Interview with Mss. Charley Donaldson • Interviewed by Ana Szabo
Published in Best in Show Summer 2016
BIS: Please tell us how you started in dogs. How many dogs do you keep currently?
C.D.: I was introduced to dog showing by Leigh Morris and George Waddell of Crosscop Whippets. Leigh asked firstly if my sister, Alison, and I would like to help walk the dogs and I couldn’t say no! I went to my first dog show with Hazel’s grandfather, Douglas (Crosscop Stormy Weather) and won Pest Puppy in Show. After that, I was hooked. We currently have 11 Whippets, 2 Basenjis, a Dachshund and a Dalmatian who all live together in the house so it’s a bit crazy sometimes!
How did you get involved with Whippets, the breed you are now famous for?
I got involved in Whippets through Leigh. It was the breed she had in the house so there was no point in getting a brand new breed when you have the quality of dogs that she had.
BIS: Since when have you been showing dogs?
C.D.: I started showing dogs when I was 7 years old and went to my first Crufts at 8, so it’ll be 12 years this year!
What was your motive when you first started competing at dog shows? What do you want to accomplish by doing so?
I just wanted to have a bit of fun. I love dogs as it is, so the hobby is perfect for me. I want to breed happy and healthy pedigree dogs and being part of the Crosscop kennel and being in the show world is helping me accomplish this.
BIS: How would you describe the Whippet community in the United Kingdom? Is it one with humming activity and a welcoming atmosphere to winners as well as to newcomers?
C.D.: The community is very supportive. As a young person, I have always been encouraged by many respected Whippet exhibitors. We have 12 breed clubs, so we are always meeting up and we seem to throw some of the best parties, with some amazing cakes and plenty alcohol (not the drivers though)! We all try to help all newcomers into the breed and will give assistance to anyone who asks.
BIS: Can you recall any early memorable wins?
C.D.: Like I said before, my first win was Best Puppy in Show at my first show with Douglas! Another huge win was when George forgot to enter me in the Junior Handling at Scottish Kennel Club 2009, so he told me I could show Dave, Ch Crosscop Brilliant That’s Me in Open Dog. That day, I went on to win the Dog CC as well as BOB under Mrs Delabelle, and all at the age of 12. I ended up making him into a Champion in 2012 when I was 15.
BIS: Do you have a mentor whose knowledge and opinions have been a real support to you?
C.D.: Leigh Morris has always been someone who has been by my side when I needed her. She’s passed down her years of knowledge onto me and has supported me through tough times. As well as Leigh, George has been a fantastic support. Driving us here, there and everywhere. Lastly, my mum has headed up the support for me and prior to Crufts, she hadn’t seen me show since 2014, so for her to be there in BIS was very special.
It is crucial for exhibitors to keep their dogs in the epitome of health. How do you condition your dogs at home?
Correct food and exercise are the key. Not just any exercise: our routine is 4 miles of road and dirt track walking on inclines and declines combined with controlled free exercise. Living in the countryside definitely helps with this! This helps t build the correct muscle a Whippet should have.
BIS: Do you have any special habits/rituals before entering the ring?
C.D.: The only ritual I have is that I have only ever shown Hazel on one lead, so if I didn’t have that, I think I’d feel slightly uneasy. The Whippet is one of the very strongest breeds both in numbers and quality not just in the UK, but all over the world.
BIS: Even winning a class isn’t an easy task with a Whippet in Great Britain. Yet, Hazel very quickly rose to the top and finished 2015 as the UK’s Nr 1 Whippet. What qualities do you think were the key to her success?
C.D.: She has personality and ring presence which is needed in today’s show ring. She’s a complete attention seeker, so being in the middle of it all does not phase her at all! To me she is as near as a perfect Whippet you could get!
BIS: ‘Winning means hard work’ – says the ever great Mrs Patricia Craige Trotter. How would you outline the road to Reserve Best in Show at Crufts?
C.D.: It definitely is hard work! It starts as soon as you get the puppy and training her/him. The food and the exercise on top of that, and then the commitment to top it all off is what has put us on this road. At times, walking the dogs and showing is knackering, but when you are rewarded with dogs like Hazel, it makes it all worthwhile.
