A North Collins breeder of smooth fox terriers has been named the American Kennel Club’s Breeder of the Year for the terrier group.
James W. Smith of Absolutely Smooth Fox Terriers is one of seven group winners across the country. One of the seven will be named the AKC’s Breeder of the Year at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Orlando on Dec. 16.
AKC spokeswoman Lisa Peterson said that to be considered for this honor, breeders must have at least 20 years of experience, during which they have exhibited integrity and good sportsmanship; must be active in a specialty breed club; must have bred a “substantial number of champions,” especially when compared with the number of puppies produced; and had dogs participating in various contests, such as obedience, agility and field trials.
The Breeder of the Year will be selected by a committee made up of AKC employees and board members, Peterson said.
Smith, who has bred dogs for 55 years, said he had no idea he was being considered for the honor until he got the phone call notifying him that he had won in the group and was one of the seven nominees for Breeder of the Year.
To say he was surprised by the call would be an understatement.
“My reaction was not quite, ‘There must be some mistake,’ but literally, ‘You need to find somebody else,’ ” Smith said. “I have been breeding dogs for a long, long time, and I have had a lot of success, but there are people in the terrier group, all friends of mine, who have had more success breeding smooth fox terriers than I have had. But you don’t argue with the American Kennel Club. They determined this year that I would be the person, and so I graciously accepted.”
Smith is the second Western New Yorker to win a group Breeder of the Year award since the prize was established in 2002. In 2006, Sandra D’Andrea of Lockport was named best breeder in the Working Dog group for her kennel, Nanuke Alaskan Malamutes.
“All Breeder of the Year group finalists have shown great dedication and a lifelong passion for responsible breeding,” said Peterson in an email. “They’ve bred happy, healthy dogs who excel not only in the show ring or field but as family pets with great temperaments. Breeders like Jim are the epitome of responsible breeding and mentors for their breed to anyone acquiring a new dog to join the family.”
Smith became interested in dog shows as a boy, attending his first show with his father.
“It was nothing he was particularly interested in, but I was,” said Smith. “He was more than willing to assist me, but if he could get out of going to dog shows, that was fine. He found a friend of his who was showing a Dalmatian at the time, but this friend’s background was with wire fox terriers. So this man started taking me to the dog shows. He would show his Dalmatian and then we would go and watch terriers, and I became enamored with terriers.”
Smith’s first terrier was a wire fox terrier, which has a coarse, wiry coat.
“These coats require a great deal of not only skill, but time and effort,” says Smith. “I realized early on that I don’t have the patience [to do the grooming], nor do I have the skill.” The loose outer hairs have to be plucked by hand, which he says is “very high-end work. Just keeping them in show condition is a major effort – it’s never-ending. Smooths are not necessarily easy, but they are easier.”
Except for their coats, smooth and wire fox terriers are nearly identical. They are lively, bright, intelligent little dogs that are both athletic and graceful. Their coats are mostly white with brown or black spots.
Smith bought his first smooth fox terrier in 1962 and has owned them ever since. He is in his third term as president of the American Fox Terrier Club, after serving as vice president, delegate and secretary.
With every breeding, Smith aims to produce stellar dogs that are healthy, fit and even-tempered, while adhering to the strict breed standard set up by the AKC. Every part of the dog’s anatomy, from nose to tail, including height, weight, proportion, color and shape, should adhere to the detailed AKC description. The dog must also be content to be handled by the judge, and both cheerful and athletic as he or she strides out with the handler at a show.
According to the AKC, “Absolutely has produced over 50 bred, owned and campaigned champions, Best in Show dogs, national and regional specialty winners and numerous group winners. Preservation and maintenance of the breed are paramount, while adherence to the standard is constantly reviewed.”
“I have had extraordinary success in the show ring,” says Smith, who says he must share credit with Dana Gabel, his kennel manager, and professional handlers Eddie and Lesley Boyes of Grass Valley, Calif. “I’m sort of the glue that holds everything together,” says Smith. “These three other people really get the job done.”
Smith loves the breed and has worked hard to improve it. “Smooth fox terriers tend to be very, very healthy; they have very few health problems,” he said. Each dog is tested for the two known issues with the breed: heart murmurs and unstable kneecaps. “But for the most part, smooth fox terriers are healthy and long-lived, anywhere from 12 to 16 years.”
The dogs, he says, “are not demanding. They’re not after you to throw the ball. If you’re sitting reading a book or watching television in the evening, they might be at your feet, but at the same time, they might be lying down in the next room. They are not craving attention and affection the way some dogs do. They’re like a good marriage; they give you plenty of space.”
People who have smooth fox terriers enjoy the breed, says Smith. “Smooth fox terriers are wonderful pets, every one we find a home for, the people love it and come back to get another one” when the dog dies.
Smith laughs when someone refers to the “business” of dog-breeding. Rather than being profitable, “it is a deficit operation every year,” he says. “You pay attention to nutrition, they have to be raised in clean surroundings, everything first class. They get plenty of individual attention and socialization.”
Smith says he keeps his dogs until they are fully grown because smooth fox terriers are “chameleons.” Some ungainly pups outgrow the awkward stage and become gorgeous adults, while others are beautiful adolescents and not so striking as adults.
“We want to keep them until they are 8 or 10 months old, to see what they are going to be,” he says. Many people seeking a pet don’t want an older dog. “It’s not everybody that wants an 8-month-old or a 12-month-old, or even a 2-year-old,” he says. “We end up giving most of them away – there’s a very limited market for them.”
Smith says he and Gabel are careful about who ends up with an Absolutely dog. They look for people who are “acceptable social company,” he says – “Would you let your kids go and play with their kids at their house?”
And, like most responsible breeders, he maintains a lifelong interest in the dogs that got their start in his kennel. “We say, if you get to a point where you can no longer take care of this dog and you’ve got nobody else, of course we will take it back,” he says. “And we’ve got some dogs to prove it.”