A Rancho Santa Fe champion competed against the top dogs the Westminster Kennel Club’s 140th Dog Show on Feb. 15-16. The plucky, fluffy and affable Affenpinscher Tamarin True Grit, also known to owner Shannon Biszantz at home as Dillon, was invited to New York as one of the top six dogs in his breed in the country.
“I feel honored that I was even invited to get to sit at the table with the best of the best and that is the biggest reward there is,” Biszantz said.
On Monday, Feb. 15, Dillon competed in the Affenpinscher group. From there, the top dog of the six moved on to compete in the toy dog group on national television. (Yarrow H-Tech Drills and Skills won the Affenpinscher group Feb. 15. Dillon won an award of merit from the judges.)
Dillon is “shaggy but neat,” small yet sturdy. He loves to chase golf balls, he loves to ride around on the golf cart while Biszantz plays at Morgan Run Club & Resort and he loves to go for walks and see his “girlfriends”— a few fluffy white Bichon Frises and a Coton de Tulear that live on his street.
Biszantz’s first breed was a much larger dog — she used to compete internationally with German Shepherds in a sport called Schutzhund. The sport tests the dogs’ traits and characteristics in agility, obedience and protection.
“I’ve always enjoyed being in the ring competing with dogs but it was completely different than what I’m doing with (Dillon),” Biszantz said.
A love of animals runs in the family — Biszantz’s parents, Gary and Betty, are the founders of Cobra Golf Company and Cobra Farm, an 82-acre thoroughbred horse breeding facility in Lexington, Kentucky.
Biszantz became intrigued by the Affenpinscher, with its “big dog behavior, Curious George attitude and fun loving spirit” all wrapped up in a toy dog. The breeds’ popularity peaked when Banana Joe won Best in Show at Westminster in 2013. The dogs are judged on their “monkey-like” look, the expression of their little mouth and eyes.
Biszantz researched and met with breeders of Affenpinschers all over the world in Finland, Arizona, Florida and New Hampshire. She was drawn to Terry and Jackie Stacy, owners of Tamarin Kennels in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, breeders of some of the finest Affenpinscher lines in the world.
Biszantz sent many inquiries and pursued Jackie Stacy — knowing Stacy was judging a show in Del Mar, Biszantz persisted until she was able to get in front of Stacy for a meeting. She was then invited to fly to North Carolina for an interview — only one to two dogs are born in every breeding cycle and Tamarin is very selective about the owners. Part of the contract with a superior breeder is that the owner can never sell the dog and the owner is required to get a championship title on the dog.
Biszantz took Dillon to the world’s number one Affenpinscher handlers Jorge and Susie Olivera, who had recently re-located to San Marcos from Arizona. Biszantz had just been looking to get Dillon a championship but when he started showing in fall 2014, Dillon got his first title within a few months and then earned a Grand Championship Bronze from the American Kennel Club before he was even 14 months old, which was a rarity.
"Dillon acts like he should, ‘a moustached little devil’ who can stare you down, as a monkey does from a tree, is full of comic seriousness, keeps you laughing, is loyal and affectionate to his family and friends, is alert inquisitive and gamey,” said Stacy. “His medium-sized round black eyes are near perfection. Then add sound legs, level topline and proper size and what do have? Dillon. We call him a real one.”
When you get a dog like Dillon, who gets his championship and then judges are really starting to look at him as one of the top one or two dogs in his breed, Biszantz said then comes the tough decision of whether to campaign and competitively show the dog.
“Dillon was really a fantastic specimen of the breed. Dog shows are really for breeders’ purposes, to get the best dogs with the best temperament and qualities and breed them to create a better dog,” Biszantz said. “I could have been very selfish and want the dog to just stay home with me but he was so fantastic that we felt we owed it to the fanciers to get the opportunity to see Dillon and how good he really is.”
After letting Dillon grow up a little at home, he went out to compete last May at the Affenpinscher Club of America’s Nationals. To her surprise, Dillon took second to the world’s #1 Affenpinscher and Biszantz made the decision to make a “run for the Garden” at Westminster.
A run for the Madison Square Garden is a long road — only the top six dogs of that breed are invited, based on a point accumulation. The run also involved Dillon living full time with his handlers.
“It broke my heart to drop him off at the Olivera’s home,” Biszantz said. “I cried for what seemed like forever.”
To keep her company while Dillon was away, Biszantz relied on her other Affenpinscher Tapper, also from the Tamarin Kennel. Tapper is just 14 months old and takes his job as a companion seriously, sticking close at all times and snuggling into her side on the couch.
Dillon’s daily routines during his competitions and leading up to Westminster with his handlers involved regimented exercise on a treadmill, proper nutrition, training for the ring, grooming, nail clippings and more grooming.
From May 2015 through February, Biszantz flew and drove to see Dillon compete in shows — places such as Santa Barbara, Arkansas, New Mexico, Wyoming, Texas, Montana, Colorado and everywhere in between. Biszantz, who works as a realtor, admitted that her clients thought she was a little crazy but it was important for her to be at the competitions.
“I think I’ve seen inside every (small town) hotel that you would never want to see inside,” Biszantz said, noting her lodgings in New York City were an upgrade — for Westminster, she stayed at the New Yorker.
As a show dog must feel that the handler is its owner, Biszantz always had to keep her distance from Dillon, which was extremely difficult.
“If he saw me, he’d want to come home, that’s the hard thing,” Biszantz said tearfully. “I’m so emotional that he’s coming home this weekend for good.”
Dillon’s biggest win in 2015 was at the Eukanuba Nationals in Florida in December, which was followed by the coveted, official invite to Westminster — the biggest reward for a year’s worth of sacrifices.
Biszantz had a lot of nervous energy going into New York but it was paired with some sense of relief and excitement. She can’t wait to have both of her boys by her side when Dillon “retires” and go back to just being a dog.
Couch cuddling and golf balls await Dillon’s return from the show circuit.