New Hampshire's Animal Champions

Introducing Coco, the all-time winningest Norfolk terrier in history and one of the best champion dogs ever.
Beth Sweigart takes Coco through her paces at the Westminster show in 2004.
photo courtesy of westminster kennel club

Every time she stepped into the spotlight, she owned it. Then she nailed it. Coco was not only the all-time winningest Norfolk terrier in history, but was arguably one of the most perfectly conformed and greatest champion canines ever.

"Ah, Coco, yes. Now that was a show dog!” exclaims Dianne Connolly, a nationally acclaimed dog show judge who has owned and bred roughly 50 champion Pembroke Welsh Corgis at Top O’ The Meadow Farm in Hancock.

Once called the cutest dog in all of Britain, the spunky, charismatic and beloved little sparkplug was the consummate canine on both sides of the Atlantic in her day.

The flawlessly conformed English and American grand champion remains the all-time winningest Norfolk (the ones with the soft, fold-over ears; the Norwich have the pointy, upright ears) terrier in history. When she retired, her overflowing trophy case held a record-setting 70 blue ribbons for Best in Show while competing at the sport’s loftiest levels against all of the approximately 165 different recognized breeds.

Like another Coco, the elegant, iconic and timeless Mademoiselle Chanel of the famed French fashion house and perfumery, she set the standard to which all others are held.

“I say she was like a Marilyn Monroe. There were lots of beautiful blondes, but only one Marilyn. Coco was like that,” says her co-owner Pamela Beale of Twin Brook Farm in Peterborough. “She was an amazing dog.”

Beale and her husband, John, along with partners Beth Sweigart and Peter Green, are undeniably the top owners and breeders of Norfolk terriers in the country.

“Coco was the dog everyone could see themselves having. She was very personable and affectionate, she was always happy to be in the show during her entire career, and she never let you down. Never,” she says.

Among Coco’s triumphs are back-to-back honors in 2004-05 as both Best of Breed and Best of (the entire Terrier) Group at the prestigious, invitation-only Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. When she was upset as the overwhelming favorite for Best in Show and placed second in both years, her fans across the continent and across the pond shared the sting of disappointment.

"It’s no good if your dog has a moment of divine inspiration and the judge is looking somewhere else. They have to do it every single time."

“Coco was a great show dog. She was always on. I never saw her not be on,” says David Frei, the longtime on-air analyst for the annual two-night nationally and internationally televised Westminster show as well as the AKC/Eukanuba National Dog Show carried every year on NBC-TV on Thanksgiving Day.

“She was beautifully presented by Peter and Beth, groomed impeccably, handled impeccably and she owned the ground she stood over. She had no qualms at all about being out there. I don’t mean to anthropomorphize it, but they have to say, ‘Pick me. Pick me!’ and she always did,” adds Frei, who is also Westminster’s director of communications.

Even though the pedigreed pooches are trained to be polished when in the ring, they are still real animals and not robots. Some of the most seasoned performers can act much more like the typical family pet, and often at the most inopportune time.

“It doesn’t do you any good if your dog is having a moment of divine inspiration and the judge is looking someplace else,” Frei says. “They have to do it every single second, which most show dogs can’t because they’re dogs. They’re going to be looking over the fence, looking for treats or picking something up off the ground. 

“But every time the camera was on Coco or the judge was looking at her, she was standing there at perfect attention, looking up at her handler and doing the right thing with her eyes, her ears, her legs and her body. Only the truly great ones do that.”

Coco’s ability to collect hundreds of blue ribbons and trophies is made all the more amazing by the simple fact that she was female.

While the boys shed their shiny coats just once annually, the girls do it twice each year due to hormonal cycles and consequently they cannot be shown when they are “out of coat.” When they take time off to produce and nurture a litter of puppies, there is an added recovery time while they regain finest feminine form and prime condition.

Although Coco was sidelined for the entire half of the year in which she delivered three puppies the Beales amusingly called Tom, Dick and Harry, she still won Best in Show at the premier level enough times to retain her No. 1 ranking.

Sadly, Coco passed away in 2011. Nevertheless, the Beales are continuing her sparkle, sizzle, and overall spectacular presence and personality through her regal bloodline.

“It was horrible, just devastating, when we lost Coco. But the best part about her was that not only was she a phenomenal show dog, but she bred on,” says Beale.

