If you’re a musician, there’s the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. If you’re an actor, there are the Oscars. And if you’re a dog breeder, the maraschino cherry atop a lifetime of hard work is to be named an American Kennel Club Breeder of the Year. After all, anyone can have a one-hit wonder, but it takes decades of accomplishment to earn that accolade.
This September, Karen Fitzpatrick of Meadowlake Border Terriers was named the AKC Terrier Breeder of the Year, three years after she earned Sport Dog Breeder of the Year for her contribution to the sport of Earthdog. That doubleheader isn’t a coincidence: In her 22 years in the breed, Fitzpatrick has single-mindedly bred for an all-around Border Terrier that not only succeeds in the show ring – see her multiple AKC National Championship, Westminster and Best in Show winners, as well as her all-time top-winning GCh. Meadowlake Simply Sinful – but also has the attitude and aptitude to making a killing in the field – literally.
Along with the Breeders of the Year from the six other groups, Fitzpatrick will be presented with the coveted gold medallion at the AKC National Championship show in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 16. And she’ll wait expectantly amid all the sequins and tuxedos to find out who of the seven has also earned the mega-honor of being selected overall AKC Breeder of the Year.
Here, Fitzpatrick talks about what she was doing when she got the big call from AKC, why hunting with Border Terriers is a challenge on these shores, and the biggest mistake most breeders make in designing their breeding programs.
The call: I was driving over that giant bridge over the Ohio River that connects Ohio to Kentucky when my cell phone started ringing. I looked at the 212 area code and thought, “Who’s calling me from New York?” After I hung up, I was sobbing. It sunk in that night.
First love: I grew up with working Jack Russell Terriers. I did a lot of hunting and showing in the early days of the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America. Border Terriers were bred for the same thing, so I was very familiar with everything about them. I traveled often to the United Kingdom and fell in love with fox hunting and the Lake District. After meeting my first Border Terrier, I knew that was the breed I wanted to pursue.
Ring debut: I showed a Border that I was hunting, Towzie Tyke Barclay Banker. Somebody talked me into taking him to a dog show. His teeth were all broken from running raccoons. I didn’t know what was happening: I got a major, Best of Breed, and then a Group 4. I remember all my friends screaming, “You have to take a photo!” and I’m like, “But I only came in fourth place.”
Why Borders eventually trumped Jacks: Borders are sweet, they’re tenacious, they’re feisty, and they’re adaptable. They have good minds. And I think they’re easier to live with. I’d done everything I could do with the Russells. Borders were a new challenge for me.
Land of no return: The nice thing about a Border Terrier is you can be very selective about where you want to sell them. In 20 years of breeding, I’ve only gotten two dogs back – I’m really proud of that.
Nurturing newbies: It’s amazing the lives you change as a breeder. You take some new people under your wing, and you’re there to get them going. I’ve taught so many people how to show dogs and how to groom. It gives you a purpose. And it gives people a lot of confidence because they have a good dog at the end of their lead.
Background check: Most people don’t know what’s behind the dogs they’re breeding. You wouldn’t believe how many people say, “I’m going to breed this one to this one because they have the same grandfather.” But first you have to know what you have, and what you need – where you got the good, and where you got the bad. I always know the dogs behind my dogs. And when I think about a breeding, all their pictures start to pop up in my head.
Faultfinding: I’ve learned which faults you can fix, which you cannot, and which ones will creep up and haunt you. When you get a really deep-chested dog, you can breed to a level underline until you’re blue in face, but if that deep chest is set in that line, forget it. Mincy fronts are also almost impossible to get rid of. I have never accepted a bad-moving dog, and I would rather breed to a dog that I set on a table and I can find fault with, but when you put them on the ground they can move. You can’t fix what you can’t see: If a dog has perfect structure on the table, but can’t walk, that’s ligament and muscle . . . how do you fix that?
Keeping control: I don’t think all puppies mature into breeding prospects. I love taking advantage of the AKC’s Breeder E-Z Reg because I have the option to preregister them with limited or full registration. I feel very safe that if I don’t want a pup to go to a home as nothing more than a companion, I have the option to decide that.
Healthy is as healthy does: It’s easy to look up whether or not a breeder health-tests for the betterment of the breed, and it’s apparent how long they have been doing it and whether they are continuing it with the offspring. It’s imperative that breeders insist that health testing is continued in puppies that are sold to a possible breeding home. It’s simply the best tool we have to make sure we are breeding from sound breeding stock.
Let me ask you something: If I could ask one question to fellow Breeders of Merit, it would be “Who are your mentors and why?” It means a lot to me to admire someone, and I want to know who taught them.
Bottom-line: I’m a breeder first. That’s what makes my life whole. Winning is the icing on the cake, but making the cake is the recipe.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes Breeders of Merit for their dedication to breeding purebred dogs with the appearance, temperament, and abilities that are true to their breed standard, and for their commitment to health screening and 100 percent puppy registration. The AKC celebrates their success in and passion for canine sports. They are the pinnacle of the AKC community.
Each quarter, this "Meet a Breeder of Merit" series features a member of the program to showcase his or her achievements, breeding philosophy, and history of involvement with the AKC.