News & Politics

DC Resident Ellen Charles Owns 2 of the 7 Dogs Competing for Best in Show at Westminster

American foxhound Jewel and bichon frisé Honor both won their groups to make it to championship round.

American foxhound Jewel is among the candidates for Best in Show. Photograph by Steve Surfman.

Thanks to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, a DC resident,
Ellen MacNeille Charles, has something in common with the parents of the Harbaugh brothers, NFL coaches Jim
and John, who went head to head in this year’s Super Bowl. Charles has two dogs who
won their groups at Westminster, the Super Bowl of the dog-show world—and her pets
will compete against each other Tuesday night for Best in Show.

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.”