Coco had two litters and five puppies in total, and she has proven to be as good of a producer as she was a performer. All co-owned by the Beales, her son Dick, grandson Rider, granddaughter Plum and great-grandson Winston followed in her preeminent paw prints.

At the celebrated Westminster show, when it came time to award the coveted Best of Breed and Best of Group ribbons, Plum brought the honors home to Peterborough in 2010 and then Rider kept it all in the family by following suit in 2012 and 2013.

This year Rider and his son, Winston, competed against one another and for the Beales in the big show at Madison Square Garden held in mid-February (results were not available at press time). They were the two prohibitive favorites in their category.

“She’s a true ambassador for our breed.”

“Why is Rider such a good show dog? God kissed him with that, to be honest,” says Roxanne Sutton, his professional handler. “He has Coco’s bloodline, but there are some dogs that just come out of the womb like that.”

Rider has become so famous that he was featured in this year’s holiday television commercial for the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Called “Wacha,” the ad portrays the actor Andy Cohen and a family dog watching him compete in the show ring before Cohen uses the tablet to switch his pet, whom he determined is jealous of Rider, atop the winner’s stand.

The spirited little terrier even has his own Facebook page, Rider Beale, which was set up and is maintained by Sutton so his growing legion of fans can follow his many exploits.

Grandmother Coco would be proud.

“It’s now generation after generation after generation, which is what you want. You want Coco to live on through all of these offspring,” says Beale.

Although Rider has been ranked as the No. 1 Norfolk for three consecutive years, Winston is already showing signs of bettering his old man even though he is only 2 years old.

“We don’t know yet what Rider and Winston will do, but Coco really was that once-in-a-lifetime dog. She holds all of the breed records. She was just a phenomenon and still is. It’s going to really take something to ever surpass her,” says Beale. “Maybe Winston will be the one. One of the dog show judges says to me that Coco was without question the greatest of all time, but perhaps now she has produced one [who will become] as good as herself. That’s what we hope for, and that’s what you work for.”

Beale also works relentlessly hard for the benefit of others.

With husband John, she owns and operates Cornwall’s Pub near Fenway Park in Boston and volunteers as a board member for a number of civic organizations in the city. For the past four years, she has chaired Take The Lead, a national charitable organization that provides direct services, support and care for people in the sport of purebred dogs who suffer the devastation of life-threatening or terminal illness.

“I’ve known Pam [Beale] for a number of years and she’s the most positive, enthusiastic person I know,” says Tom Bradley III, the chief executive officer of Take The Lead and the chairman of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. “Her enthusiasm is contagious. There is always a smile on her face and she always goes out of her way to take someone aside and tell them what a great job they are doing.”

“Pam has a dedication to and a love for the breed but it is her great integrity and hard work that really stand out,” says Nancy Ann Wise, the president of the national Norfolk Terrier Club, who resides in Virginia. “In a very competitive world, she’s a genuinely sincere and nice individual. Needless to say, Pam is the top owner and breeder of Norfolk terriers in the country and she has that eye for breeding the best dogs. Her dogs win a lot, and with consistency. But I cannot stress enough what an extraordinary and kind person she is. She’s a true ambassador for our breed and our sport.”

The benevolence extends to the dogs, who share the Beales’ home at the Peterborough farm, where they are treated just like any other furry best friends. 

They Are the Champions

Along with Pam and John Beale’s extraordinary grand champion Norfolk terriers Coco, Rider and Winston, here are some of the finest with ties to our state:

photo courtesy of westminster kennel club

Ch. Lakeside Run’s Little Bear

The official state dog of New Hampshire is the Chinook, and Ch. Lakeside Run’s Little Bear, a/k/a Birr, has done the Granite State proud.

Handled by Londonderry High School science teacher Kristine Holleran, who co-owns the beautiful mover with her husband, Chester, Birr walked away with the Best of Breed trophy at the Eukanuba National Show and then took similar honors in the rarefied air of the 2014 Westminster Kennel Club show in the first year that Chinooks were eligible to compete.  

But Birr, now 6, didn’t defend his titles this year. He had a much more important task; that of therapy dog as he was at home staying right beside Chester Holleran, who was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Supreme Grand Champion.

rigel Photo BY barry hayes

Hollis Hill Rigel of At Last Cats

“There’s not much further up the ladder Rigel can go other than to be [international] ‘Cat of the Year,’” says Marie Harriman, who with husband Chris Condon owns Maine Coon cattery At Last Cats in Antrim, which is registered with the International Cat Association.

