TARRYTOWN, N.Y. – She is a royal who carries herself like a commoner, a Tom Brady who could be mistaken for a special teamer. Patricia Trotter will spend this weekend on the east bank of the Hudson River, at the epicenter of the second longest continuously running sports event in the nation, and wants the attention focused wholly on the event, and not her 85-year-old, record-smashing self.
“The Westminster Dog Show is the Super Bowl and the World Series (wrapped into) one,” Trotter told USA TODAY. “There are hundreds and hundreds of dog shows, but there is only one Westminster.”
The 145th edition of Westminster will begin Friday morning and conclude Sunday night, when Trotter, a longtime middle-school history teacher from Carmel, Calif., will be the judge of the Best In Show competition, the most prestigious judging gig in the dog-show realm. For the first time since its debut in 1877, the Westminster Kennel Club’s showcase event will not be held in Madison Square Garden, moving 25 miles north to Lyndhurst, a historic riverside mansion in the village of Tarrytown – a venue change WKC officials made in order to hold the show outdoors. Big white tents now dot the verdant estate grounds, and so will more than, 2,500 canine competitors, including four new breeds. But there will be no fans, or vendors, or midtown Manhattan hubbub – not until the show returns to the Garden in 2022, pandemic willing.
“It is going to be weird,” Trotter said, with a chuckle.
Pat Trotter may be an octogenarian, but looks, talks and acts as if she is in her middle years. She recounts in great detail her decades as a football fan (she saw Johnny Unitas, Eddie LeBaron and Joe Montana in person and vividly recalls watching the Giants-Colts 1958 championship game with her father), and her teenage foray into journalism, writing high-school sports stories for a local newspaper in the Tidewater region of Virginia, where she grew up. For decades she was a passionate long-distance runner, and is now a long-distance walker, always with a four-legged companion.
She isn’t against sharing the secret of her youthfulness.
“I think having dogs in your life keeps you going as you age,” she said.
Trotter fell in love with her first dog, a mixed breed named Queenie, given to her by her parents when she was a fifth grader. Soon she was volunteering in kennels, walking puppies, showing cocker spaniels, spending every moment she could spare around dogs. One day she saw some adorable dogs in a paddock owned by a man in the neighborhood. They were stout in body, friendly in temperament, with a lush silver-gray coat and a tightly curled tail.
“Them are bear hunters,” said the owner, who was, in fact a bear hunter.
The dogs were Norwegian Elkhounds, and the young girl was smitten. She showed her first Elkhound, Candy, at the Tidewater Dog Show in 1950, and bred and registered her first litter a year later. Trotter made her Westminster debut in 1961, and basically never left, becoming as much of a fixture as the pointer in the WKC logo. She won the Best in Breed in 1969 and Best in Group a year later, the first of an unprecedented 11 Group victories, the proverbial record that will never be broken.
David Haddock, the co-chair of the Westminster Dog Show, estimates that 350,000 handlers have entered dogs in the history of the event. None has come close to achieving what Trotter has, a feat made even more remarkable because Trotter is not, and never has been, a professional breeder or handler (though she is married to one.)
“Pat is an icon – a living legend,” Haddock said. “For most people to win Westminster once is the (pinnacle) of a lifetime. She epitomizes what we all hope to accomplish. I couldn’t carry Pat’s bags on a good day, and yet she treats me as an equal, the same way she treats everyone in the sport.”
Trotter, it turns out, was just as much of a luminary in the classroom at Carmel Middle School over 35 years. She loved teaching about colonial history, and not just because George Washington was “one of the first great dog breeders in our country.” She taught students about her fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, about Enlightenment thinkers, and the early stirrings of the concept of democracy.
One of her pupils was Jimmy Panetta, now a Democratic congressman from Carmel Valley, Calif.
“Mrs. Trotter was as an amazing teacher who had a lasting impact on many Carmel students, including me and my two older brothers,” Panetta told USA TODAY via e-mail. “She made it a point to teach us about civics and the cornerstones of our democracy, including how necessary it was to speak up in the classroom and speak out in our community. Many of the lessons she taught, I use today as a member of Congress.”
Panetta joked that having to deal with unruly eighth graders all those years probably greatly abetted Trotter’s ability to judge the comportment and character of various breeds of dogs. All Trotter knows is that a virtual lifetime as a dog lover, and a purebred owner, breeder and handler, has landed her in a rarefied place in her sport this weekend, and she is deeply honored by that.
“I guess you could say it has been a calling for me, and the calling began with my mixed-breed, Queenie,” Trotter said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Westminster Dog Show Best in Show to be judged by legend Pat Trotter