BIS: Hazel’s most jubilant performance in the Arena was rewarded with an enormous round of applause and cheering from the audience. I recall, however, a massive crowd around the Whippet ring going absolutely wild; almost exploding with joy and ovation when referee Jeff Horswell pointed at Hazel with the BOB rosette. It was incredibly mesmerizing, even to just the simple spectator like me. How would you describe what you felt in that moment?
C.D.: I was speechless, it was amazing. All I can really remember though, because I was so concentrated on Hazel, was the massive cheer then the bank of photographers who all crowded around us. I could not have been happier in the moment. I’d love to relive it every day.
BIS: Was it difficult to hold your nerves together in the breed/Group ring?
C.D.: Along with Leigh and George, we go to shows with a young boy, James Winkley Balmer and his Mum, Rosemary. James shows one of our other bitches April, April Showers at Crosscop, on this day he had actually won Limit with April, therefore he was right beside me in the Bitch challenge and to top it all, she ended up winning the reserve CC!! So, it was absolutely fantastic. The same day, I also won Best of Breed with my Basenji, Jayda, Nialah in That Lil Red Dress. There was no other person I would have asked to show Jayda other than James, so again, in the Group I had James by my side.
My boyfriend, Will Croxford, was also by my side through the whole day, so I had constant support! This is what kept me calm!
BIS: Could you please summarize what Crufts 2016 was like and means to you?
C.D.: It being the 125th anniversary of Crufts made it very special! Winning at any show with Hazel means more than I can describe, but it being at the world’s greatest dog show made me even more proud!
BIS: ‘Winning means having fun’ – to quote again the grand Mrs Trotter. And she is so right, isn’t she? What elements of ‘winning’ make success truly fun and memorable for you?
C.D.: Seeing the reactions of your friends and family make it fantastic. Also, when judges who have done her well in the past, and remember her for what she did makes it memorable as it means that we’ve made an impact on lots of different people. Ernie Patterson, for example, gave her Puppy Group 1 (her first), and then the next time he saw her she was Top Whippet 2015!
BIS: What does the future hold for Hazel? Are you planning on buying another Whippet as well?
C.D.: She will continue to show, she loves doing it! Although, she won’t be in the breed at every single show, we will try and qualify her for the Eukanuba Champion Stakes final, so a bit of fun too! We have puppies just now, so I hope I can run one on to be as successful as her!
BIS: Does this mean you breed together with Leigh?
C.D.: Myself, Leigh and George all own the Crosscop Kennel of Whippets and Basenjis. I was added me onto the Crosscop affix as a Christmas present in 2014.
BIS: Please mention two or three of the best Whippets you have seen in real life or on photos.
C.D.: Ch Dyanne Dondelayo is one of the most beautiful Whippets I have ever seen. Although, I never saw her in the flesh, the photos say it all! Ch Shalfleet Simply a Lord, a stunning dog who has paved the way for Whippets today. And finally, our own Ch Crosscop Count On Me who, although isn’t everyone’s colour preference, but is a complete, classic, old fashioned type Whippet… not that I’m bias!
BIS: Have you been showing other breeds as well?
C.D.: Yes, I show Basenjis as well. Currently, I have 3 on my name. Nelson, my first Basenji, who is a fantastic little dog and now lives the life of luxury with my Mum. Aoife, whom I co-own with Tom Rabbitte, is an absolute star and finally the aforementioned Jayda, who again I co-own with Tom, was imported form Australia in December and has already absolutely excelled herself in the show ring by winning 2 CCs, one of them at Crufts, all at the age of 9 months! We also hope to show the Miniature Short haired Dachshund in the future.
BIS: Which show dogs you have encountered (other than Whippets) do you admire?
C.D.: One of my favourites is my boyfriend’s Norwegian Elkhound, UK IE Ch Ennafort The One and Only ShCM, otherwise known as Pearl. She’s is truly a stunning dog and I’m so lucky to have had a chance to practice with her! Another stunning dog is Michael Coad and Geoff Corish’s Bichon Frise, Ch Pamplona Bring Me Sunshine, aka Eric. As you can tell by the breeds I have, coated breeds aren’t my forte but Eric just stands out! I’ve met him a few times and he’s not just a lovely show dog, he’s a happy pet too! One dog I’m extremely happy to have encountered is Moray and Kathrine Armstrongs Hungarian Visla, Lizzie- Sh Ch Bitcon Merely Magic. I remember when she came into the training class as a puppy and wouldn’t walk. I spent up to 4 weeks persevering and coaxing her to get her going. She ended up winning numerous CCs and also having some beautiful puppies! Finally, Ch Feldkirk Fashion, who was brought to our training class by Frank Whyte and Tommy Johnston. This young Flat Coat Retriever took the breed record this year and I’m not surprised as she is a gorgeous dog both in breed type and personality.
