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TideWriters Tales
Tribute to a Legend
By Jean C. Keating

     A legend walked into the Veterans ring at the 2005 National Papillon Specialty in Cincinnati, Ohio, and wrote an incredible addition to his magnificent career and to breed history. To understand just why the event brought more than 400 people to their feet with tears streaming down their faces, you have to know a bit about dogs and a little more about what a National Specialty of any dog breed entails.

     A national specialty brings together the best of the living best for one breed including those old champions that are getting a bit long in the tooth but still enjoy the applause of the crowd. Papillons are considered veterans after turning eight years old and they return in a special class – called Veterans, what else -- ears flashing and tails wagging as they gait around the ring to the accolades of their fans.

     In much the same way that previous Miss Americas are sometimes invited back to the Miss America show for tribute, veterans come back for a walk down memory lane. Unlike the Miss America contest, these doggie veterans are theoretically in competition for the title of Best in Specialty. 

     The beautiful showman that glided into the Veterans ring this past May was on the end of the lead of his owner/handler John Oulton, the partner with whom he made show history by being the only dog to have ever won the triple crown of showing: wins in the 1998-99 season of Best in Show at the World show in Helsinki, Finland (over 16, 300 dogs), The Canadian Invitational, and Westminster Kennel Club show. The crowd responded with heavy applause, but out of respect for the other three veterans in the ring, the only giveaway to the emotional response at seeing 14.5 year old CH Lotiki’s Supernatural Being, the one and only Kirby, glide around the ring were tears in the eyes of many. When the judge awarded him the ribbon for Best Veteran dog, the crowd gave Kirby and John Oulton a standing ovation.

     Nine years ago, Kirby became the first Papillon in history to win the Toy Group at the Westminster Kennel Club Show. His perky personality came through the TV screens into American and international homes and made him an overnight hero to dog lovers everywhere. Reporters covering the 1996 Westminster show praised his effortless, flowing gait, his ring presence, his proud and joyful head carriage, elegant neck, and beautifully expressive ears that fanned his heavy trailing fringes, and name him the sure second choice if not the better one for Best in Show in 1996. He more than fulfilled the accolades of these Westminster reporters by becoming the only dog in history to win the triple crown of dogdom and one of only two Papillons to have every won the National Papillon Specialty three times. 

     One of Kirby’s most impressive and incredible traits is his movement. He doesn’t so much walk as glide across the floor. It has been described as ‘big dog movement’, and ‘perfection in motion’ by various judges and commentator. Possibly in the years to come it will become known as ‘Kirby movement’. It is certainly breathtaking to watch. It was obvious that time had not dimmed his beautiful movement. 

     On the final day of the show 87 beautiful Breed contenders filled the ring. The elegant and experienced Sandra Goose Allen was judging, a 35 year veteran who is qualified to judge all 176 breeds recognized by AKC. 

     Kirby returned with the first round cuts of champion dogs, with Cheslie Pickett, a junior handler less than two years his senior, at the other end of his lead. 

     Kirby’s owner and long-time partner at his historic Triple Crown wins, John Oulton, returned to the Breed ring handling another dog. When asked why he switched, Oulton laughed and said, “I was trying to win with the younger dog.” That younger dog was Kirby’s son Nemo , the top ranked Papillon in the United States for the past three years. 

     Kirby cut his eyes once when he was gated past his owner and usual handler, then glided around the ring like the showman he is. His young handler had to hustle just to keep up with this beloved oldie. 
And now began the drama, the beautiful and suspenseful dance that was to embellish this show and elevate a specialty breed judging to an academy awards presentation.

     Sandra Goose Allen choreographed a suspenseful waltz with the select group of champions in the ring. Beginning with the class dogs, she sent the pair around the ring once with Winners Dog in front followed by Winners Bitch. Then she motioned the two to reverse the line up and sent them around the ring a second time with Winners Bitch leading the pair. Returning the class animals to the line, she brought out Best Veterans Dog ( Kirby) and Best Veterans Bitch for another two circles of the ring with first one and then the other leading the way. Then pairing off a champion dog with a champion bitch, she repeated the process. Veteran handlers were jumping to understand and follow her instructions. Kirby and his young handler performed with perfection. 
Allen was asked when she decided to do the “Waltz of the Dogs” in the ring. She replied, “I had it in my mind from the beginning. With so many spectacular dogs, I though it would be a good way to showcase them.” It gave those around the ring an opportunity to applaud each pair separately and the pairs of dogs responded to the extra attention with more enthusiastic tail wagging. 

     Allen followed the Waltz with a second cut of her choices which did NOT include Kirby and directed the remaining dogs to circle the ring and exit. Just before Kirby and his young handler reached the exit, the judge waved the two back in line in the ring, placing them behind Winner’s Bitch. Since traditionally, Winner’s Bitch is the last competitor in the ring, the judge’s placement of Kirby appeared to be an afterthought. 

     Allen then proceeded to gait and to evaluate the remaining champions in the ring, except for Kirby. To many outside the ring, she appeared to have forgotten Kirby was there. 

     When Allen was asked when she decided on Kirby as the Specialty winner, she responded, “I was enchanted with him from the beginning in the Veterans Class. I always knew he was there. How could I miss him? If only dogs half his age could move the way he moves! I want to know what fountain of youth he is drinking from because he does not look like a fourteen year old.”

     When Allen finally revealed her choice of Kirby as Best of Specialty, it brought the house down, brought cheering crowds to their feet with tears running down their faces. “My God,” exclaimed one spectator. “She was choosing her Best of Opposite and the five Awards of Merit all this time. And she fooled us all!” 

     A kaleidoscope of images sharply defines this dramatic close to the 2005 Papillon National Specialty:
the dazzling smile that broke through the normally professional face of sixteen-year old Cheslie Pickett as she realized she and Kirby had won, making her the youngest handler to ever win the Papillon National Specialty and Kirby the oldest dog in history to have won the specialty and the only one to have won it four times
Oulton and Nemo in the center of the ring, too overcome with emotion to take their place with the other Award of Merit winners, tears wetting Oulton’s cheeks as he realized this oldie that he owns and loves had done the unbelievable

     Nemo jumping for joy, mistaking Oulton’s excitement…even above the crowd’s roar of appreciation and approval, Oulton’s words to Kirby’s excited son, “You didn’t win, Boy.”
the cheering, screaming crowd around the ring … on their feet, tears of joy and wonder making most faces shine brightly in the lights of the ballroom, realizing finally the exciting misdirection they’d enjoyed
the beautiful smile of satisfaction on Sandra Goose Allen’s face at the crowd’s appreciation for her entertaining and beautifully conceived, directed and produced suspense-filled drama… 
and at the center of it all, a dog named Kirby

     Allen wrote in her critique of the show, “My Best of Breed winner is a 14-year-old legend. He has not lost the exceptional quality that helped him win over the years. He brought tears to my eyes. I was honored to have him in my ring!”

     All who saw Kirby’s performance felt honored to have been present at this history-making
event. According to Oulton, there are two large banners on display at Madison Square Garden that
feature pictures of this incredible champion. As well there should be. 

     He has certainly lived up to the name given him so many years ago. His breeder, Lou Ann King of Iowa, knew what she was doing when she named him Supernatural Being. 

© 2005 Jean C. Keating All Rights Reserved

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