Amherst native to be judge at Westminster dog show

MERRIMACK – Dog enthusiast and canine expert Mark Threlfall will be a judge at the 145th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the elite competition held in Tarrytown, New York on June 12 and 13.

Threlfall will be a judge for the third time. He called the experience “an honor.”

“Westminster is a big, old club,” he said. “They’re not just worried about their dog show or their members. They’re very philanthropic and donate large dollar amounts to students for scholarships each year who are going into veterinarian school.”

In addition to the nonpareil affair, Threlfall said the Westminster Club spends much of its time outside of the annual show, teaching and sharing information about dogs with the general public.

On that note, although the show will take place in two weeks, the 2021 Westminster Dog Show will not be open to spectators due to the pandemic.

Threlfall, it is very safe to say, is a dog person. He and his wife reside in Merrimack with their two dogs and own and operate Superdogs Daycare, 637 DW Highway. His love of dogs began with an afterschool job.

“I actually grew up in Amherst, and I worked for a lady who bred poodles and dachshunds,” he shared. “I went to work for her for three years as an after-school job and then the man who showed her dogs had lost his assistant and he asked me if I was interested.”

So, instead of going to college, Threlfall toured the dog circuit, showing dogs at various competitions.

“I said that I would try it for a year,” he recalled. “And I figured if I didn’t like it, I would just go to college a year later, taking a gap year before they called it that. But I fell in love with it. I had that experience from working in a kennel and working for him took me places.”

Threlfall said he had only been out of New Hampshire a couple of times and suddenly found himself traveling to New York City and to Florida.

“Within the first three weeks, I was going to different places,” he said. “From then, I just jumped in with both feet.”

In 1993, Threlfall was awarded “Best in Show” at Westminster.

“You just enter a show,” he said. “And as soon as you do that, the superintendents will put your name on their mailing list. It’s a little bit different now, because there are websites that they have, where you can find out who’s judging at what show and what the entry fee is.”

At Westminster, Threlfall had been showing the same dog several times and that dog was “doing a lot of winning, “ eventually winning 103 “Best in Shows” during his canine career.

“Westminster was that dog’s last show,” he said. “I knew going in, the judges looked good for him. So it was ‘keep your fingers crossed.’ And I won it and I retired that dog on the spot. It’s like Wimbledon. I said, ‘I’m never going to beat this.’ So, I’m just going to say, ‘Okay.'”

Two years later, Threlfall retired from showing and he and his wife started Superdogs.

“Once you become a dog person, you never get over that,” he said. “I would never live without a dog in my house. It’s a nice form of company. They never bug you too much. They don’t talk over you. And they don’t invite their creepy friends over to the house. It’s just a wonderful, warm connection between dogs and people.”

Threlfall is excited about the competition coming up in June in New York.

“They start with obedience and agility events,” he said of Westminster. “And then on the last two days, Saturday and Sunday, they do the dog show, which is what everybody sees on TV.”

Threlfall said you can’t do what he does and not be a fan or at least be familiar with director Christopher Guest’s hysterical mockumentary, “Best in Show.”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “Everybody in the sport gets a kick out of it. It is exaggerated but sometimes it’s a little less exaggerated than you realize. People in the sport are under pressure and everybody is thinking that they have the best dog. It’s a little crazy sometimes.”

Generations of dog people compete in the Westminster show, Threlfall said.

“Westminster offers events for kids and scholarships as I mentioned,” he said. “It is a big deal. It’s a big family sport. And I can think of a dozen people off the top of my head who bred the breed, whose daughter bred that breed and whose granddaughter bred that same breed. It’s a family affair.”

There are no trends in the winning breed when it comes to Westminster. Threlfall said it’s all about the “Best in Show.” It’s up to the judges.

“What a judge has to do to prove to the American Kennel Club is that they can judge a breed by studying the breed,” he explained. “They usually recommend that you go to mentors, people who have been in the breed for a long time. You watch other people. And they’ll usually approve you for the breed provisionally. At which time then AKC field reps will sit and watch as you judge them.”

After a judge makes it through five assignments or so, they become approved by the AKC for regular status of that breed.

“It’s not just that you just decide to judge a certain breed,” Threlfall said, “They aren’t parceled out that way. And the thing that people don’t realize when they’re watching the judges on TV, is they’re not judging the poodle against an Irish Setter for ‘Best in Show.’ They’re judging the poodle against the poodle standard – the written standard that describes what perfection is in that breed.”

There are seven variety groups at the Westminster Kennel Show. There are sporting groups, for example, and if you’ve ever watched the show on television, each one of those dogs was already “Best in Breed” earlier that day.

“It’s like a big process of elimination,” Threlfall said. “The dog that wins the group goes on to compete in ‘Best in Show.’ There are seven dogs in the ring for ‘Best in Show.'”

Threlfall said Westminster is like a sports competition crossed with the Academy Awards.

“People are dressed to the nines,” he said. “It’s our big glamour event.”

Most shows are single-day events but because Westminster gets so many entries, it’s a two-day affair.

“They want to let people see it,” Threlfall said. “The show is popular. It’s a showcase. They want to let people see the dogs they want to see.”

Threlfall chalks up the show’s success to the American love of dogs.

“Everybody loves dogs,” he said. “And I have to admit, I think the movie ‘Best in Show’ helped quite a bit.”