THREE TOY FOX TERRIERS IN OXFORD HAVE AN IMPRESSIVE RECORD AT NATIONAL COMPETITIONS, AND WITH VISIONS OF WESTMINSTER ON THE HORIZON, THEIR PROWESS STANDS TO GROW TALLER THAN THEIR ROUGHLY 9-INCH HEIGHT.
WRITTEN BY Aleka Battista
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOE WORTHEM
Sassy and Romeo are anything but your ordinary lap dogs. Despite their small size, these toy fox terriers are on their way to becoming big stars — they are known as serious competitors at national conformation dog shows.
Their owner, Jean Abrams of Oxford, said she always loved dogs and remembers watching competitive dog shows growing up. However, it was not until later in her life that she discovered her affinity for the toy fox terrier breed, and her desire to show them was sparked.
“I always thought it would be cool to do,” Abrams said. “I have always been interested in the different dogs at shows and seeing how they conform to their breed.”
Abrams’ first toy fox terrier was Harley, now 5 years old. Harley was followed by Sassy, now 1½, and the newest pup is 8-month-old Romeo. All three came from American Kennel Club Hall of Fame breeder Barbara J. Andrews of North Carolina and descend from prestigious champion bloodlines.
“They are small dogs with big personality,” Abrams said. “Each one is very intelligent and amusing. They have a lot of terrier in them. They love to play and fight over toys. Our living room floor is covered in toys.”
At shows, dogs of all breeds and ages compete across categories ranging from conformation, companion, title recognition and performance. They begin in competition with their breed, then move to larger groups such as toy or hound. Those that advance compete against all breeds for the title of Best in Show.
Abrams’ terriers compete in conformation dog shows, where they are judged on how well they conform to their breed standard. Determinations are based upon AKC standards for temperament, marking, ears and other attributes. While Harley is now retired, Sassy and Romeo are following in his paw prints. The youngsters are already veterans of several conformation dog shows in Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina and Florida.
At a show in Florida in December, Sassy and Romeo earned 15 awards. At the Golden Triangle Kennel Club of Mississippi Dog Show in January, each won best of breed over the other on subsequent days. Abrams’ dogs have amassed about 30 awards, with Sassy nearing designation as an American Kennel Club Conformation Champion. And at less than a year old, the stars are aligning for young Romeo to qualify for the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club show.
Westminster, known as the Super Bowl of dog shows, has been held in New York City annually since 1877. Competition is by invitation extended to only 3,200 dogs recognized as best conforming to their breed — top performing dogs from across the world who have earned points towards a champion, or who are champions. At its completion, only one top dog is recognized with the title of Best in Show. The 2020 program takes place Feb. 10 and 11.
“I think Romeo will be able to earn an invitation to Westminster,” Abrams said. “He is just full of himself, a typical toy fox terrier personality. He is full of life. He conforms well to the breed standard and has the prettiest, very intense-looking little face.”
For Romeo to qualify for Westminster, he must still achieve a major win against three or more terriers at a competition. However, numbers in toy fox terrier groups are often slim, and finding a show with enough participants takes time.
Many people who show dogs are into it full time, bouncing from one location to the next in RVs that serve as a competition headquarters on wheels. As owner and full-time operator of Castle Hill, a busy event venue, Abrams’ ability to travel is limited.
“When Romeo could earn an invitation to Westminster depends on how many shows I can go to,” Abrams said. “It could be in three months or less. But our show-going-to days are limited. It may take me longer.”
When she started going to dog shows, Abrams knew little about it. She learned to train dogs through internet research and from others who were already competing. At shows, she found an outlet for both her competitive side and her love of dogs.
“I am a competitive person by nature, and once I set my mind to something, I want to do it above and beyond,” Abrams said. “I didn’t know anything about this when I started; I (am) self-taught.”
Despite their stardom, to Abrams, the terriers are her pets first. At the end of the day, she simply enjoys the company that Harley, Sassy and Romeo provide.
“They are a part of the family,” Abrams said. “They are not just dogs to show. I could show or not show them, I would still treat them the same way.”