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March 6, 2009

Beth Dowd's Stump Takes Top Honors At Westminster

Horses and dogs often go together, but Beth Dowd’s interest in dogs has exceeded the usual few running around the barn. While she does have a posse of pointy-eared Corgis patrolling, her name earned international headlines for a Sussex Spaniel called Stump.
Her 10-year-old, pulled-out-of-retirement champion earned the Best in Show title at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Feb. 10.
The longtime Southern Pines, N.C., resident and horse enthusiast has been showing dogs of various breeds at Westminster since 1999. Her daughter Carol, a successful hunter rider, shares her interest.
Stump, whose full name is Champion Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee, was sired by CH Three D Genghis Khan, and his dam was CH Clussexx Sprinkled With Dew. Breeders were Douglas Horn, Douglas Johnson and Dee Duffy.
Born Dec. 1, 1998, Stump is the oldest dog to win Best in Show at Westminster and the only Sussex Spaniel to claim the title. He won the Sporting Group in 2004, and Beth thought that he should have won overall that year—the same year he collected 50 Best in Show awards.
But shortly after that he contracted a potentially lethal bacterial infection that got in his bloodstream and affected his heart. He spent 19 days recovering in a pet hospital and then lived the life of a retiree for five years, when co-owner and handler Scott Sommer decided to enter him in this year’s competition.
“He seemed to be doing well,” Beth said, “so we decided to bring him to Westminster as a trial run for possible competition in an upcoming special show.”
With the Westminster win under his belt, Stump has now earned his retirement for good.

The Price Of Celebrity

At Westminster, Stump competed in the breed category, trumping, among others, his son, CH Lexxfield Twilight Hunter. In the sporting group, Judge Robert Ennis chose Stump as winner over 27 other dogs. Finally he took the highest honor, the Best in Show award.
The Dowds’ other dogs had impressive performances in the show, which featured about 2,500 dogs and 170 breeds. Ranger, a Lakeland terrier, won Best of Breed while Pixie, a Bichon Frise, took fourth in the non-sporting group.
Stump has become an overnight celebrity across the country and in his hometown. “We are so excited and proud,” said Nona Burrell of the Moore County Kennel Club. “Beth and Carol are an example of members who uphold the integrity of the purebred dog, which is the aim of the club.”
Beth’s daughter Carol owns Botanicals flower shop in Southern Pines, N.C., and owns and shows three of Stump’s pups. “My mother always loved him,” Carol said of Stump. “We didn’t think he had a big chance of winning. He was just an extra dog entered, and we just planned to have fun.”
It was a bit of a novelty for Carol to attend the show, which usually falls the same weekend as Valentine’s Day, one of the busiest days of the year for her flower shop. This year the holiday was the weekend after the show, so she could travel to New York and return in time to deal with the onslaught of flower orders.
Stump’s entourage, including Beth and Carol Dowd, co-owner Cecilia Ruggles and Sommer, celebrated until 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, then had to be up and presentable by 4:30 a.m. for appearances on the Today show, The Early Show, Martha Stewart and MSNBC among other programs.
At each stop, Sommer and Westminster publicist David Frei appeared on camera with Stump as the Dowds and Ruggles watched from off-stage.
Stump lives in Houston with Sommer, and Beth said she doesn’t foresee the champ coming to Southern Pines. The price of celebrity means Stump will be traveling around the country over the coming year, representing the club and serving as a “Spokesdog” for “Angel on a Leash,” a New York-based program that sends therapy dogs into hospitals.
“He is so endearing,” said Beth. “Everybody loves him.”

Equestrian Pursuits

A resident of Pinehurst and Southern Pines, N.C., for 41 years and a lifelong foxhunter with the Moore County Hounds, Beth is known in equestrian circles for her many years of dedicated service to the U.S. Pony Clubs as well as involvement in local shows and events. She was Regional Supervisor of the USPC Carolina Region for many years, is a USPC National Examiner, a Horse Management judge, and served on various boards and committees, ultimately earning the title of National Activities Legend from the USPC.
She has not hunted regularly in several years but enjoyed participating in the weeklong hunting festivities during the Masters of Foxhounds Centennial in 2007. She borrowed an Indian Paint horse from her friend Mel Wyatt for the week and hunted every day.
“The horse was wonderful,” she recalled. “He was white with brown ears and a couple of brown splotches on his chest and stomach, very striking, and such a pleasure to ride. He would just sit and watch the hounds work. It was a whole lot of fun.”
These days Beth’s bookkeeping and tax service clients keep her too busy to spend much time in the saddle. “Most of them are horse people who I knew, and I’ve become their caretaker in more ways than financial,” she explained. “I take them to doctors and other appointments, because a lot of them don’t have family locally. I have health care power of attorney in most cases; it’s like I’m the mother and they’re the kids now.”
Beth’s involvement in Pony Club has also gone by the wayside, with the aptly named Ginny Hunter taking over the Foxhunting Committee. “Joan Ketchum was my mentor—she lives in Florida now—and I took her to the Annual Meeting to receive an award a couple years ago when we became ‘Legends’ and they had a party for us,” she said.

Billboard’s Comeback

“People still call me all the time about horses, but we gave all of our horses and ponies to Pony Club,” explained Beth.
Several months ago someone called Carol and told her that her old show hunter, Billboard, had turned up at a
riding school in Rocky Mount, N.C.
“I think the woman I gave him to had financial problems and was embarrassed to call me,” said Carol. “Someone else saw him on the website for this riding school, and the school contacted me. They’d actually placed him with someone, but he had a really bad tooth that was abscessing by then and was in a lot of pain and not doing well. I brought him home and paid for the surgery on the tooth, and he’s like a different horse now.”
Only a few months after bringing Billboard home the gelding has filled out and is back in shape. Carol, who had retired from riding, has even hunted him three times with Moore County.
In his previous life, Billboard was a successful show hunter, helping Carol earn the USEF Zone 9 title during her college days in Washington State. She had purchased the Thoroughbred-Trakehner gelding, now 22 years old, from trainers Sandy and Ed Minchin as a 2-year-old.
“He was really quite a horse in his day,” she said. “We won a lot in the 3'6'' amateur classes during the late ’80s and early ’90s.”
Though she quit riding to develop her business, Carol’s interest in riding has recently been rediscovered, partly thanks to Billboard and also because of her fiancé, who is a horse enthusiast. She is also bringing along a young horse that she plans to show.
Carol shares her mother’s interest in dogs as well as horses. She breeds Corgis and Sussex Spaniels and has been showing dogs since 1996. She purchased a bitch named Sweet Potato from Stump’s breeders and now has three of his offspring: Root, Forest and Myrtle.
“I’ve always had horses, and we’ve always had dogs around,” she said. “I was excited to go to Westminster this year. Stump’s win was the thrill of a lifetime. It’s like winning the Kentucky Derby or a class at the National Horse Show; it’s so overwhelming. He’s so perfect for that breed; he’s a once-in-a-lifetime dog.”  

Amber Heintzberger

Horse Sports