RAY: Where did you grow up? As a child did you have animals.
CAROL: I grew up in Washington D.C. and Silver Spring, Maryland. My mother was divorced and because we always lived in an apartment we were unable to have any pets. My mother blames my obsession for dogs on this.
RAY: When did you first become aware of Great Danes, and do you recall when you first made a personal connection with the breed?
CAROL: In 1968 Chuck and I decided to purchase a dog. I wanted an Afghan and Chuck wanted a Great Dane. The rest is history. My personal connection with the breed was instantaneous.
RAY: When you lived back East, what was your kennel name?
CAROL: Our kennel name was Ardlyn.
RAY: Back in your formative years, who did you begin to notice and understand to be the leaders in our breed?
CAROL: It was obvious from the beginning that Mary and Gerry Johnston, MaryDane Kennels, Rose Roberts, Dinro Kennels, Lina Basquette, Honey Hollow, Kitty Kolyer, Kolyer Great Danes and several other Great Dane breeders from their generation were the movers and shakers in the Great Dane world.
RAY: When did you: First see a Great Dane?
CAROL: The first time I actually saw a Great Dane was when we went to see the litter our first puppy came from.
RAY: Buy a Great Dane?
CAROL: We bought our first Great Dane in 1968.
RAY: Breed a litter?
CAROL: Our first litter was bred in 1971.
RAY: Become a handler?
CAROL: I became a Professional Handler and was licensed by the American Kennel Club in 1974.
RAY: Become a high-level handler of Specials?
CAROL: Although I handled Ch. Von Raesac West Wind and did some very nice winning with him and went Best In Show twice in Bermuda with his brother Ch. Von Raesac Written In The Wind my first Great Dane Special, who was advertised and broke records within the breed was Ch. Longo’s Chief Joseph in 1983 and 1984.
RAY: Move to the West Coast?
CAROL: I moved to the West Coast in July 1985 after marrying Michael Grossman.
RAY: Briefly describe how a Great Dane should look to you.
CAROL: An object of perfection and grace, a flowing line of curves, no lumps, bumps or dips. As graceful moving as standing, giving the perception that he or she is capable of a thought process. A beautiful head in balance with the rest of the dog.
RAY: Please say a few words about some of the dogs you've handled to top levels of competition.
CAROL: I will start with “Cheech”, Ch. Longo’s Chief Joseph. Cheech was a stallion of a dog. He was a self-assured dog who stood proud. Cheech was equally at home with baiting as well as double handling, versatile whatever the ring conditions. He had a beautiful head and an undeniable ring presence that allowed him to over come what faults he did have. Ring presence and body posture can make or break the best of dogs and Cheech always used these two virtues to his advantage. Cheech was the first Black Great Dane to win an all breed Best In Show in 22 years. He was also the first black Great Dane to win our National Specialty. Ch. Sheenwater Gamble On Me came after Cheech and what a ride that was. He completed three years of exhibiting by becoming the #1 Great Dane and #1 or #2 Working Dog depending on the rating system. His most impressive accomplishment however, was that he ended the year 1987 as #7 dog All Breeds. Gamble personified self-assurance, presence and was a perfect example of a thinking dog. These virtues allowed him to become the top Great Dane that he was as well as a top dog amongst all breeds. I would say that Gamble excelled in movement as well as having a beautiful top line. He had the beautiful body outline that I love and his impressive and gentle ring presence allowed him to excel in spite of his shortcomings. Gamble retired with 15 all breed Bests In Show, 14 of them in 1987, as well as a National Specialty win that same year, with approximately 30 other Specialty Best in Show wins. Without writing a novel I cannot forget to mention Longo's Primo, Longo's Prima Vera, Dana's TLC Jake as well as the beautiful Rottweiler specials I handled for my husband and his partner, Ch. Nelson VH Brabantpark and Ch. Powderhorn’s Mile of Wencrest , both Best In Show dogs.
RAY: Please describe your relationship with people in the breed, clients, handlers, judges, etc.
