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A Ferguson Man Is Ready To Pick America’s Best Terrier

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Via William Potter
William Potter judging a winner in March of 2020.

William Potter’s daughter has a ready quip for anyone who asks about the Christopher Guest mockumentary “Best in Show,” which gently mocks the wacky, wonderful world of dog shows.

“It's not funny,” she tells people. “That was my childhood.”

In some ways, she isn’t joking. As Potter explained on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, he started showing dogs after receiving an Irish wolfhound as a college graduation present from his wife. That was 53 years ago, and in the decades since, the Ferguson resident has become adept at breeding, showing and judging dogs. An American Kennel Club licensed judge since 1990, he is approved to judge both the hound and terrier groups, as well as Best in Show.

When the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show returns this week after a pandemic-triggered four-month delay, he will be ready to take on the prestigious task of judging the terriers — an assignment he previously handled in 2012. That year, he chose a Kerry blue bitch; she ultimately lost to a Pekingese.

While the goal is always to choose a dog who will go all the way, Potter said, “I felt very happy with what I had done. And there were seven different dogs that were all very beautiful examples of their breed. So there were no losers.”

Indeed, while it may seem arbitrary to novice viewers, judges like Potter carefully assess each dog to see how it holds up to carefully delineated breed standards, which cover, in his words, “all their physical characteristics from the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail.” For a group like the terrier, that means being intimately familiar with the characteristics of 32 different breeds and quickly and confidently assessing each dog in the ring to see how they measure up. (But it doesn’t need to be too quick — judges may refer to notes as they work.)

It’s not all about their physical appearance, though. Personality plays into a dog’s assessment, too.

“The terriers, you want them up and interested and looking at what's going on,” Potter explained. “That's part of their breed characteristic, to be on the tiptoe of that expectation of what's going on around them.” A shy terrier, or God forbid a sluggish one, would fall short by definition.

William Potter On Judging Terriers
Listen as William Potter explains his art on the air

Potter, personally, is a smooth fox terrier fan. Eight years after he got started with Irish wolfhounds, he began getting into these “gentlemen of the terrier world,” and in time, he transitioned entirely to breeding them.

Moving from large dogs to small, he noted, is a common transition in the world of showing dogs. Of big dogs, he explained, “They just all need a lot more walking is the most of it, they need a lot more space, they need a lot more food. And you need a lot more to travel with them.” And smooth fox terriers have immense charm.

“I love their plain lines, their sharp expressions and features,” he enthused. “And they are very responsive to training and very clean and active.”

As for “Best in Show,” Potter is less of a fan. “It’s like all caricature artists: They take something and and mock it and exaggerate it,” he said. “So I see the humor in it, I do enjoy it. But it's not one of my favorites.”

Related Event

What: 145th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show
When: June 12-13, 2021
Where: Tarrytown, NY

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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