Foxhound kennel on another property as he was a Master of Foxhounds. It was glorious country and Rolling Hills Farm was a paradise and a wonderful experience for someone young and so eager to learn about dogs.”
David’s first ever group win came when he handled Ch Quilkin The Stringman under Anne Rogers Clark at the Longshore Southport show in June 1977. Photo Gilbert
Michael Wolf was the primary handler for Mrs. Jeffords and when the opportunity arose David had the chance to help out in the ring handling. He enjoyed his days at Rolling Hills … “It was heady, being surrounded by eccentric people and so many dogs, and the Jeffords were people of great substance. Mr. Jeffords’ uncle owned the famous racehorse Man o’ War and Mrs. Jeffords was of course used to staff. I remember that she had come down to the place in the country on one occasion but minus any help.
After he had been there for about five years, there came the parting of the ways when Mrs. Jeffords and Michael Wolf’s association dissolved, somewhat acrimoniously. Both Michael and Mrs. Jeffords wanted David to stay on with them and Mrs. Jeffords offered various inducements but he opted to work for Michael. By now the AKC had stopped licensing handlers so David would be handling dogs in various breeds, many co-owned by Michael and whoever happened to be financing the dog’s campaign.
During this period David was still effectively “the help” as he put it, but he maintains that these early days taught him a lot about conditioning dogs and also breeding as Michael Wolf was a prolific breeder.
In the early 1980’s David felt that he had outgrown his position with Michael Wolf. “I didn’t want to be an assistant for ever; I had decided I wanted to show dogs so the time had come to break out on my own. And Michael wasn’t the easiest to deal with, but I did learn a lot there.” So David had some friends who lived outside of Washington DC, Art and Barbara Friedman, who had a kennel out of which he worked. From there he started to build a foundation as a handler.
David winning BIS at the Pekingese Club of America show in 1981 with Ch Paladin’s Sneaky Pete, sired by a Mingulay dog from the UK. The judge was Bill Bergum and also pictured are Geraldine Lee Hess (who incidentally awarded Andrew Brace his very first CC in Pekingese!) next to David and Dottie Schuerch. Photo Ashbey
In 1982 David handled a Sheffield bitch to win BOB in Pugs at Westminster under Bill Bergum. Photo Ashbey
The legendary Frank Sabella seen awarding David Best of Winners in 1986 with a Paladin dog he was handling for Dottie Schuerch.
“I started slow and handled a variety of small breeds for various clients. Then I had the good fortune to buy a Pekingese dog puppy for $400 from Joan Mylchreest named Briarcourt’s Coral Gable.”
David immediately saw the potential in this dog who was clearly a cut above the average Pekingese.
Joyce Shipley awarded Coral Gable Best of Breed at the Pekingese Club of America show in 1986. On the left of the picture is Richard Thomas, father of actor Richard Thomas who played John Boy Walton in the famous television series. Photo Ashbey
“He had a lot of charisma, a magnetic way about him … you would look at him and he would look right back at you and had the IT factor. He was maybe a little high stationed for what we would want today but he was a solid, sound little dog … put him on the table and he was like the Rock of Gibraltar. Also he was the consummate show dog and you could stand ten feet away from him and he would just do it.” During his show career David owned Coral Gable in his own right but was then persuaded to let the infamous William McKay back the dog. David takes up the story, “Rightly or wrongly I was persuaded to let this man back this beautiful dog. He paid his bills – usually in cash – and the dog got on a roll and won the group at Westminster in 1987, ending up as Top Toy dog that year. Then in 1988 I showed him at The Garden again when he lost the breed – to one of Mrs. Jeffords’ dogs who was actually sired by Ch Belknap Kalafrana Caspar. Then all hell broke loose. It was pretty common knowledge that Mr. McKay was under investigation for impropriety; he was effectively being accused of bribing judges. I was called in by the American Kennel Club for questioning about the various judges that had put me up with Mr. McKay’s dog. It was the biggest waste of my time because I knew nothing about what he was supposedly giving these judges, but the tragedy was that when I should have been enjoying campaigning a beautiful dog, the whole experience got soured. Moreover, the dog was due to be transferred back into my name but the AKC froze that and it took a few years to get it sorted, during which time the dog was not bred from. However there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow as the first puppy Coral produced after I got him back into my name was Damien”.