CAROL: I would like to think that my relationship with most people within the breed was good. Obviously it is difficult to compete at the top without creating some hard feelings. I always tried to remember to be gracious whether winning or losing. I know first hand it is easier to be a good winner than it is to be a good loser, but being able to maintain a gracious attitude when losing is a professional responsibility. Client relationships can be difficult. I feel it is important to maintain a business relationship with most clients. It can be difficult to maintain friendships, if the client feels that as a friend they deserve or should be afforded different rules because of the friendship. Dealing with all clients on a level field maintains the business aspect of the relationship and allows owners to feel they will not be at a disadvantage if they hire a professional who handles for many of his or her friends’. I had one set of rules and they applied to all of my clients. As long as the friends realizes that friendship in no way dictates the business aspect of the relationship all is well. I feel that as a professional I have one avenue of voicing my displeasure with a judge's ability to evaluate the breed and that is to not enter under that judge if I continually disagree with their evaluations. If the judge happens to be a friend I might choose to discuss the reasons for their choices. I have found that many judges respect a professionals opinion if that opinion is not necessarily one that is self serving, but one that deals strictly with the merits of the dogs being judged and not personalities.
RAY: Who were some of your mentors and close associates who helped you evolve in this field?
CAROL: Probably my first mentors were Bill and Sandy Lady, Sabila Great Danes. As time passed we were fortunate enough to purchase a Great Dane bitch from Mary and Gerry Johnston, Marydane Kennels. Mary and Gerry were unique to our breed. Initially they were a kennel that owner handled. Gerry was successful at all levels of competition. At one time I believe they owned five Best In Show winning Great Danes. What an accomplishment! As time passed they eventually used professional handlers and I even had the pleasure of handling on occasion for them. That was tough. Gerry was a vocal critic who helped to educate me in the art of handling. When I first decided I wanted to be a Professional Handler I watched many of the greats in the sport as well as handlers who specialized in Great Danes. Dan Lasky had a style all his own, but if it did not double handle he could be in trouble. Ernie Riccio was also a tough competitor in my early days. Probably the toughest of all competitors was Lina Basquette. Her style and showmanship were unique to her, not for everyone. She was however, the reason I aspired to be the best female handler in Great Danes. My philosophy was that the handler was silent, not to be seen when possible, just the vehicle for being able to see the dog, the most important part of the team. Versatile handlers such as Bobby Barlow and Jane Forsyth were also models for me. Jane’s talent was second to none. Bobby Barlow taught me how to deal with people and that all of your clients are important, not just the ones who own the Specials.
RAY: What are the jobs and tasks of a high-level handler? What does a handler do when campaigning a high-level Special?
CAROL: The tasks of a high level handler vary depending on whether or not the dog lives with the owner or with the handler. I have had top Specials under both of these conditions. When the dog lives with the handler there is a great amount of responsibility to see that the dogs health mentally and physically is at its highest level. Making entries, handling any publicity that is being printed, transport and safety should be of uppermost importance. When those responsibilities are handled by the owner insuring that the owner stays on top of all the aspects of having a Special in peak condition can be more difficult that having to do the job your self. Promotion is important. I have always felt it was beneficial to promote your dog rather than bang on the competition. It is easy to see through this type of self-promotion. Awareness of ring procedure, timeliness and most important cleanliness. Not only should the dog be immaculate, but the handler as well. A well-groomed dog in peak condition speaks to the level of concern the owner and or handler feels about their exhibit and a well-groomed package speaks to the respect the handler and owner have for the sport.
RAY: As a top-winning handler, what's your opinion of judging in general?
CAROL: I feel that the consistency and quality of judging has diminished over the years. I am not sure what the solution to this problem might be and I have no suggestions to offer as to its remedy. Years ago when you picked up a premium list it was quite easy to tell some clients to enter and the rest to stay home. Today that is virtually impossible to do. There are very few judges who are consistent enough that you honestly know what type of dog to bring them. I could go out of the ribbons one weekend with a particular dog and two weeks later win the points with the same dog under the same judge in pretty much the same competition. I guess you just have to adjust to things as they are today, show dogs that are as good as possible, and hope the judges recognize the quality.
