Giant ribbons cover every inch of the hutch in Laura King and Robin Novack’s house. They came from across the country, from Dubuque to Kansas City to Houston, all awarded to the dog running around the living room.
King and Novack made it back to their Milan home late Thursday night from Tarrytown, NY, with a horde of pooches in tow. The dog handlers were ready for their week off after a very eventful show.
Striker, a Canadian-owned 6-year-old Samoyed, didn’t seem at all fatigued by all the excitement of the past few days. Maybe it was the joy of victory that kept his energy up — the dog had won the working group and placed as a finalist in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for the second year in a row.
“He really really, really loves it.” King said. “Getting out there and running in circles and getting treats and having people adore him.”
King and Novack showed 10 dogs at Westminster, and all won ribbons. Truman, the English springer spaniel Novack showed won best of breed.
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The couple is no stranger to national dog shows — they’ve handled dogs for decades and have run Daybreak Kennel in Milan together for 12 years. Owners work with them to take their animals all over the US to competitions, where they earn points for every dog they beat. Novack also breeds springers.
Striker has won 111 best-in-show awards over his three-year career. In 2021, he amassed over 89,000 points to become the top dog in America — 37,000 more than the runner-up.
King began handling Striker in 2020 after his owners, who are friends of King, wanted to enter him into competitions in the US Striker’s charisma stood out to her immediately, King said, and she knew he could be something special.
While dogs and handlers don’t always have the same quick connection Striker and King share, Novack said the relationship between handler and dog is special.
The dog show season is basically year-round, with only a couple of weeks off around Christmas and New Year’s Day, and King said it can be incredibly taxing on people and animals alike.
“They’re definitely family; we’re together 24/7 so it’s not just our time with them at the show,” Novack said. “We’re getting them in condition physically, mentally and trimming them and training them and building a rapport with them. It takes a lot.”
King started placing Striker’s best-of-show ribbons on the hutch after an early winning streak, and King — a self-proclaimed superstitious person — made sure to keep the practice going to ensure the wins continued.
Westminster was Striker’s last show. The Samoyed has retired at 6 years old, and aside from the occasional appearance, will spend his days as a most beloved pet. Truman will continue to compete for the rest of 2022 at least, King said.
It’ll be rough to see Striker return to his owners and knowing they won’t compete together again, King said. She’ll miss Striker’s energy and charisma the most, and how easily they are connected with one another. That’s not something handlers always get with their show dogs.
But there aren’t many better send-offs than standing among the best for the second time in a row.
“It’s a hell of a way to go out,” King said.
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Photos: Laura King and Striker, the Samoyed