The competition at the Westminster dog show is notoriously rough – and that’s doubly true for the terrier group, which includes breeds ranging from the mighty Airedale to the feisty American Hairless.
Suffice it to say, it was an honor for any terrier to be among the contenders when the Westminster Kennel Club kicked off its 146th annual show at Madison Square Garden last week. Yet, in the end, it was a Lakeland terrier from Mebane that emerged as the paws-down favorite within this highly-spirited class.
Officially dubbed “Mizzconceived” on her papers, but affectionately known to her owners and handlers as “MM,” this year’s top terrier is about as homegrown as any canine that has ever strutted her stuff in the nation’s premier dog competition. In fact, MM (Pronounced “Em”) was born and whelped in Mebane from a long line of Lakelands that area resident Maripi Wooldridge has been painstakingly perfecting for the past 47 years.
Like all of Wooldridge’s “Hi-Kel Terrydale” Lakelands, MM sports her breed’s characteristically upright tail and the equally distinctive tufts of facial fur on her muzzle. But this six-year-old show dog also boasts an added, ineffable quality that Wooldridge insists separates a true champion from the rest of the pack.
“When she was a puppy, she was one of five brothers and sisters,” MM’s owner recalled in an interview on Monday. “But we always knew she was special. She was the ‘It’ girl.”
Wooldridge acknowledges that good breeding alone isn’t enough to produce a champion canine – even in the case of a bona fide natural like MM. In order to compete on an elite level, a dog must also undergo a regimen of physical training that her owner admits is comparable to the preparations of a human athlete.
“They walk them for at least a mile a day, and if they don’t walk them, there’s a treadmill that they go on,” Wooldridge explained. “The diet is also very important. But most important of all is that they have to be in a structure where they’re happy.”
Wooldridge noted that the rigors of MM’s daily routine are overseen by her handlers – Ariel and Sarah Cukier. The couple, who currently reside in Delaware, are also MM’s faithful
companions at all of her competitions – and with perhaps 100 shows under her collar, that equates to a whole lot of mileage that the Cukiers have traveled with the 15-pound terrier in tow.
Given her show schedule, MM doesn’t often have the opportunity to return home to Mebane. Even so, this peripatetic pup has managed to amass quite the local following, particularly among clients of Bed & Bone – a Mebane-based kennel that’s operated by Wooldridge’s wife Jennifer Stevens.
Throughout MM’s meteoric rise on the show circuit, Bed & Bone has been something of de facto fan club for this four-legged celebrity. Stevens nevertheless concedes that she wasn’t fully prepared for the response that MM’s star turn at Westminster received from the kennel’s devoted patrons.
“A lot of customers have reached out and congratulated us on the win,” Stevens recalled in an interview. “I’ve been amazed at the number of people who’ve seen it on TV…It was a fantastic win for MM, and we’re all very proud of her.”
Wooldridge, for her part, was able to witness MM’s latest achievement from the enviable vantage point of a ring-side seat at Madison Square Garden. She was likewise able to get a rare glimpse of the champion terrier’s post-victory ritual.
“She was really excited after she won,” Wooldridge recounted, “and when she went back to the hotel room, she had a big ‘ol party with all of her toys before she collapsed in her bed.”