Westminster dog show: Samoyed striker enjoying retirement
TORONTO — Nobody watching last year’s Westminster Kennel Club dog show could have missed the Samoyed Striker, a blind white dessert of fluff and zest who stole the show with his playful identity. Sadly for his fans, Striker loses in the final round, defeated by a disoriented bloodhound and a young French bulldog.
But has he spent the past year in a dejected moan about the house, whining about what might have been?
“Hell, no,” said Jody Elford, Stryker’s breeder and co-owner with Mark Ralski and Corinne Pacht. “Does he care because he didn’t win Best in Show at Westminster? As long as he’s getting attention, no — he hasn’t.”
A 6-year-old dog by the harsh standards of the show world, Striker retired last year and will not be returning to Westminster for this year’s competition, which started on Saturday and ends on Tuesday evening. But he’s still a champ, and he’s still busy — playing, walking around, hanging out in the house he shares with Pacht and Ralsky in North Toronto.
Samoyeds are an extraordinarily cold breed, owners say, and Striker is an extraordinarily cool dog. “He gets up happy saying, ‘Let’s go!'” said Ralski. “Never had a bad day. All you want to do – Let’s go for a drive. Let’s sit on the couch. Let’s watch a movie. Let’s get an ice cream cone” – He wants it.
Striker has a special friend, a charming Siberian Husky who also shares the Pacht-Ralsky home. “She’s gorgeous,” Bakht said when introducing her recently. It turns out that she’s, literally, adorable—it’s her name, given to her by her breeder—but she’s also so tiny. “Siberians were put on this earth to make people addicted to alcohol,” said Ralski.
If Awesome is the queen of the house in Striker’s eyes, who follows her roughly in case she wants to play him, she’s happy to give up the celebrity spotlight. Attacker is a natural ham who thinks he is or should be the center of attention at all times.
“He’s always scanning the room to see who’s looking at him,” Elford said. He meets other people while walking, stops “stacking”, and the dog shows language for poses. “He’ll think, ‘Why is everyone walking around if it’s not for me?'” said Ralski. “
Indeed, when a cameraman and her assistant arrived, Stryker climbed onto a crate in the yard and stood there in perfect show-dog composition, his fur glistening in the breeze, basking like Norma Desmond in the full attention of six humans and plenty of camera equipment.
Elford, who raised Stryker (full name: Lucky Strike from Vanderbilt ‘in Printemps) from a puppy, always knew there was something special about him. It wasn’t just that he conformed to the breed’s standards, with his wedge-shaped head, almond-shaped eyes, sturdy build and double coat; Addition was a certain indescribable quality.
“He always had that X factor,” Elford said. “Hard to explain. It’s next level.”
Elford met Pralski at the dog show ring a few years ago, when Alphabet was the same, her Samoyed was put in the ring against a Siberian Husky. Alarmed by her dog’s dazzling whites, Elford joked that he had “a can of black paint in the car, and he was going to use it.”
From that inauspicious beginning, a friendship was born, after which the three humans agreed to share the property and cost of the attacker. While they might get some money to raise Striker, it was mostly a losing bid for the money.
“It’s like having a kid who plays hockey or gymnastics or some other elite sport,” said Ralski. “We’ll travel here or fly there and get up in the face of God knows what time. The money is the same, and so is the pressure — the emotional ups and downs, the wins and the losses.”
The pandemic upended the usual dog show schedule, especially for Canadians when the US-Canada border was closed. Striker lived with his handlers in the US for most of 2020 and 2021, though Elford slipped across the border several times using various ingenious methods — once hiring a helicopter — when restrictions eased.
Throughout 2021, Elford said, Striker was the top-rated dog in the United States, despite some stiff competition. “There were dogs breathing down his neck,” she said, “Lagato Romagnolo and a boxing bitch named Wilma.” That year, with Elford secretly watching while hiding her identity behind a pair of sunglasses so as not to over-stimulate the dog, Striker lost Westminster to a Pekingese named Wasabi.
In 2022 he gets a second chance.
First, he defeated all the other Samoyeds. Then, for the second year in a row, he won the working group — besting dogs like pin-up Dobermans and Great Danes. (“Working dogs” were bred to do things like herd, guard, rescue, pull, and hunt, although it’s fair to say that modern show dogs don’t do these things.)
In the best of show competition, Ralski and Bakht were a nervous wreck.
“I had some sprinkles of Aperol,” Ralski said.
“I had a few,” Bakht said.
“It’s like reaching the final of the US Open,” said Ralski.
When Striker came out, the crowd gawked at his cloud-like majesty and the amusing way he stuck out his tongue as he sauntered around the ring. He seemed happy to be there, which is more than you can say to some dogs. “Everyone was screaming and cheering,” Ralski said. “It was perfect.”
“Everyone loves Sami,” Bakht said.
Best show judge in 2022, Donald J. Although he found Striker “awesome”, he said the eventual winner, a majestically curly bloodhound named Trumpet, “gave me goosebumps”.
“He came down and planted his feet and stood there proudly and looked at me as if to say, ‘There you go,’” said Storrs, who is now president of the Westminster Kennel Club. “And I thought, This is a winner.”
The striker returned to Canada as a celebrity, the subject of newspaper and television profiles. A local company gave him some custom-made purple and black dog shoes. He became a brand ambassador for the dog vitamin company, Ralski said, for which he was paid nearly $2,000. Another deal — with a personal care products company — fell through when the brand reneged on its promise of free shampoo.
Perhaps his most exciting moment came when his picture appeared on “Jeopardy!” And host Ken Jennings gave him a shout-out. “We see here Stryker, a sort of this dog with a Russian name who won the Westminster title in 2022 for best working dog in the group,” said Jennings.
Nobody got the right answer. “What is the Bolshoi?” One contestant guessed. (Wrong! Among other things, this is not a dog breed.)
Its owners fully acknowledge that Striker is a spoiler, with constant access to a whole host of adorable stuffed toys, including plush versions of things like Cheez Doodles and bottles of roses. (“It’s very strange,” said Bakht. “He only likes small children’s games, as if he were a baby.”)
He takes a shower every two weeks, which is serious work that takes several hours and requires an amazing mix of products and “a hot blow-dryer with tremendous power,” as the owners say. To protect his coat from bad weather, they made him wear a raincoat.
He gets two gummy bears as an evening snack and spends the night in and on top of his owners’ bed, scratching at them for attention.
He may be the most successful Samoyed in dog show history, Ralski said, “but at the end of the day, he sleeps with us.”