BIS: Have you shown overseas before?
C.D.: I have never shown overseas, however, I would love to in the near future! Fingers crossed I’ll be attending the World Show this year as a spectator, if not an exhibitor.
BIS: Are there any judges/breeders or handlers you look up to and find inspirational?
C.D.: Although Middlebie and Waterbeck Training club is a small club, we have many inspirational people who attend. Moray Armstrong, Judith Carruthers, Frank Whyte and Tommy Johnston all come each week. When you look at what they have all done, you can’t help but find them inspirational, and if I can be a little like any of them, I’ll be truly happy. In respects to the Whippet breed, I look up to the Mcleods: Johnston and Jessie. They have produced a number of beautiful dogs under the Peperone prefix as well as being well respected judges. They are two amazing people in the Whippet breed.
BIS: Who have been the greatest support to you so far?
I have a huge support network and I can’t thank everyone enough for it. It starts with my mum, Leigh and George. They have been there since day one, they have been fantastic. Rosemary Balmer, has been an amazing support to all of us too, cheering us on and supporting us in all our wins. In addition to that Moray, Judith, Frank and Tommy have always pushed me to better myself and have given me a lot of brilliant opportunities! Finally, one of my biggest supporters is my boyfriend Will Croxford. He has been by my side through everything over the past year, he’s calmed me down when I’ve got stressed and been truly happy for me and Hazel!
BIS: Do you enjoy reading about the dog sport’s history and following up on the main news of the dogdom?
C.D.: I have multiple breed books, Zuber to 1960 being one of my favourites! I follow the news through the two leading magazines, Dog World and Our Dogs, and also through Social media (Facebook and Twitter). There are so many ways to keep up to date now!
BIS: Seminars are an outstanding learning experience, no matter the subject. Do you attend such events?
C.D.: I have attended many seminars held by great people, some of my favourites were taken by the greatly admired Eleanor Bothwell (Norcis Beagles). Her talks were amazing and I always learned so much! I would love to sit in on more seminars but there’s not many held up near me, unfortunately!
BIS: Do you take part in other activities within the sport than showing?
C.D.: I also judge Whippets with the hope of giving tickets in the new future. I also help Leigh run the Training class, we must be doing something right as we have had numerous champions, group winners and best in show winners grace our door as well as being voted Training Class of the Year 2015 at the Pawscars ( an event held on Crufts eve to highlight the bests of the Dog World).
What do you think of the quality of judgings these days, and in your mind, what makes a judge good one?
Judging on the whole in this country is very good, the standard is very high. Some judges can get over awed by the number they can receive at one show for Whippets, but always seem to have good ring organisation, confidently but gently go over the dogs and give every dog a fair chance. All of which are needed when judging any breed!
BIS: Can you name any UK/overseas judges whom have truly impressed you with their professionalism or flawless eye for type & balance?
C.D.: Espen Engh, is one who no one can fault. He truly knows his stuff and this is shown through his own dogs too! 200 champions, WOW!
Jill Peak, an all rounder who has an eye for a good dog, a dog that can move and is beautifuly put together. Pam Marston-Pollock, a woman who has a vast knowledge of her chosen breeds and puts this knowledge into her judging and her educational talks. Ray Morland, another outstanding judge who has always encouraged youngsters, including myself and James, to reach their highest potential. And last but not least- Pauline Oliver, a Whippet breed specialist of outstanding Whippet breed knowledge. Cannot only judge them but can also breed them. Five judges who I’m inspired to be like!
BIS: And finally, please tell us about your plans for the future.
C.D.: In the future I would love to stay involved in dogs whether that be showing or kennels or anything. I’ve put my application in for the police in hopes that I’ll be able to become a dog handler. I’ll always stay in the dog shows though, I’ve made so many fantastic friends and can’t thank them enough for all the support they have given me over the past 12 years!