Bergit Coady-Kabel has come a long way since learning how to check canine anal glands. After a lifetime of grooming and showing award-winning dogs, the 73-year-old Indio resident will be a judge at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show — the oldest dog show in the U.S.
“That’s a show that you want to go to,” Coady-Kabel said, describing it as glamourous, charming and splashy. She’s shown numerous dogs at Westminster and has attended almost every year, but this will be her first time attending as a judge.
She retired from being a handler in 2016 following a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells. When her cancer went into remission, though, she started the process to become a judge and judged her first show in 2018.
Before that, Coady-Kabel never thought about judging. Now she judges in shows around the country about once a month.
“It keeps you involved in the dog world,” she said. “And when they called and said ‘Would you like to judge at Westminster?’ I was like ‘Ahh! Yes!’,” Coady-Kabel recalled, throwing her hands up and laughing.
“We’ve always shown there … so that was fantastic,” she added.
Last year was the only time since its inception in 1877 that the Westminster dog show was not held in New York City, nor was it open to spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. In January 2022, the show will be back at its usual place in Madison Square Garden,but there are still restrictions on spectators and all attendees are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
There are 31 recognized types of terriers and, according to Westminster records, they win “Best in Show” more often than other dog breeds. Coady-Kabel will be judging nine of them, including:
- Australian Terriers
- Border Terriers
- Cairn Terriers
- Norfolk Terriers
- Norwich Terriers
- Sealyham Terriers
- Skye Terriers
- West Highland White Terriers
She’ll have 2.5 minutes to judge each competitor, and the dogs are judged on everything from the shape of their ears to the quality of their coats and their gait. The dogs are not compared to each other — they are judged based on how they compared to set “ideal” standards.
A total of 209 breeds and varieties are recognized by the American Kennel Club. They are divided into seven groups: Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding. Each group has a winner, then there is also an overall winner, known as “Best in Show.”
The show will take place Jan. 22 though Jan. 26. All Best of Breed winners selected by Coady-Kabel will advance to the Terrier Group competition held the final night of the competition. Some events will be streamed live at westminsterkennelclub.org. Most events will be available live on Fox Sports 2 and through the FOX NOW App and FOX Sports App.
‘I’ve always been crazy about dogs’
When she was 13, Coady-Kabel and her family moved from southern Germany to Hamburg, a city that had been bombed during World War II. Just down the street was a grooming shop.
Young Coady-Kabel knew she needed to find a way to get inside the shop.
“I don’t know why, but I’ve always been crazy about dogs,” she told The Desert Sun on Monday while wearing a terrier printed shirt and terrier earrings. “It doesn’t really run in my family.”
One day she heard the owners were looking for a babysitter — Coady-Kabel had a younger brother of her own and liked children, so she applied for the job. She was hired and, after each shift, she’d help with their five dogs. When she finally convinced the groomer to take her on in his shop, he had her learn to clean a dog’s anal glands, teeth and ears.
Upon reflection, she said, maybe he was trying to scare her off. If so, it didn’t work.
“Maybe he wanted to get rid of me,” she said, laughing.
When she finished school at just 16 or 17, Coady-Kabel headed to England with the intent to work at a Scottish Terrier kennel for a year. She stayed for two. It was an experience that would dictate the rest of her career: from then on, Coady-Kabelspecialized in terriers.
“I like their temperament,” she said, adding that the dogs are intelligent and attentive. “Plus, when you get good at grooming, that’s it.”
Terriers and poodles are the most difficult breeds to groom, according to Coady-Kabel.
Most terrier breeds — if they ever hope to compete — can’t be shaved like other dogs. To maintain their hard coats, Scotties, for example, need to undergo a tedious and time-consuming process called “stripping.” The practice keeps their coarse curls in tact. Shaving the dogs, Coady-Kabel explained, causes the fur to grow back soft, with a smoother texture.
Terriers also need to be groomed every week for months leading up to a show. Because of this, many competing dogs live in kennels or with their groomers for long periods of time.
That’s how Coady-Kabel ended up with Justin, who she says is the top-winning Miniature Schnauzer with a record of 32 wins. Coady-Kabel had been Justin’s groomer for years and, when his owner was dying, she requested that Coady-Kabel keep him.
“The dog family is unbelievable,” Coady-Kabel said. “It’s like your family — the friendships are incredible.”
Justin is retired from shows, too, and the 12-year-old’s coat has been clipped.
“He is absolutely a beautiful dog,” she said.
It’s clear that Coady-Kabel is still crazy about dogs. On the kitchen counter beside her copy of the L.A. Times were editions of “Dog News Magazine” and “Our Dogs.” Terrier statues, figurines, portraits and paintings fill her home along with Justin, her four Scotties, and her husband Hans’ Samoyed, Nico.
All their dogs, now done competing in shows, are just “pets” — a term used as an insult in competition — but they haven’t forgotten their training. None of them bark. They keep their heads up when they walk. And they appreciate all the playtime and attention they get, fetching tennis balls out back and cuddling with their pet parents.
“All dogs are good,” some are champions and some are super, Coady-Kabel said. “They’re all pets.”
Maria Sestito covers issues of aging in the Coachella Valley. She is also a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @RiaSestito, on Instagram @RiaSestito_Reporter or email her at [email protected]