David’s very first BIS came in 1986 when Coral Gable won under Keke Blumberg (now Kahn) at Skyline Kennel Club in Virginia. Photo Kernan
After Coral Gable David did some useful winning with Ch Jo-Li Wind In The Willows for Joseph Joly III, sired by a St Aubrey dog, who racked up literally hundreds of groups. Meanwhile Coral had been used on a Briarcourt’s bitch of predominantly St Aubrey breeding that David owned, but as he had not a registered kennel name in those days, the singleton puppy was registered with Joan Mylchreest’s and thus Briarcourt’s Damien Gable entered the world.
“Right from the start I could tell he was a good dog, and as a puppy he was one of those rare dogs that always looked perfect; he just never went through an ugly stage. When he was under a year old I took him to the Pekingese Club of America’s roving specialties which were held in Texas. Terry Nethercott was actually the first judge and he finished in three shows in three days … is that what they call a hat trick? Vandy Williams was the second judge and Bob Jacobsen the third. He was such a beautiful dog and after finishing him I held him back until the Pekingese Club of America’s show over the Westminster weekend when Liz Stannard made him Best of Breed. He won two groups at Westminster and was Top Toydog in 1992 and 1993, retiring at the Garden in 1994.”
In the early 1990s David began using the Pequest kennel name on dogs that he bred and was building up foundation stock of his own. From Bert Easdon and Philip Martin he had a bitch in whelp to the Crufts BIS winning Danny who produced two self-masked daughters who produced really well for David. “That was when I started to turn the corner with getting consistency,” he claims, “and whilst Damien was a fabulous dog he wasn’t necessarily a great producer, not like the Yakee dogs that I had after him.”
After Damien, David was showing a variety of different dogs in different breeds, finishing dogs and winning groups, before he got his next significant Pekingese, Ch Linn-Lee’s St Martin, who amassed groups and Bests in Show. “He was a grandson of Ch Shih Go Idle Gossip, he came to me when he was about six months old, he won his first BIS at ten months and I actually showed him for three years, which is longer than I usually care to but he was an easy keeper and his owners, the Holcombes, were great clients. This little dog could walk in the highest grass or on rocks, it really didn’t matter. He won loads of big Bests in Show and several PCA specialties and is now the top winning American-bred Pekingese of all time, a title that previously been held by Damien.”
Then in 2003 David had the strangest telephone call.
“This lady, Kit Woodruff, calls me up and says that she would like a Pekingese who could win Top Dog All Breeds. I really didn’t know who she was, but she had owned Pekingese for some years in Texas, and I remember thinking to myself ‘who wouldn’t want a Pekingese that could win Top Dog All Breeds?! Anyhow I did a little research and realized that she was in a position to finance the campaign of a top dog and before I knew where I was, I had a first class air ticket to Glasgow! Betty Tilley (formerly Dupras who lived in the UK for some time and won well with two Singlewell bitches, Twilight Mist and Meringue) had told me that Bert Easdon and Philip Martin had some very good dogs, some of which may be for sale, so off I went. And Bert offered me this Junior dog, a red dog with a black muzzle and not a ton of hair, but aesthetically this was one of the most beautiful animals I had ever seen. Bert is not into high-pressured sales-pitches so he basically handed me this dog and suggested I should groom him up as I could do a better job than he could! I figured the dog could win big, we agreed a lease, and I took him back home in October, conditioned him up, took him to shows with me as a spectator and to be honest it took a while for him to get his head around showing, but eventually it all clicked into place and the following January I took him to some shows and he won three groups and a Best in Show which was won under Ric Chashoudian with Coco the Norfolk in the line-up. THAT was a memorable win, believe me! He wasn’t qualified to be shown at Westminster that year, 2004, but he went to a specialty over the Garden weekend and won Best under Bill Blair. His next show was Chicago where he won the group under Mrs. Clark and Best under Ron Menaker. Then it was just non-stop winning.”
