Rancho Santa Fe whippet named ‘Best Hound’ at Westminister

A Rancho Santa Fe whippet named Chanel recently left an impressive paw print on Madison Square Garden, earning “Best Hound” honors at the 134th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City on Feb. 15.

Chanel was owner Lori Lawrence’s third dog to go to Westminster. Chanel made history not just for Lawrence but also for the whippet breed. Chanel’s win was the first ever for a whippet bitch in the “Best Hound” category. She went on to compete for best in show, losing out to a Sadie the Scottish terrier.

When Chanel was named top hound, Lawrence said she and her husband, Carey, felt “disbelief and then exhilaration.” Her blackberry rang off the hook as family and friends texted and called from home.

“It was a very, very high achievement for the breed,” Lawrence said. “It was the last jewel in the crown that we really wanted to get. It was more amazing than I thought it would be.”

Chanel, like the famous designer of the same name, has a unique personality, Lawrence said.

“Chanel is a spirited and happy individual who just loves every day of her life,” Lawrence said. “And I think that’s part of her appeal.”

Chanel just turned 2 years old and has competed in more than 100 shows around the country. Lawrence began showing Chanel when she was 6 months old and she won her first championship at 8 months old.

After a championship is won, dogs go on to “campaign,” meaning competing in a dog show every weekend to gain national rankings. Chanel travels with handler Lori Wilson, the Lawrences attend the big competitions, such as Westminster.

In addition to Chanel, the Lawrences own four other whippets under their Starline Whippets and Arabian breeding and showing program, which they have operated for more than 20 years.

Lori Lawrence’s love of animals started when she was a young girl growing up in Rancho Santa Fe.

Since I was a very small child I always had a horse, a dog, whatever my parents would let me have,” Lawrence said.

When she was 5 years old she started riding horses and by the time she was 9 she was begging her father to let her start showing them. Lawrence continues to show Arabian horses with her daughter.

Showing dogs came later, after she had bought her first two whippets.

“It was just by fate that they were top show dogs and we started Starline,” Lawrence said. “I didn’t go looking for that, it just happened.”

Starline’s whippet program has grown to be known worldwide, with 50 American Kennel Club champions. They are unique, Lawrence said, in that they don’t have an actual kennel. All five dogs sleep in the Lawrences’ bed.

Her dogs are pets and family first, never kept in crates or in a kennel. When Chanel travels she sleeps in the hotel bed with Wilson.

Lawrence also does not believe in training her show dogs too extensively because she wants the showing to be fun for the dogs, so they don’t get bored or tired.

“We love our animals,” Lawrence said. “It’s so much more than just a sport for us.”

They breed very little and very selectively. Lawrence receives inquiries from all over the world for puppies from her championship line. While it’s hard to say goodbye to the puppies, they make sure they are going to good people and caring homes. Luckily, she often sees many of those pups again at dog shows. “I can live vicariously though their success,” she said.

After Westminster, Chanel has been a jetsetter, going from New York to a show in South Carolina. She will be on her home turf this weekend for the Silver Bay Kennel Club show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and then she will be off again to Scottsdale, Ariz.

Lawrence said she hopes to retire Chanel as a show dog at the end of the year and possibly breed her in 2011.

Entries for the 2010 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, where Chanel took “Best Hound,” totaled 2,500 dogs, representing 48 states, the District of Columbia and at least eight foreign countries.