Nathan, the floppy-jowled, big-eared, giant Bloodhound from Maryland who arguably drew the loudest cheers at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club show, almost never made it out to compete.
“I thought about not even showing Nathan,” says his co-owner and handler Heather Helmer, who owns and operates Skipton Farms boarding kennel in Queenstown with husband, Zack. “But his other owner called and said she was coming and wanted to watch her dog, so I decided to show him.”
Lucky for everyone involved: Nathan won the hound group at the show and came very close to taking Best in Show, where he was a clear audience favorite.
“It’s very, very exciting,” says Helmer. “I couldn’t be more happy and wasn’t expecting this at all.”
The best-in-show award ultimately went to a wire fox terrier from California named Sky. (Read about Sky here.)
Helmer co-bred Nathan, whose formal American Kennel Club (AKC) name is Flessner's International S'Cess, and started showing him at six months old. He took best in class at that premier and has continued acing shows ever since. But Westminster was the 3-year-old hound’s biggest win to date. But he’s more than a rock star in the dog ring: Nathan is a beloved member of the Helmers' family.
“He is an absolute joy to live with,” says Heather. “He kisses everybody he meets and doesn’t know a stranger -- he’d go home with anybody. He makes me smile every day.”
Nathan demonstrated his loving personality at Westminster, where he followed up his group win with a big smooch for his handler. He also thrives on attention and loved the applause and hoots of the show, Heather says.
“The louder the crowd is,” she says. “the happier he is. He loves the applause and the screaming.”
Nathan is currently the only bloodhound anywhere with both a grand champion and man-trailing title, which means he’s an expert at finding people, which bloodhounds were bred to do.
“It shows people he’s not only a phenomenal show dog,” says Heather, “but can do the job he was bred for. That’s pretty cool.”
The Helmers took home several honors from Westminster, including several best-of-breed awards for different dogs; they showed nine canines this year.
“That’s normal for us in a normal weekend,” says Heather. “It’s not normal for Westminster.”
Zack, however, is no stranger to it: he was named Best Junior Handler at the 2006 show.
Heading home Wednesday morning, Heather said everyone in the pack was exhausted but very happy, and that Nathan has a great show career ahead of him.
“Spend five minutes with Nathan,” she says, “and your day will be much better.”