Jeffrey had arrived … a.k.a. Ch Yakee If Only. Despite all his major wins, he still was not Top Toydog as that year the award went to a white Toy Poodle, bred in Japan, handled by Tim Brazier and owned by the Sosnoffs. However the following year he went to Westminster where he won the Toy Group under Ken McDermott and then that was Jeffrey’s year. He was Top Dog All Breeds, much to his owner’s delight, and ended up with 129 Bests in Show. David reflects, “To beat the record held by Ch Chik T’sun of Caversham of 126 Bests was phenomenal, and what was so wonderful was that Bill Taylor gave the dog five Bests, as of course he and Nigel were responsible for bringing over Chik T’sun.”
Jeffrey sired several BIS winners for David and proved to be an excellent stud dog, “His puppies were just beautiful and so even,” reflects David who sent Jeffrey back to Scotland after his lease was up.
The next Yakee that went to David was Ch Yakee Playing Footsie, again owned by Kit Woodruff. He won several BISs. David then started off with a Jeffrey son, Ch Pequest Persuasive, co-owned with her again, a very glamorous dog whose dam was also a Danny daughter, just as Jeffrey was a Danny son. “He was winning everything in sight,” remembers David, “22 Bests in six months, and he had huge potential for Dog of the Year but sadly Kit died in June, and the terms of her will were such that the dog would never be shown again. That was sad.”
Ch Pequest Match Point was another Jeffrey son, owned by Mrs Sascha M. Rockefeller, who won around twenty five BISs in one year of showing in 2007 after which he returned to his owner in New York City where he was one very pampered pet! Afterwards David showed Ch Linn-Lee’s For The Good Times to a dozen Bests in Show, and he was out of a Danny grand-daughter that David had given the Holcombes.
As David is “occupationally ineligible” to judge at shows in the USA where Champion points are offered because he is an active professional handler, his judging activities are restricted to judging match shows and sweepstakes, many of which may be well supported. As a result of the numbers of dogs and classes he had judged at these smaller shows David was able to accept an invitation to award Challenge Certificates in 2008 for the Ventura Pekingese Club, whose Open show he had previously judged. He pulled the second highest entry of the year next to Crufts and awarded the CCs to Palacegarden Baroque and Singlewell Trinny of Dragden, with the bitch winning BIS. At that show David had been very impressed by dogs from the Palacegarden kennel of Jim and Jean Smith. “It was a great experience,” David says, “and really made me think harder than ever before when I had judged. The Smiths had one-piece dogs with good high tailsets, short necks, they were good, correct old-fashioned Pekingese and I appreciated it. They weren’t over-coated and didn’t all necessarily have the wow factor, but they were so very correct.”
In the parking lot after the show, I was going back to stay at Bert and Philip’s, and I saw these people – who I had never seen before – who had shown these really good dogs. They were getting ready to leave and I approached them, told them how much I liked their dogs and asked if they had anything available. They didn’t at the time, but I followed it up with an email and they eventually sent me some pictures of a dog puppy that was about five months old. I liked the photos and the pedigree, they had sent a video clip of him walking around their garden and I thought that the dog would suit, so I agreed to buy him. Palacegarden Malachy arrived in the USA in June of 2008.
“I got him out of his crate, I put a lead on him and he walked up and down the sidewalk like a million bucks and I figured I had bought me a top dog!” smiles David as he tells the story. “I took him home for him to grow up, I kept him socialized, took him around with me, letting him get all the experience without the competition and showed him twice at the end of 2009 and then in January 2010 I took him to Virginia when he won four groups and a Best in Show.”
At this time David was Malachy’s sole owner. He had in his opinion a top dog but he was aware that he needed a co-owner who could finance the campaign the dog needed. For many years David had been a good friend of popular socialite and great dog fancier Iris Love who he recalled mentioning that, if ever he had a great Pekingese, she would be interested in “going on it”, as the Americans would say. Eventually he tracked down Iris who agreed to co-own Malachy but also wanted Sandra Middlebrooks to be a co-owner. (Sandra had previously owned Charmin the Sealyham who had won BIS at Crufts, the World Show, the American Kennel Club National Championship and Montgomery.)
