Dog wins at Westminster

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer February 13, 2013 12:23 am

Julie Divens of Gold Beach knew she had a winner when she selected Coco, a Cardigan Welsh Corgi, from a pile of seven wriggling littermates.

She just didn’t know how much of a winner the dog actually was.

“I just chose one blindly,” Divens said. “My sister said ‘I think this one will be really good.’”

Her sister, Deb Shindle, of Vero Beach, Fla., however, had ulterior motives. She’s a renown Pembroke Corgi breeder, owner and handler, who has led many a dog to championships.

“We always knew we were going to show her,” Divens said. “She has the looks. She’s very refined, fine-boned. She got all her father’s attributes, this cute little streamlined body, a great topline, a great expression, long legs — what’s not to love?”

“That Riverside Telltails Coco Posh” — her AKC name — comes from a long line of grand champions didn’t hurt, when this week, Coco strutted her way to victory in the Breeds Group at the Westminster Kennel Club in New York City.

But for the first couple years of Coco’s life, she was a pet — and there’s a big difference between a pet and a show dog, Divens said.

Coco, a brindle and white Corgi with a flash of white on the tip of her long tail, and her mother Lola play fetch, catch Frisbees, hunt down lizards and accompany Divens and her husband, Bill, on their boat on the Rogue. The dogs run all over the beaches, the jetties and try to herd waves — not very successfully, Divens said. They’ve got 10 acres on which to play at the Divens’ second home in Red Bluff, Calif.

“They both have the same boyfriend,” Divens said, of the neighbor’s dog, Reggie. “They go crazy when they see him; their tails go in complete circles. I don’t even know if he knows he’s their boyfriend, but they’re mad about him.”

She first showed Coco at the Wine Country Kennel Club in Napa, Calif., as a puppy.

“I didn’t want to; I’d be in my sister’s shadow,” Divens said. “If you’re in the show circuit, and my sister’s fairly famous, I’d be ‘Deb’s sister.’ You can’t hold a candle to that.”

Divens “trained” to be a handler for that show by watching Best in Show.

“No sooner would someone give us advice — ‘Don’t drop her when you put her on the table’ —  I did. And you know how you walk around the ring with your hand way up in the air? That was me. Someone told me later you only do that with toy breeds; what a moron. Thank God I didn’t wear toreador pants.”

The pup came in third.

“To get a Group 3 (winner) with a puppy is insane,” Divens said. “People were saying she won in spite of me. I understood; I really did. I was so new to it.”

And it cemented her decision to never bring a dog in the ring again.

“You have to have a personality for it, and a skin that can deflect everything,” she said. “I just know I couldn’t handle the politics. I knew it was not for me.”

But Shindle was showing Coco on the circuit now, since the 4-year-old dog caught the eye of a breeder in North Carolina who told Shindle she owed it to the breed to show Coco, that she was the finest specimen of the breed he’d ever seen.

Coco amassed the requisite points to become a champion in record time and earned two majors back to back — all big-time stuff in the dog-show world, Divens said.

“You get them in the right show and get the right points, you have the ability to get two majors back to back,” Divens said. “That’s halfway there (to championship).”

Divens hasn’t seen Coco since January, 2012 — such is the life of a champion show dog — and didn’t know Coco was in the top five of her breed in the world until she received the gold invitation emblazoned with gilt lettering from the Westminster Kennel Club. Her status will now change with her win in the breed group.

But an invitation isn’t everything. Many choose not to attend. And this year, show organizers split the show, with the breeds showing near the piers and the winners moving to Madison Square Garden. And then the blizzard Nemo started to pound the eastern seaboard.

“It’s a big show to navigate, and Madison Square Garden is like a planet to navigate,” Divens said. “The grooming area is the size of Costco; you can’t see to the end of it. It’s a logistical nightmare.”

Divens watched the show unfold, laptop on lap and phone in hand to another sister.

“I was screaming at the top of my lungs,” she said. “It was very exciting. She looked so amazing, spirited, happy; she just moved like a breeze. She was enraptured.”

Coco returns to Gold Beach next month.

“She’ll be the same lunatic,” Divens said. “She’ll be so thrilled to not be traveling, not being bathed 9,000 times a day. I can’t wait for her to be our pet again and play Frisbee and hunt lizards. She’s just a normal dog that got put in an extraordinary path.”