RAY: In your opinion why do people enjoy this sport and what value does this have in the bigger picture of life?
CAROL: What is not to enjoy? Dog showing as long as it does not dominate your life is great sport. What fun to take something that you have helped to create and watch it reach it’s fullest potential. Much the same as watching your children graduate from college or reach a pinnacle of success in a professional field. When the importance of real life is over taken by the urge to compete and always win at any cost then I feel the sport is no longer a sport but an obsession. Dealing with people in breeding and showing situations as well as client handler relationships can be applied to all facets of life. Being good at these aspects of our sport can only enhance our ability to be good at the like situations in real life. Overcoming the disappointment of a loss applies to many parts of our life professional and personal.
RAY: In your view, what is fair in competition and what is not?
CAROL: Fair is anything, which ENHANCES the qualities and presentation of your dog without distracting or disturbing the other dogs competing. Anything unfair IMPLIES that the dog is something he or she is not. Specifically I do not feel it is wrong to ENHANCE a mask or to cover gray. I do feel it is wrong to put a mask where there was none to begin with, IMPLYING that the dog or bitch was born with one. It is never right for a professional or novice handler to run up on another dog or intentionally do anything to cause another dog or handler to make a mistake. Pressure on the other hand can work wonders and a good professional handler with a good dog can turn the pressure up. This in itself can cause the competition to make mistakes and flounder. I always felt I was capable of a much better job of handling when I felt the pressure from another handler or another good dog. It made me excel.
RAY: What is fair to do to, or to ask of, the dog during a campaign?
CAROL: As one client of mine told me many years ago I would never ask you to do anything I would not do myself. In the same vein I would never ask my dog to do something I would not want to do. I always fed my Specials a morning meal on days we were showing, when they lived and traveled with me, because I believe it is unfair to ask a dog to perform all day at many levels without a meal. Would I intentionally send my kids to school, without a meal? How, can we expect a high level of performance from a dog, if we do not in essence give them the fuel needed to perform. Showing in the heat is an issue I wish to address. I did pull a Special of mine when I felt the weather was just too brutal. I feel that better judgment needs to be exercised in this area. Obviously some dogs do better in the heat than others. This is a judgment call, but when I see dogs being dragged around the ring when it is hot I know that the dog has better sense than the owners or handler. Rest for a Special is imperative. When I was flying Gamble almost every other weekend, I would fly on a red eye so we would have all the next day to rest and recuperate from the flight. Usually on Saturday morning I had a well- rested dog that had flown across country. Little considerations like this can make a difference in the longevity of a campaign one might expect from their dog. Lots of love and consideration for the animal make for a better show dog.
RAY: Why do some handlers gain more notoriety than others who seem to have equal or better skills?
CAROL: Perhaps it is because of the amount of advertising the clients can afford to purchase to promote their dog. Some clients seem more news worthy than others, so the handler might also achieve this status as a result of the owners. A high level of visibility for whatever reason can make the dog and handler more noteworthy. Some handlers are just more likeable than others regardless of their skill level. Some people win lotteries and most do not. This is something that is difficult to pin point.
RAY: What are some misconceptions about being a high-level handler?
CAROL: A high level handler is sometimes believed to be able to work miracles. Just because a handler did X amount of winning with one dog does not necessarily mean that they can do the same with another. Winning with a great dog does not mean a high-powered handler can do the same level of winning with just a good dog and it certainly does not mean that this same handler can do an extraordinary job with a less than adequate dog. Maintaining a certain standard for the qualifications a Special must possess is a necessary requirement any handler must exercise. It would of course, in a perfect world, be wonderful if all the Specials handled by professionals were above average. I must also add that the degree of quality being exhibited at any given time will also dictate how much and the quality of winning any one dog can do. If the ring is full of Great Dogs than it will be more difficult for one dog to dominate. If there is one Good Dog and many not quite as good, one dog or bitch may dominate. Timing is everything, even at dog shows!
RAY: Reflecting back, what were some of the best times and what were some of the more frustrating times or issues you have had to deal with?
