David Frei, communications director for Westminster, says it is rare to have one owner with two dogs in the final round. The last time was a dozen years ago.
The two dogs, already ribbon-winning champions of their breeds, are Jewel, a female American foxhound whose official name is Kiarry’s Pandora’s Box and who won the hound group; and Honor (officially Vogelflight’s Honor to Pillowtalk), a male bichon frisé, who won the non-sporting group.
Best in Show is chosen by judges from the winners of seven groups: sporting, hound, working, terrier, toy, non-sporting, and herding. Jewel, who is three, “has broken every record of the breed,” according to Charles, who spoke with The Washingtonian Tuesday morning from New York. The Westminster dog show takes place at Madison Square Garden. Honor is four years old.
“Tonight’s the night,” Charles says of the championship final, which will be broadcast live on CNBC. “There’s going to be a lot of really nice dogs in that ring. The very fact I have two dogs in the best in show ring is enough to be awesome.”
But, as with the Harbaugh parents, it is near impossible for her to choose a favorite. “I love the foxhound. She’s an exquisite example of the breed,” says Charles. “But this is also the best bichon I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s going to be tough tonight.” But not entirely unfamiliar territory—she’s had two dogs make it to the Best in Show round in the past, a bearded collie and a Weimeraner, though not in the same year. Neither won the big prize.
Charles, who lives in Georgetown, is the granddaughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post and is president of Hillwood, Post’s former home that today is a popular Washington museum and gardens. In addition to being the principal owner of Jewel and Honor and 19 other competitive show dogs, a sport she has pursued since childhood, she also owns a number of thoroughbred racehorses that compete at the Laurel and Charles Town racetracks and in Kentucky.
While Charles is the owner of the dogs, it’s the handlers who are essentially the coaches—they live with, train, and show the dogs. Lisa Miller of Mechanicsville, Maryland, is Jewel’s handler and part-owner. Lisa Bettis is Honor’s handler.
When it comes to competitions, Charles relies on what she considers her lucky charm, a crystal horse brooch. She bought it in Tennessee last fall and since then has been having good luck with the ponies and the puppies. “It sure makes a lot of wonderful things happen in my two favorite sports,” she says.
UPDATE February 13, 3 PM: In the Best in Show final round of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show on Tuesday night, the winner was Banana Joe, a tiny scruff of black whose breed is affenpinscher; the runner-up was an old English sheepdog named Swagger. On Wednesday, we spoke with Ellen Charles, as she was riding the train back from New York to Washington, about the results her two dogs in the finals earned. Charles said she was disappointed—“of course”—that neither won the top prize, but as she said on Tuesday, to have two dogs win their groups and make it to the final, was “awesome.”