A Kennel Club Champ Born and Bred in NH

This year’s “Best in Show” traces his roots back to a pair of devoted dog lovers in Durham

Wilson and Bonnie Pike. Courtesy Photo

After four decades in the breeding business, Bonnie Pike likes to think she’s developed a pretty good eye for the future champions among the small cohorts of cocker spaniels that can be found scurrying around her home in Durham.

Some puppies, she says, just have “that divine spark.”

“You look for the puppy that puts itself out there, like a puppy that has eye contact with you,” says Pike, who’s been in the breeding business with her husband Wilson since 1975. “Show dogs have to want to work. They’re like working dogs, in their way, they have to want to do it for you.”

Long before Silverhall Strike Force (known affectionately as “Striker”) was in the spotlight at the nation’s foremost canine competition —beating out 5,000 other dogs from across the country as the American Kennel Club’s most recent “Best in Show,” gaining all of the accolades and media attention that comes with it — Pike knew he was something special.

“He’s representative of everything a cocker spaniel should be. Our standard says above all, they must be merry — and he exemplifies the merry temperament,” Pike says.

“He loves everybody. He loves to perform. He loves to go to dog shows. He loves people. He’s just a really cool dog.”

Indeed, at 6 months old he caught the attention of an interested buyer at a dog show in St. Louis. Eventually, Striker found his way to a new pair of owners and professional handlers, who shepherded him through the awards circuit — though the Pikes eagerly followed along from afar.

Striker the spaniel was the Pikes’ first American Kennel Club champion — but far from their first prizewinner. Over the years, Pike says they’ve bred “over 250 champions.” (All of their dogs bear the name “Silverhall,” an homage to both a farm Pike admired in her home state of Delaware and to the couple’s silver-gray house in Durham.)

They used to log lots of miles traveling around the country on the awards circuit, and at one point Pike says the pair was on the road 52 weekends a year.

Now, they’ve scaled back into a retirement of sorts, hitting the road to about one dog show every two months — but their love for the sport and the spaniels themselves remains strong.

“A lot of people think that a show breeder like myself has great big kennels, and we don’t love our dogs as much — and that’s very untrue,” Pike says. Many breeding families she knows, including her own, take great care in treating their dogs with compassion, whether they’re raising them to be competitors or household companions.

“I think maybe some people think that we’re elitists,” Pike says. “But we just love the breed. We love what we do.”

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