Nearly four years ago, when Thea Robinson first saw the 3-day-old Alaskan malamute now known as Mick, she knew he was a standout. Now the world knows it, too.
In February Mick won best of breed at the 139th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which is televised around the world. The iconic dog show featured 2,711 dogs of 192 breeds competing Feb. 16-17 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
“Winning at the Garden is very prestigious,” says Thea, noting Westminster is the second-longest continuously held sporting event in the country, behind only the Kentucky Derby. “Winning Best of Breed at the Garden … is a dream only some can fulfill.”
She says a Westminster win is often the springboard that launches a dog’s career or is its last win before retirement. For Mick it is neither. In 2014, he was the #1 Alaskan malamute and the #18 Working Dog in the United States.
Mick has won three Best in Shows, 32 Working Group firsts and four malamute-only shows called specialties, including the Alaskan Malamute Club of America show. She plans to continue campaigning him for another year and then retire him after Westminster next year.
“I’ve owned Mick since he was 12 weeks old,” says Thea. “He’s owned me since he was 3 days old. I met this litter at 3 days old and he decided I was his. … (He was) always migrating toward me in the whelping box.”
As a breeder and shower of malamutes since 1998, Thea hadn’t bought a dog in seven years. But, she says, “When I saw him, I had to have him. He is a very good malamute and has done very well in the show ring.”
Mick is co-owned with breeder Michele Coburn and Alisa Syar, but he lives in Scappoose with Thea and her husband, Kyle.
“He is professionally handled by Martin Glover,” says Thea. “He lives with me and I condition and groom him, but I leave the professional handling to Marty.”
So while Mick was in the Westminster ring with Marty, Thea was watching nervously.
“When Mick and Marty were in the ring, I was surrounded by friends and texting with a dear friend who has been in my position of owning a top winning dog,” says Thea. “Her kind words and thoughts really got me through it; also being surrounded by friends made the win even sweeter. After winning, my phone exploded and we had calls from friends near and far who watched the breed judging through live streaming.”
Many of the calls were from friends she knows through her association with B’nai B’rith Camp. Now BB Camp’s finance director, Thea spent many summers at the Jewish residential camp on the Oregon coast. She was a camper starting the summer before third grade and continued through her teens. The summer before and after her senior year at Lakeridge High School, she worked as a counselor at the camp.
Now BB Camp development director, Aaron Pearlman says that Thea was a 14-year-old Teen Village Camper when he was a counselor for the Teen Village Boys in 1989; and now BB Camp executive director, Michelle Koplan was Thea’s counselor in 1986 and 1987.
“It was awesome to reconnect with her when she joined the full-time staff,” says Aaron, adding “We were friends on FB but hadn’t seen each other since 1989. … We posted on FB the day she was going to be on TV, and a number of our old friends posted congratulations.”
In addition to BB Camp, during her teen years Thea was also active in BBYO, where she served as an international officer her last year before starting college. “I’ve been away from the community for a while, and I longed to reconnect – working at BB Camp is a really good way to do so,” she says.
Breeding and showing dogs is a “hobby enterprise” rather than a profitable business for Thea and Kyle.
“I don’t make money, I do it to improve the breed,” she says. “We improve the breed by breeding closer to the breed conformation standard.”
Mick, whose registered name is Peace River’s Gathers No Moss At Sunstra, has already started helping do that, too. Though he is still showing, he is also standing at stud. When a bitch (female) is in heat, Thea takes him to a reproductive veterinarian who collects and cold-ships the semen for artificial insemination.
Currently Mick’s stud fee is $2,500 based on his show record. Thea expects to raise that to $4,000 when his offspring start to win in the ring, too. His oldest pups are now about 5 months and will begin showing later this year.
“The mom of his first litter needed more coat, more head and more substance so they bred to Mick to improve on her and so far they are very pleased with the puppies as they have more substance, much better heads and plenty of coat,” says Thea.
Thea and Kyle have two other malamutes at home, but no females that they are breeding now. But Thea looks forward to having litters again down the road. She has a proven track record of recognizing a standout, a dog that always grabs your attention.
“I was taught to look at puppies ‘wet’ (immediately after birth),” says Thea. In my litters, I pick the best dogs the day they are born and I’ve never been wrong.” Although some dogs don’t have the temperament to be show dogs, she says the confirmation she sees at birth holds true.
That played out in February in New York. After winning Best of Breed, Thea gave Mick a nap before preparing him to show in the Working Group.
“At the Garden, at 6 pm, the spectators are let in and the crowds are huge,” she says. “He slept through all of the crowds until I had to groom him. I then had to manage my handler’s nerves, make sure I had sufficient bait for Mick – bait is what keeps Mick’s attention on Marty – and keep myself composed. All eyes are on us through the lenses of cameras for the press, for people’s own enjoyment and of course for social media.”
Mick did not get a ribbon in the Working Group, but Thea says, “He showed his heart out and represented us very well. I couldn’t be prouder of his performance. Sometimes even when you don’t get a ribbon, other judges are watching and they are forming their own opinions about the dog. This was an international stage and to have him showcased was amazing.”