Westminster was magical, says former Betsy student

Published 9:06 am Thursday, February 18, 2016

Contributed Photo  Samantha Stafford shows the attentive Dirt with superb posture at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Contributed Photo
Samantha Stafford shows the attentive Dirt with superb posture at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Out of 24 of the top dalmatians in the nation, Elizabethton High School graduate Samantha Stafford’s dog Dirt received a First Award of Merit in the Breed Ring, ranking him third of 15 males in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show Monday.
“Westminster was magical, and Dirt showed amazingly,” said Stafford. “It’s a really great honor to be there with all the top dogs; it’s a very special time for them, and the bonds between the dogs and handlers are just amazing.”
Stafford was one of less than five owner-breeder handlers, as most owners employee professional handlers to train and show their dogs. She began showing dalmatians at American Kennel Club (AKC) events at age 10 and has since dreamed the invitation would arrive requesting her attendance at Westminster. At age 20, as a full-time student, that dream became a reality, and she has the medal to show for it.
“It’s an amazing achievement to walk away with something in your hand,” said Linda Stafford, Samantha’s mother. “To be invited is an honor, but Samantha did a fabulous job. Dirt did an amazing job as well. It’s what he does best.”
Linda has been with her daughter for every step of the journey.
“To go the first time with a dog like this was just —we’ll never forget this moment,” Linda recalled.
She said Samantha’s talent and dedication combined with Dirt’s natural showmanship are evident in their confidence on the floor. When they were packing up and getting ready to leave, she said he was so “amped” that he sat watching them and whining because he knew something special was in the works.
“He wasn’t overwhelmed; he didn’t change his pace. It was like he knew he was there to do something great,” said Linda. “She kept up with the professional handlers after they’ve been doing this for decades, and she’s been doing this for a short period of time. I was extremely proud and even overwhelmed.”
Though Samantha felt somewhat nervous, Linda said she performed naturally, and Dirt, as always, basked in the lime light.
Of course, winning is no news for Dirt, who entered the competition ranked in the top five for 2015. His breed points ranked him third in the nation with the American Kennel Club. He also boasts the title of International Best in Show Champion, Multi-best in Specialty Show, Best in Futurity at the 2013 Dalmatian Club of America National Specialty. In addition, he is the winner of ten supported-entry shows and five Best in Specialty Shows.
Aside from his pristine breeding, Samantha believes it is the relationship between her and Dirt that make them such a successful team. At the end of the day and after every show, Dirt is their beloved pet, and he is well aware of it.
“The bond that Dirt and I have — it’s very special,” said Samantha.
Because Samantha is a full-time student at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, she said she does not know how many shows her schedule will allow.
“College is number one,” said Linda, adding that getting into the top five with the AKC is not easy.
In the Spring AKC Nationals, Samantha will show Dirt in a competition with likely more than 200 dalmatians. Because he was ranked third last year, he will participate in a Top 20 Showcase in which he will make an entrance to a specific song at a black-tie event, highlighting the exclusive best of the breed in the nation.
How it will compare to the honorary lighting of the Empire State Building in purple and gold and all-inclusive provisions of Westminster is yet to be determined, but one certainty is that this dynamic duo will enjoy the experience, and spectators will surely dig Dirt.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox