2018--What a year. And it could have gone terribly wrong right from the beginning.
Avi won the Herding Group at the first two shows of the year in January. He won the breed the next day, and we were standing outside the group ring when an out-of-control unoccupied scooter chair plowed into the knot of people and dogs, striking Avi and a Cattle Dog. No one was physically injured, but the psychic damage was done. The Canaan Dog was bred by nature, and nature breeds for survival. So it was no surprise that Avi was now on high alert not just for scooter chairs, but for anything with wheels, sudden movements and loud sounds. All of the things that are common at dog shows. The hunt for group wins and a best in show had to be put on hold—our first priority was to help Avi heal.
The calendar was not friendly, however, because Westminster was just five weeks away. We couldn’t allow a freaky Canaan Dog to damage the breed’s reputation. So the hard work began immediately, under Brittany Cipriotti’s direction. We went back to obedience basics to redirect Avi’s focus and slowly and carefully tried to desensitize him to various sights and sounds. We even got out the $50 eBay broken TV camera, stuck treats in the lens hood, and “filmed” Avi with it. It was slow going, and much too soon Westminster was upon us. Combining the organized chaos of a big dog show with the organized chaos of New York City presented an enormous challenge, including the freight elevator crowded with dogs, people and gear at The Piers, the crush of thousands upon thousands of spectators, and the big TV cameras in the corner of the breed rings. But Avi weathered it all, almost too exuberantly, and won the breed. That qualified him for even more craziness, from the bus ride to Midtown, to yet another crowded freight elevator, to many more thousands of spectators and, ultimately, the enormous and intimidating group ring at Madison Square Garden, where he gave a solid, non-freaky performance.
The rest of the winter and spring were a blur. There were some good wins and some unfortunate shenanigans, and although Avi was still not 100%, he continued to progress. His confidence and results improved even more with his preferred outdoor summer shows. And then it happened. On Sunday, July 1, which was a sweltering day in Vandergrift, PA, Judge Kenneth Rayner Jr. awarded Avi a Group 1, and half an hour later Judge Deborah Anthony presented Avi with his first Best in Show. That made Avi only the sixth Canaan Dog in AKC history to receive this honor. Thank you so much Judge Rayner and Judge Anthony, and thanks also to Emmitt, Lizzie, Breeze, Magnum, and Gale for leading the way for the breed.
The summer and the fall continued to go well. Avi won three Reserve Best in Shows, including one at the single show in Millwood, VA that wasn’t cancelled because of monsoon-like rain and epically muddy conditions. It was so bad there that we felt sorry for the Standard Poodle (or what was left of it) during the BIS competition. Over this period Avi also earned several more Group 1s and many other placements, and during his free time an AKC Coursing Ability title.
November arrived, and with it The National Dog Show cluster. Another big, benched show, with the marquee event filmed for broadcast on Thanksgiving Day. Adding to the excitement (and stress) this year was NBC’s selection of Avi for a general interest story during the broadcast, highlighting his prowess at finding and herding home an escaped neighborhood llama. We knew this meant even more lights and cameras and other stressors, and we were again determined that the public see a happy, confident Canaan Dog on TV. The NBC crew first filmed the breed competition, and Avi was largely unfazed by the commotion. When the whole entourage moved to our much smaller benching area, Cynthia Dodson and Brittany managed to keep Avi’s attention where it belonged while Mary Carillo conducted her interview. By the time Avi got to the group ring later that afternoon, the cameras, lights, and noises were old news and he gave a solid performance. On the actual Thanksgiving Day broadcast, NBC devoted almost three whole minutes to Avi and Canaan Dogs more generally, which was invaluable exposure for the breed. Avi apparently made a good impression, because Mary Carillo later said her sister and brother-in-law fell in love with the breed and now want to get a Canaan Dog. And that’s exactly why we do all this.
There was no time to rest after Thanksgiving, because the most grueling shows of the year started just three weeks later—the AKC National Championship week, or just “Orlando.” Five shows in six days, plus two days of the largest Meet the Breeds (“MTB”) in the country, all spread out over a 50-acre facility. And here’s the best part: Dozens upon dozens, if not hundreds, of scooter chairs. Scooter chairs zipping around everywhere. Because of the enormous size of the facility, coupled with the inevitable scheduling conflicts, this may be one of the only places on Earth where the able-bodied unashamedly use scooter chairs. Because we knew that Orlando presented this and other potential unpleasantries, we seriously considered skipping the shows entirely. But no other member of the Canaan Dog Club of America was willing to organize, set up, and man the MTB booth, and we also felt some responsibility to show two of the top Canaan Dogs in the country at the AKC National Championship. So we somewhat reluctantly went to Orlando.
Things got off to a slow start the first day when a distracted Avi lost the breed to Keith Shank and Cheryl Shank’s Lil Roy who looked fabulous with handler Laura King (they even got pulled in the group ring later that day!). But after that, Avi was . . . simply Avi. He was focused, he never put a foot out of place and he moved effortlessly. Almost one full year after “The Scooter Chair Incident” he was back to being himself. And good thing, too, because he had to face one more challenge. After winning the breed on Friday, Brittany tore her hamstring running to another ring. Laura King (with the Shank’s blessing) graciously showed Avi in the group ring that afternoon. But that still left Avi without a handler for the actual AKC National Championship on Sunday. Virtually every handler we knew was already booked, if not double- or even triple-booked. Ultimately, handler Greg Strong agreed to fit Avi into his very busy schedule, and the rest is, well, history as they took the breed together. Thank you so much Greg and, of course, enormous thanks to breed Judge Lorna Hastings Menaker. But we still weren’t finished—who would show Avi in the Herding Group? Greg already had two top herding dogs, so we figured he’d be unavailable. We’d already imposed on Laura King. Who could keep Avi focused in the big ring with the lights and cameras and announcers? Who else but Angéle Cipriotti, Brittany’s daughter, an accomplished junior handler, and one of Avi’s best friends. You can see them in action on the web or on Animal Planet’s broadcast of the AKC Championship on January 1, 2019, from 6-10pm ET.
After a truly frightening beginning, and after a whole lot of hard work, 2018 turned out to be a very good year. None of this would have been possible without Brittany Cipriotti and her family. Brittany had the knowledge, patience, and love to fix our “broken” dog and take him to new heights. And of course she also put up with us. Thank you Donna Donna L. Dodson for entrusting us with two of the three show dogs from your magic Galya x Grant litter. Thank you Keith and Cheryl for your incredible sportsmanship and tireless help with the Orlando MTB booth. Thank you Laura King and Greg Strong for filling in for a fallen comrade. Thank you to the judges that have recognized Avi. Thank you Anni, Salina, and Vino for supporting Avi (and for your own successes). And thanks to all of Avi’s other friends and supporters—he loves you too.
In summary, for the second year in a row Avi is the #1 Canaan Dog in America in breed, all-breed, and Grand Champion points. He has joined the all-time greats of the breed with his Best in Show, 3 Reserve Best in Shows, 27 Group 1s, 25 Group 2s, 32 Group 3s, and 23 Group 4s. This year he won the breed at Westminster, The National Dog Show (for the third year in a row), and the AKC National Championship (for the second year in a row). He became the first and only Canaan Dog in history to earn a Gold Grand Championship. And he even found time for a lure coursing title. He is BIS MRBIS MBISS MBOHIS MBBIS CDCA-DOTY GCHG CH Pleasant Hill Avram of Carters Creek CA CDCA-HCX—Avi!