The deal was done, Malachy had two new co-owners and David started campaigning him in earnest. “He won like crazy, was in close competition with the Smooth Fox Terrier in 2010, but didn’t beat him so I went on with the little dog in 2011. I rested him in January so he could be in top form for New York as I knew he would have to look great to win under Frank Sabella who was judging the Toy Group, and then three days before I was ready to leave for New York I slipped on black ice and broke my left arm. I was just lying there thinking ‘No, no, no … not now, just before The Garden!’ But I made it to the show, showed the dog but I was in such pain when Frank asked me to pick up the Pekingese. I had bought new jackets for the show and had to have the sleeves specially opened up – it was a nightmare but we won the group. Then we finished the year with 113 BIS wins on the dog and we went off to Westminster again. Over the Westminster weekend I showed him to BIS at Progressive to get him warmed up and then we went for the big one.”
As everyone knows, Cindy Vogels made Malachy Best in Show at Westminster, a great win for David, for Iris and Sandra, for the Pekingese breed and for the Smiths who were to be brought sharply down to earth at Crufts the following month when, having won BOB under Bert Easdon, their bitch failed to pass the much criticized vet check.
The days that followed saw David fulfilling a whirlwind of public appearances with Malachy. “Your life is not your own,” David says, “The press were fighting to get close to him in the Best in Show ring, then we had a press conference, the Westminster party which goes on and on, then you have to have a private party and champagne for all your friends! I get to bed at 3.45, was up at 4.45, and then it was non-stop from 5.45 and you have no idea what’s ahead for you with TV and guest appearances; it’s a crazy schedule. For 48 hours it was total madness. And we got to open up the New York Stock Exchange!”
That was almost a year ago. This year David has had a quiet time, deliberately so. “After Malachy won The Garden I took a couple of months off, though we still were asked to do a few guest appearances for various Kennel Clubs and associated bodies. I didn’t want to launch a new dog just yet but I have recently started to show a new Yakee dog I have, named Easily Persuaded, and known at home as Roger.”
The Pekingese is not an easy breed to show, or to present. David is known universally as a master of his craft and the consummate professional. What is the secret?
“I don’t wish to sound boastful but what probably gives me a bit of an advantage is the fact that I understand what the breed should look like, and why. Because of my background and the people I have been around, I appreciate the beauty of the breed. You need to understand how to keep and condition a coat, how that coat should be groomed, not using any damaging products and maybe I bathe Pekingese more than some people would.”
David is also one of the few American handlers who have never been tempted to race around the ring with his charges. How has he remained able to set his own stamp on Pekingese gaiting?
“I never pay attention to what other people are doing, I try to be at one with my dog and let the dog set the pace. The dog sets off and I will obligingly walk alongside; all breeds look so much better if they are allowed to move at the correct speed for that breed. It’s also important to remain focused on your dog and not allow people to distract you. When you get to shows like The Garden it’s all too easy to get worked up and stressed, but I just try to keep myself to myself and keep calm.”
David is a keen follower of Pekingese around the world, but notably in the UK. What does he feel about the way that the Kennel Club has dealt with the Breed Standard and also the recent vet checks of the “high profile” breeds?
“I think it’s disgraceful. The Breed Standards should be the property of the parent breed clubs, like they are in the USA, not subject to alterations at the whim of someone in an office who may never have owned a Pekingese. The reason most people fall in love with the Pekingese in the first place is because it IS an exaggerated breed with features that are not generic, but we still want to produce healthy, sound dogs that retain the characteristics of the breed we fell in love with.”
Like many professional handlers, David sees judging as a natural progression from a lifetime of handling top show dogs. At fifty five years of age he still enjoys breeding and showing a handful dogs but he has never shown dogs at such a manic pace as some handlers so perhaps hasn’t burnt himself out as he might have done.
“I would enjoy judging, of course, but you know, I really do enjoy what I’m doing too much. I guess in a few years I will have to think about slowing down and look more to judging, but I’m not quite ready to give up what I have right now.”
After his Westminster win, David received hundreds of good will messages and congratulations. Amongst them, a senior member of the American Kennel Club wrote, “I must say that I do not remember a more popular BIS win at The Garden. This is not surprising since our people in the Fancy are so appreciative of you as a breeder/exhibitor and consummate dog person … you have set an example for all of our dog people, and especially our young handlers. As someone said before BIS went into the ring, ‘David is the dog man that we wish we were and all aspire to be.’ You certainly deserve all of the accolades you have received and I hope that it gives you a high degree of satisfaction to know that all of your hard work and passion has paid off.”
