Giant ribbons cover every square inch of the rabbit hutch in Laura King and Robin Novack’s home. They came from all over the country, from Dubuque to Kansas City to Houston, all awarded to the dog that ran through the living room.
King and Novack returned home to Milan late Thursday night from Tarrytown, NY, with a horde of pooches in tow. The handlers were ready for their week off after a very hectic show.
Striker, a 6-year-old Canadian-owned Samoyed, didn’t seem at all tired from all the excitement of the past few days. Perhaps it was the joy of victory that kept his energy going – the dog had won the working group and placed runner-up at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for the second year in a row.
“He really, really loves it.” said the king. “Going out and circling, getting treats and being adored by people.”
King and Novack showed 10 dogs at Westminster, and all won ribbons. Truman, the English Springer Spaniel that Novack introduced, won Best of Breed.
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The couple are no strangers to national dog shows – they’ve handled dogs for decades and run Daybreak Kennel in Milan together for 12 years. Owners work with them to take their animals all over the United States to competitions, where they earn points for every dog they beat. Novack also breeds springers.
Striker won 111 Best Show awards during his three-year career. In 2021, he amassed more than 89,000 points to become America’s top dog – 37,000 more than second.
King started managing Striker in 2020 after his owners, who are friends of King, wanted to enter him for competitions in the United States. Striker’s charisma immediately stood out for her, King said, and she knew he could be something special.
While dogs and handlers don’t always have the same speedy connection that Striker and King share, Novack said the relationship between handler and dog is special.
Dog show season is essentially year-round, with only a few weeks off around Christmas and New Year’s Day, and King said it can be incredibly taxing on people and animals.
“They’re definitely family; we’re together 24/7, so it’s not just our time with them at the show,” Novack said. “We get them in physical and mental condition, we equip them, we train them and we build a relationship with them. It takes a lot of time.”
King began putting Striker’s best ribbons on the hutch after an early winning streak, and King – a self-proclaimed superstitious person – made sure to keep training to keep the wins going.
Westminster was Striker’s last show. The Samoyed retired at the age of 6, and apart from occasional appearances, he will spend his days as a much-loved pet. Truman will continue to compete for the remainder of 2022 at least, King said.
It will be difficult to see Striker return to his owners and know that they will no longer be racing together, King said. He will miss Striker’s energy and charisma the most, and the ease with which they connected with each other. This is not something handlers always achieve with their show dogs.
But there aren’t many better starts than being among the best for the second time in a row.
“That’s a hell of a way out,” King said.