CAROL: Winning the first Independent National with Prima Vera was an emotionally wonderful day. Having three National Specialty Winners in 5 years was especially memorable and ending the year 1987 with the #7 dog all breeds was an experience I will always remember. These special wins however do not take anything away from the joy of winning points with a beautiful puppy, finishing many, many dogs and bitches for wonderful friends and clients. Handling generation after generation for the same owners and knowing that I played a vicarious part in their breeding program, and seeing this breeding program become successful for them. On the other hand the disappointment of defeat at the breed level when you knew you had the potential to go Best In Show, a feeling I’m sure many of us have had. Dealing with clients who were unable to see the whole picture, as well as clients who made tough situations more difficult, and lastly missed entries when the judging slate was made in heaven for your dog.
RAY: Can you give any tips or advice to a young person aspiring to become a high-level handler? And would you encourage young people to work toward that goal, a career in show dogs?
CAROL: My advice to young people aspiring to become a great handler is to stick around after your breed is judged. You cannot learn anything about the picture as a whole if you only watch one small fraction. Decide who you think are great handlers, watch them at all levels of competition. This does not necessarily have to be a Great Dane handler. They make up only a small portion of the profession. When you see something that you think is particularly inventive as a handling practice, try it for yourself. This is what I did and I took all the good things I saw wrapped them up in a package for myself and had my own style of handling, bits and pieces of the good things practiced by many. You must be versatile. You cannot handle every dog with the same techniques. Having the ability to adjust to different temperaments, different structure and having the knowledge to put these different packages together is one of the things that make a handler good. Understanding structure! You cannot hope to fix or alter a problem by setting a dog up in a certain way if you do not understand the physical structure of the dog, and what can be done if anything, to help their physical appearance. Work for a handler! Walking in the ring does not a handler make! Learning how to properly care and transport dogs is an essential element. All of these talents complete the whole package. Finish high school go to college. There will always be dog shows and dogs that need handling. Not all handlers can hope to make a living, handling dogs.
RAY: How much do people, even at the high levels of competition, really know about dogs and dog structure?
CAROL: It amazes me how many people know nothing about structure. I was fortunate, early on I decided to go to grooming school. This was a licensed school where understanding structure was taught before grooming techniques. How can you groom a dog properly if you cannot understand how the dog is put together as dictated in the standard. Learn as much as you can about structure. Rachael Paige Elliott has excellent instructional books and tapes on structure. Seminars are always helpful. Handling is an ongoing study in dogs and dog structure.
RAY: Are there any other sports or hobbies you think are similar to dog breeding and showing dogs?
CAROL: The obvious answer to that is showing and breeding any animal from cats to birds. It amazed me to find out that there are many subcultures out there who are as wrapped up in what they do as we are in dog showing. Do you know that pinball fanatics, travel all over the country visiting pinball machine shows? We had one in Las Vegas. I certainly did not understand the fascination, but it made for great people watching. I am sure these pinball enthusiasts would feel the same way if they attended a dog show.
RAY: In your view, on a scale from one to ten (ten being the best) how good a job are the following groups doing:
CAROL: 6 – Too many people who call themselves breeders bring this number down.
CAROL: 6 – Lots of Great Danes winning, but few extraordinary handlers on the end of those leads.
CAROL: 8 – At least at the shows I attend the exhibitors seem to be a pretty good bunch.
CAROL: 5 – As I said earlier, they for the most part, need help.
CAROL: 8 – I believe AKC is moving in the right direction.
CAROL: 8 – Under the leadership of Jane Chopson and a good Board of Directors, I feel the GDCA is doing much clean up work, but ultimately will excel.
RAY: I see you've taken on the job of being the GDCA National Specialty coordinator. What does that entail?
CAROL: National Specialty Coordinator entails, assisting the Divisions when they seek new show locations for our future Nationals. Hopefully adding that extra pair of eyes to make sure the Divisions will not run into the problems we had in Florida. Making sure the Division adheres to the National Specialty Rules & Regulations as closely as possible. Keeper of the NSRR. Updating and changing as situations and times dictate by the GDCA Board of Directors. Offering solutions, a shoulder and advice to the Division Chairman and Committee Chairman to ensure the best run National for all of our exhibitors and attendees
RAY: Now, a few short, light, personal, non-doggy questions: Do you have any particular hobbies or specialized interests?