There will be many people who I am sure are looking forward to seeing David packing away his tack box for the very last time and retiring from handling for good. When he does, it can safely be assumed that will make the transition from handler to judge seamlessly, and I am sure he will apply himself to that role with the same expertise, dedication and integrity that has earned him the reputation that he so richly deserves.
1. A High School photo of David, aged thirteen.
2. David’s first ever group win came when he handled Ch Quilkin The Stringman under Anne Rogers Clark at the Longshore Southport show in June 1977. Photo Gilbert
3. David winning BIS at the Pekingese Club of America show in 1981 with Ch Paladin’s Sneaky Pete, sired by a Mingulay dog from the UK. The judge was Bill Bergum and also pictured are Geraldine Lee Hess (who incidentally awarded Andrew Brace his very first CC in Pekingese!) next to David and Dottie Schuerch. Photo Ashbey
4. In 1982 David handled a Sheffield bitch to win BOB in Pugs at Westminster under Bill Bergum. Photo Ashbey
4a. The legendary Frank Sabella seen awarding David Best of Winners in 1986 with a Paladin dog he was handling for Dottie Schuerch.
5. Joyce Shipley awarded Coral Gable Best of Breed at the Pekingese Club of America show in 1986. On the left of the picture is Richard Thomas, father of actor Richard Thomas who played John Boy Walton in the famous television series. Photo Ashbey
6. David’s very first BIS came in 1986 when Coral Gable won under Keke Blumberg (now Kahn) at Skyline Kennel Club in Virgina. Photo Kernan
7. Ch Jo-Li Wind In The Willows won more than a hundred groups with David. Here he is winning a BIS under Michele Billings. Photo Meyer
8. Liz Stannard awarded Ch Briarcourt’s Damien Gable BOB at the Pekingese Club of America show held over the 1992 Westminster weekend. Presenting the trophy is Bill Blair. Photo Tatham
9. Damien won the group at Westminster in 1994 under Bill Taylor, having won the same award the previous year under Jane Kay. He was Top Toydog in 1992 and 1993 and retired directly after his 1994 Garden win. Photo Tatham
10. David handling BOB Yorkshire Terrier at Westminster in 1996 under Margaret Young Renihan, Ch Durrer’s Steal The Show. Photo Ashbey
11. David winning a Non Sporting group in 1988 under Norman Patten with a Sweetkin’s Chow Chow. Photo Alverson
12. David has handled Boston Terriers for several years and is seen here winning a group under Dennis McCoy with Ch El Bo’s Yakee Doodle Dandy, who later came to the UK to Bert Easdon and Philip Martin. Photo JC Photo
3. David campaigned Ch Linn-Lee’s St Martin for three years and made him the top winning American-bred Pekingese of all time. Here he is seen winning a BIS in 2003 under Betty Duding. Photo Kurtis
14. Ch & Am Ch Yakee If Only winning the group at Westminster in 2005 under Ken McDermott. Photo Ashbey
15. A wonderful portrait shot of Ch & Am Ch Yakee If Only, son of the Crufts BIS winning Danny, who became the Top Winning Pekingese of all time in the USA with 129 All Breed Bests in Show to his credit, and like his sire he was Top Dog of All Breeds one year. Photo Weigand
16. Ch Pequest Persuasive had won 22 Bests in Show in 6 months when his co-owner died and he had to be retired. Both his parents were sired by Danny, Ch Yakee A Dangerous Liaison. Photo Weigand
17. Ch Pequest Match Point, owned by Mrs Sascha M. Rockefeller, won around 25 BISs before returning to his owner in New York City where he became a very pampered pet! Presenting the trophies are Sue Weiss, Estelle Cohen and Carol Reisman. Photo Phillips
18. David’s finest hour … winning BIS at Westminster 2012 with the UK bred Pekingese, Am Ch Palacegarden Malachy, under Cindy Vogels. Also pictured are President Peter van Brunt, Chairman Thomas H. Bradley III and Chief Steward Sean McCarthy who is now the Westminster President. Photo Ashbey
19. David’s latest hope … Ch Yakee Easily Persuaded … a son of Ch Yakee And Don’t Forget It and Ch Yakee Follow This. He is seen winning a group in July under judge Polly Smith. Photo Ashbey
This article first appeared in the 2012 DOG WORLD ANNUAL and Copyright is owned by Andrew H. Brace