Supreme Grand Champion Hollishill Rigel of Atlastcats, the best Blue Maine Coon of the Year in 2013 and runner-up in 2014, isn’t their only homebred star. Howlin Fargo, a red classic tabby, is a triple grand champion and Atlastcats Noreaster, a black silver ticked, is a quadruple champion.

Harriman and Condon have been in business for just 10 years and only show their cats once monthly on average, so their level of success is remarkable.

“Our main priority is breeding healthy cats with great personalities,” Condon says.

Dancer’s Image

Dancer’s Image (#7) fights to the wire to win the 1968 Kentucky Derby.
Photo courtesy churchill downs

In the “Sport of Kings” there is no bigger brass ring than the Kentucky Derby. Dancer’s Image, who carried the colors of owner and breeder Peter Fuller’s Runnymeade Farm in

North Hampton, grabbed it in 1968. But he didn’t keep it for long.

Even though the race was declared official, the colt was disqualified after post-race urinalysis found small traces of the medication phenylbutazone (“bute”), which was legal in other racing jurisdictions but not Kentucky. Until his 2012 death, Fuller believed he was set up because his support for civil rights affronted the racing aristocracy of the Bluegrass State.

Dancer’s Image, the only horse to be DQed in the 140-year history of the Kentucky Derby, made the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the scandal was the magazine’s 1968 Story of the Year. It remains controversial to this day.

But Dancer’s Image is still recognized as the Derby winner at Runnymeade, whose current owners have restored the Atlantic Avenue billboard that marks the accomplishments of the colt and stable mate, Mom’s Command.

Bee A Magician

Photos courtesy Harness Racing Communications

Just call her Queen Bee.

She is harness racing’s 2013 Horse of the Year in the United States and Canada, and she won every other championship honor possible for a 3-year-old trotting filly that year while racking up an astonishing 17-race winning streak. Still in training, the spectacular Bee A Magician is one of the all-time best in her sport and is on track to become the finest female ever.

Co-owned by Dave McDuffee of Rye, the now 5-year-old daughter of multiple champion Kadabra was purchased at auction as a yearling for $90,000, which is almost five times the average for a Standardbred. She turned out to be priceless.

Not only did “Bee” establish world record times in her 2013 and 2014 races, she earned just shy of $2.3 million in purses (as of Jan. 1) and is the only female Standardbred trotter or pacer to surpass the $2 million mark. Moreover, the future Hall of Famer has unlimited value as a broodmare prospect once her racing shoes come off for good.
McDuffee says the goal is to race Bee A Magician, who captured her second consecutive prestigious Breeders’ Crown race in November, in 2015-16 and campaign her in the biggest contests in Europe.

“Out of the thousands of [harness] horses bred every year, there can be only one Horse of the Year,” says her co-owner. “She taking us on quite a ride and we’re certainly enjoying it.”

Photo courtesy National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame

Mom’s Command

Peter Fuller’s homebred Thoroughbred filly, gifted with speed and stamina, was brilliant. From her smashing debut at Rockingham Park in 1984 to her last race in the historic Alabama Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in her final test, she ran exclusively in stakes events.

Even more unusual, she was ridden by Fuller’s daughter, Abigail, who fit her like a gloved hand. Together, they triumphed in the 1985 Triple Crown for fillies, the Triple Tiara, and Mom’s Command was so dominant that she was voted the US 3-year-old Filly champion that year and was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2007.

Following her retirement as a broodmare in Kentucky, she came home to live out her days in the lush paddocks of Runnymeade Farm, where she died from old age in 2007 and her remains are buried.

Ch. Llandian’s Champagne on Ice

Photo BY Dianne Connolly

Bubbles, whose American Kennel Club name is Ch. Llandian’s Champagne on Ice, has a magnum-sized trophy case at owner and breeder Dianne Connolly’s Top O’ The Meadow Farm in Hancock.

The spectacular Bubbles has captured 13 Best of Breed Specialty titles, which is the most in the history of the Pembroke Welsh Corgi (the ones without tails; the Cardigan Welsh Corgis are the others) breed. One of her highest honors was being judged Best of Breed in 2013 at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club show, which is televised nationally and internationally from Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Bubbles didn’t get to strut her stuff at Westminster this year. She was at home preparing to deliver a litter of puppies for Connolly,

Categories: Features