A North Collins man who breeds smooth fox terriers was named the American Kennel Club’s Breeder of the Year at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship dog show in Orlando last month for his lifelong dedication to improving the health, temperament and quality of purebred dogs.

James W. Smith, whose kennel is named Absolutely Smooth Fox Terriers, was nominated in the Terrier Group and selected for the top honor by a committee made up of American Kennel Club employees and board members.

The ceremony in which Smith wins the award will be shown on ABC TV on Feb. 2, during the two-hour broadcast of the dog show.

“I was surprised, and delighted, of course,” says Smith.

“Congratulations to Jim,” Michael Canalizo, AKC’s director of event management, said in a statement. “The American Kennel Club knows that the breeders of purebred dogs are the backbone of our sport, so we’re proud to honor them each year at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship. Being recognized as Breeder of the Year is one of the highest honors achievable.”

To be considered for Breeder of the Year, the AKC requires breeders to have at least 20 years of experience, during which they have exhibited integrity and good sportsmanship. They must be active in a specialty breed club and must have bred a “substantial number of champions,” especially when compared with the number of puppies produced. The dogs they have bred must also be well-rounded, participating in various contests, such as obedience, agility and field trials.

AKC spokeswoman Lisa Peterson said Smith’s years of involvement in many different facets of canine health, training and welfare led to his selection for the honor. “When you look at Jim’s bio, all the different offices he’s held in different dog clubs show a really high level of community service and volunteerism and public education about purebred dogs, which is really at the essence of what a responsible breeder is. All these different things give him a broad range of experience and the ability to connect with a wide variety of dog-lovers. When you look at that body of work, along with his work breeding dogs and showing dogs, it’s that complete package that would make somebody like Jim a winner.”

Smith’s name will be inscribed on a perpetual trophy, and a portrait will be commissioned, not of Smith himself, but of a prominent dog from his kennel. The portrait and the trophy will be on permanent display at the AKC headquarters in New York City.

For that portrait, Smith thinks he will select a dog named Absolutely Ohno. “How he got his name is a very interesting story,” says Smith. As his mother got close to giving birth, she was taken to a veterinarian who examined her and said she was not carrying any puppies. “So she was put back into regular housing. Three days later she came in with a puppy in her mouth,” Smith says. “And the first person who saw her said, ‘Oh, no!’”

Absolutely Ohno had a relatively short show career, but, says Smith, “He has turned out to be an absolutely fantastic stud dog. He outproduces himself every time.”

Smith, who attended his first dog show as a boy, has bred dogs for more than 55 years. His first terrier was a wire fox terrier, which has a coarse, wiry coat that “require[s] a great deal of not only skill, but time and effort,” says Smith. He bought his first smooth fox terrier in 1962 and has owned them ever since.

Smith has served three terms as president of the American Fox Terrier Club. A delegate for the Dalmatian Club of America for 26 years, he also represents the Washington State Obedience Training Club. In the 1990s, during a hiatus from breeding and showing, Smith served as a member of the AKC board. He has also served on several AKC committees.

Peterson noted that Absolutely Smooth has produced more than 50 bred, owned and campaigned champions; Best in Show winners; national and regional specialty winners; and numerous group winners. Smith insists on sharing credit with Dana Gabel, his kennel manager, and professional handlers Eddie and Lesley Boyes of Grass Valley, Calif.

Smith is the first breeder from Western New York to win the Breeder of the Year award, which 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.

Each year, a nominee for Breeder of the Year is selected from each dog group — sporting, hound, working, terrier, toy, nonsporting and working. Each nominee has been involved with purebred dogs for decades. But for many of them, work with dogs “becomes a lifelong passion and lifelong education,” says Peterson. “You never stop learning about dogs or about breeds or breeding, training, showing. There are always new people to meet, new things to learn out there.”

Life goes on for Smith, with one exception. “As I have said to people, now I have to live up to expectations,” he says with a chuckle.