Brush Prairie resident Lesley Hiltz will judge the 146th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City on Jan. 24 through Jan. 26.
Hiltz will judge both varieties of beagles and all varieties of dachshunds, as well as Bernese Mountain Dogs.
Hiltz’s interest in the sport of purebred dogs started decades ago when she purchased a beagle in Australia in 1967.
“This dog, whilst not a great beagle, was a great show dog, and was responsible for involving me in the sport,” Hiltz said. “I went to England on a working holiday in 1970 for two years, and during my stay in England, I purchased two beagles and showed them all over Britain while I lived there.”
While she was in England, she became interested in corgis, particularly Cardigan corgis, so she took one home with her to Australia afterwards.
She said her main interest has always been beagles. The breeding she’s done with those dogs have won show awards, including the all best breed award, speciality best, and in many other categories as well. Hiltz provided the foundation stock for many of today’s prominent beagle breeders, she said.
In 1988, Hiltz moved to the United States, where she met and married her husband David, who is also a prominent beagle breeder.
“I took three Australian beagles with me and we blended those into the American lines that my husband owned,” she said.
Over the years, Hiltz has served in many positions in dog clubs, including as secretary and president, and has run many specialty and all-breed shows in the process. She’s judged beagle specialties in Australia, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, among other places.
Hiltz enjoys the ability to see the top representatives of each breed. Nearly 3,000 dogs travel from around the U.S. to attend the event in New York. She said the dog show entry limit is set at 2,500 and will once again be a champions-only competition.
She said she enjoys meeting up with fellow judges who attend the show from all over the world.
Becoming a judge in the Westminster Dog Show is no small task, said Hiltz. It’s a long process to become an AKC approved judge, she said.
“Some people feel that after being a breeder and exhibitor, they may wish to give back to the sport and study to become a judge,” Hiltz said. “You start with just a few breeds and gradually acquire knowledge of more as you proceed in your career.”
She said the work requires a lot of travel, which can sometimes be difficult, but she said the upside is people get to visit countries overseas that they may have not had the chance to travel to otherwise.
“You also make new friends all over the world,” Hiltz said.
To be considered for the dog show, Hiltz said most of the animals start socializing early in life, which helps them cope with the many noises and distractions they may encounter. Then there’s breed specific grooming, especially with poodles, and the dogs have to learn to be patient and accept the process.
“Most love this, as they get a lot of extra attention every day,” Hiltz said. “And at the end of the day, they are all much treasured companions.”
She said the judging process requires comparing each animal to the written standard for each breed and selecting the one the judge feels comes closest to the ideal pick for the category.
“Not every judge sees things the same way and that’s why results can be different from one show to another,” Hiltz said.
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