The following article was carried by the Associated Press and appeared in the Chicago Tribune, as well as 250 other newspapers across the United States, after the 1998 Westminster Dog Show. When the stakes are high, Paige makes the welfare of the dog the top priority, even if it means sacrificing her own personal goals. In the end, she and her dog are the big winners.
Dog, Handler Didn't Reign at Show but Won Admiration
NEW YORK - A sprightly little Norwich terrier, Ch. Fairewood Frolic, nicknamed Rocki, knocked out the competition to earn Best in Show honors at the 122nd Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, but the best story of the Westminster on Feb 16-17 was missed by USA network commentators Joe Garagiola and David Frei, and never made the newspapers -- until now.
When the hound group was being judged on the night of Feb 17 (to select the best dog in this category), 25 kinds of hounds entered the ring, but only 24 were judged. When it came time to judge a sight hound called the Pharaoh Hound (related to greyhounds), the dog and its handler had vanished from the show ring.
Backstage, in what's called the benching area, handler Paige McCarver of Lubbock, Texas, sat and wept. Curled up nearby was the Pharaoh Hound that had been in the ring. Ch. Kamaraj Bija ka-Harakhty, or just plain Harry, for short. McCarver was so distraught that she had a difficult time telling her story. It turns out she'd been somewhat concerned about Harry's well-being for at least a couple of hours before their scheduled appearance in the ring.
"He seemed upset, just out of it", she said. But she encouraged Harry. (Yes, it's true, even the dogs get a sort of adrenaline rush from the overall intensity and the cheering crowd at this unique, high anxiety show).
Tears continued streaming down McCarver's face and she shook with emotion telling her story. After all, she worked in tandem with Harry for a year with a dream of maybe making it to Westminster. Not only did they make it, but by winning best in his breed, Harry was about to represent all Pharaoh Hounds across the country. With TV cameras starring into the faces of handlers, millions of people watching at home, not to mention colleagues in the dog world all focusing on dogs that have made it this far at this most prestigious of canine beauty pageants, the pressure was intense.
Within only minutes of entering the ring -- long before the judge had gotten to Harry -- it was apparent that something was wrong. It was unclear what was the matter, whether Harry, who lives in a small town was ill or just freaked out by the cumulative effects of several frenetic days in New York City.
Without consulting Harry's co-owners, McCarver, a professional handler hired by the owners, asked the judge to be excused.
"It was the toughest thing I've ever done," McCarver said.
Quietly, dog and handler sneaked out of the ring. Their departure virtually went unnoticed, as other handlers concentrated on their own dogs. Even Harry's owners didn't know what was going on.
Hound Group judge Betty-Anne Stenmark, of Woodside, Calif. had no idea why McCarver wanted to be excused. When informed by this reporter after the judging, she said "It takes a great deal of courage to do the right thing. The right thing is to do what's best for the dogs' well being."
But in reality, this was Westminster.
"If the dog had fallen over, and everyone in the crowd saw it, that's one thing," said one professional handler, who asked not to be identified. "Sadly, once you get this far, most handlers -- me included -- would push a dog to its limits, or past them."
Perhaps it was the emotional anxiety of the moment, but Harry's co-owner, Margaret Worth, of Rowlette, Texas, was not pleased with McCarver's decision. She clearly thought Harry could have continued. One has to respect her judgement, too; Harry lives with Worth and she knows the dog best.
Harry's other co-owner, Marilyn Smith, of Hudson, NH, was surprised at McCarver's decision but respected her judgement. "Sometimes we all get so involved with all this it becomes an ego trip. She (McCarver) considered the dog's needs over her own."
McCarver was difficult to hear over the crowd cheering the winner of the hound group. After all, although Harry was not favored -- anything is possible at Westminster. At that moment, she was thinking, the crowd might have been cheering Harry.
Instead, she sat slumped in her chair, looking up only to catch co-owner Worth saying "Let's get out of here."
Still wiping away tears, McCarver quietly said "I just had to do it."
As of press time, Harry was doing just fine. It appeared that the accumulated stress and frenzied conditions at Westminster got on the dog's nerves.
A Norwich terrier named Rocki may have won the famous dog show, but a dog named Harry and a handler with the conviction to do the right thing for dogs were winners, too.