CAROL: With the duties of my job, National Specialty Coordinator and grandmother of 3 leaves little time for additional hobbies.
RAY: What forms of entertainment do you enjoy?
CAROL: I enjoy going to the movies, out to dinner and just spending time with my family.
RAY: What actors/actresses do you like?
CAROL: I enjoy Kate Hudson, Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Bruce Willis and anyone who stars in action films.
RAY: What authors do you enjoy reading?
CAROL: Steve Martini, Anne Rule, and anyone who writes good mysteries or court room novels.
RAY: What type of music do you enjoy listening to?
CAROL: Oldies but goodies, Celine Dion, Cher, no rap!
RAY: Currently, who are a few recording artists you like?
CAROL: Celine Dion! I went to her show in Las Vegas! I sat in the front row and she even shook my hand. She has the voice of an Angel and all the discussion about the staging of her show was stupid. She needs no staging, no one else on the stage just Celine and a microphone!
RAY: What are some of your favorite plays, movies or songs?
CAROL: Play, would have to be Sunset Boulevard. Songs, anything Celine or Cher has recorded or Andrea Bocelli for a change. No real favorite movie although I have watched The Last Boy Scout with Bruce Willis about six times, more than any other movie.
RAY: Did you like the movie "BEST IN SHOW"?
CAROL: I never finished watching this movie. When it got to the hotel and the credit card would not go through and they were going to put them in a broom closet I switched it off. I guess, according to my friends, should give it another shot.
RAY: Do you have a favorite type of food?
CAROL: I love Italian, Thai.
RAY: Are there public figures/personalities you admire or find interesting?
CAROL: I think George Bush is a mystery. I would love to be a fly on his wall. I am saddened about the untimely death of John Kennedy, Jr. I would love to have seen, had he lived, what the future held in store for him.
RAY: When you reflect back, how do you feel about your long-time activities in the Sport Of Showing Dogs............thus far?
CAROL: When I reflect back I would not trade my years showing dogs for anything else. It was the foundation for what I do and who I am. Every once in a while I go to a show and see a dog I would love to get my hands on, not often, but it does happen.
As fortunate as I was within the sport I never was able to handle a puppy to Best In Futurity. I always wanted to win our Futurity. I guess it is not bad to only have one regret after all these years.
Carol, Sue Lackey & Susan Vroom
RAY: Was moving on from your long-time and highly-successful handling career an incredibly difficult decision to make?
CAROL: Unfortunately because of my knees there was no decision to be made. It was time and I knew it was time. There was no indecision. When the opportunity to apply for a job with Purina presented itself, at the urging of my friends Sue Vroom and Ric Plaut I sent in my resume.
RAY: How did you come to develop a relationship with Purina? What do your duties there entail; do you go to an office every day or are you still on the road at times?
CAROL: As I said it was at the urging of Sue Vroom and Ric Plaut that I applied for the job as Western Area Manager. Sue and Ric were sponsored by Purina, and I had always heard them say wonderful things about the food and the people involved in the organization. After receipt of my resume I had an informal introduction to the head of the Breeder Enthusiast Group. He then asked me to work several weekends on a consulting basis. The final test was to create a West Coast Initiative. The rest is history. My duties entail all dog show sponsorship, for Nestle Purina, from Denver west in addition to handling the Nationals for Great Danes, Rottweilers and Poodles. I decide what shows to sponsor, what is the amount of the sponsorship dollars we offer. I do all my own ordering for product and prizes and I am responsible for a budget in excess of $250,000.00. I primarily work out of my home with the exception of the times I am traveling for my events. In addition to my own events I am required to attend four meetings per year and several all-attended shows, such as Westminster, Chicago International and Detroit KC.
RAY: Lastly, is there anything you would like to add on your own?
CAROL: I would like to add that I could never have accomplished any of this without the love and support of my family and friends. I know that a handler can only handle what the breeders’ produce. To all of the breeders of the many wonderful and beautiful dogs I handled,