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Cardigan Welsh Corgi Wins Best in Show at Westminster

08/25/2014 10:08AM ● By Melissa Mendonca

Dramatic Paws

September 2014
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos courtesy of Bill and Julie Divens

A big basket of canvas flying discs hangs from the front porch overhang of Bill and Julie Divens' Gold Beach, Ore. house. It gets shuttled between their homes there and in Red Bluff, where they run Salmon King fishing expeditions at peak times in each locale.
   
The discs are for Lola, their Cardigan Welsh Corgi, who has a seemingly endless capacity for chasing and retrieving them. Back and forth, back and forth. Over and over. The basket gets filled to capacity not because she’s hard on them with her teeth. Let’s just say she produces a lot of saliva in her exuberance for the game. If you’re going to settle in for a game with Lola, you’re going to need more than one disc to keep up your own enthusiasm.
   
There’s something quite remarkable about watching a Corgi so joyfully chase a flying disc. Their long bodies attached to tiny little legs just don’t seem built for the game. But they play like they have no idea. To see Lola catch a disc in air is to watch her defy logic. And gravity.
   
While Lola is a sight to behold when she’s running after discs, it’s not the most remarkable thing about her. Little Lola, often referred to as “our girl” or “our daughter” by Bill and Julie, is the mother to Riverside Telltail Coco Posh, a darling of the dog show circuit who took that world by surprise last year when she won best of breed at the Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden.

She came back to do it again this year, but also took home best of herding group, which had her competing with other breeds. These were breeds that you’d actually think of as herders. Which is to say, breeds with much longer legs.
   
Coco also belongs to Bill and Julie, but it wasn’t the expectation when she was born that she’d see the results that she has. “She comes from extremely good bloodlines, so we are very proud,” says Julie. But she wasn’t exactly the pick of the litter.
   
As Julie describes it, first prefacing everything with, “Have you seen Best in Show (the mockumentary comedy by Christopher Guest about the dog show world)? It’s all true!”, there’s a “coven” of dog show people who determine what dogs will breed to each other and who will end up owning which offspring. Coco went to Bill and Julie because they just wanted a dog to play Frisbee with and weren’t at all interested in showing.
   
Julie’s sister is Deb Schindle of Riverside Kennels in Vero Beach, Fla. She’s at the top of her game in the Corgi world, and Bill and Julie had often taken on her retired show dogs as pets. Lola, and by extension Coco, came to them through Deb.
   
If Deb’s world revolves around dogs, Bill and Julie’s revolves around salmon. Bill ended up taking Coco to puppy training school in Anderson a little early in her development so he could get it done before he got too busy with fishing season. She would do the exercises, he says, but immediately fall asleep at his feet when she finished each, needing all the energy she could muster in that early stage of life.

As she grew, however, she started to develop traits that dog show people would describe as “exquisite” and “refined.” Julie was encouraged to show her at Napa despite the fact that “I don’t have the skin for it.”
   
She also didn’t have the skills for it. Taking her lessons from Best In Show, she unwittingly showed Coco as one would a toy breed, completely inappropriate for a herding breed. As she describes the chatter that went around the show grounds, Coco won despite Julie. She’s just that exquisite a dog.
   
From that show in Napa, word got back to Julie that she “owed it to the breed” to put Coco on the show circuit. A wealthy investor from the publishing world stepped in with the financing for a handler, and Coco was ushered into a world of chiropractic care, massages, and air-conditioned rides in a Mercedes trailer van. She and Lois, her handler, are on the road more than 300 days a year, sometimes showing at multiple shows in a single weekend.
   
Bill and Julie receive boxes of blue ribbons, including many Best in Shows, every so often. They are so big and gaudy and numerous that they really don’t know what to do with them all.
   
“As far as prestige, winning at Westminster is like winning Miss Universe. You’re already well past Miss America,” says Julie.
   
It’s all very heady and fun, but Julie adds, “She’s the darling of the show world but we don’t have her. She’s been on the road being shown for us for as long as we’ve had her. She left when she was three and she’s 6 now.”
   
Bill and Julie won’t be upset when Coco’s winning streak comes to an end. They’re ready for the day when they can come in from a long day fishing, sit on the porch with a cocktail and throw flying discs to Lola and Coco together. Back and forth. Over and over.

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