PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY BERGIT COADY-KABEL
Bergit Coady-Kabel judged Montgomery County in 2018, and she will return to those duties at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, June 18-22, in New York City.
Indio resident Bergit Coady-Kabel was once that person you never saw at dog shows. She was that person behind the scenes, diligently training and grooming dogs for her clients with the goal of impressing a judge enough to merit recognition at a major dog competition.
Starting June 18, Coady-Kabel will be the one judging the dogs when the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show takes place June 18-22 in Tarrytown, New York. To watch the show online, visit westminsterkennelclub.org.
“I did not decide to become a dog show judge,” she says. “Fate made that decision for me. I always have been a professional dog handler.”
In her first role as judge, Coady-Kabel will evaluate eight different terrier breeds: Australian Terriers, Border Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Norfolk Terriers, Norwich Terriers, Sealyham Terrier, Skye Terriers and West Highland White Terriers. Each of the Best of Breed winners she selects will advance to the Terrier Group competition held June 22 at Madison Square Garden.
“I have been working with Terriers my whole life,” she notes. “Judging at the show means a lot to me, because it's the most publicized show and everybody in this country that doesn't know much about dogs, they know about that dog show. I think it's a fabulous thing because it brings more attention to dogs.”
Her Westminster appearance will mark a transition Coady-Kabel made five years ago at age 68 when she was diagnosed with multiple Myeloma and could no longer work as a dog handler.
“Handling has always been the best part, what I enjoyed the most,” she says, “but judging comes right after.”
The first thing she learned about judging is to compromise. No dog is perfect. “I’m trying to come up with the very best dog, but you always have to forgive something,” she says. “ I think that’s what challenging. When somebody tells me, ‘Oh that’s easy,’ I think, ‘You have no idea. It’s not easy!’”
Palm Springs Life chats more with Coady-Kabel, who has plenty of dogs to practice her judging skills on at home. The oldest of six is 14-year-old Samoyed, followed by a 13-year-old Schnauzer, and four Scottish Terriers. She tell us more about how she became involved in training dogs, why she is attracted to the Terrier breed, and her move to the desert.
What did your role as a professional handler entail?
When you're a professional handler, you take someone's dog. That's the most important thing of a handler. You need to know what the dog needs as far as feeding and conditioning goes. The grooming is also important. You need to be able to tell if a dog is well or not well. I always told my clients, "We cannot guarantee you a win, but we can guarantee that the dog won't be shown until he is physically and mentally ready." That's what we've always done. And that's why we've been extremely successful. We've had many top dogs - that means make a dog a champion - between 45 and 55 dogs a year.
The dogs lived with us because terrier breed’s coats need work every single week. If you send the dog home, even if it lives locally, there is not enough time. All the dogs we showed lived with us. That was a faster, more efficient way of taking care of those breeds.
When did you decide to become a dog show judge?
I was not able to handle dogs anymore. Without this decease I would’ve been handling as long as I could, because that is my real passion. Conditioning and grooming dogs. Getting them ready for the shows. I have been working with Terriers my whole life. The Terrier breeds take a lot of work; the trimming is very specific. It took them eight months to diagnose the multiple Myeloma. I was completely out of the dog world for two years. I was very sick, when I started feeling better I couldn’t go back because the strength left my body. The application for the judging job took a long time. I needed to get lots of paperwork together, and they wanted a list what dogs I have shown at the different shows.
Does judging come naturally to you?
I have no problem with judging. I know what I have to do and what I'm doing. The hardest part about it is the traveling. I am lucky to have my husband who supports me. The multiple Myeloma affected my spine. I almost feel completely normal, but I lost 4 inches of my height, and that creates some problems.
Have you been a judge at Westminster before?
Years ago, when I was married to Clay, my first husband, and we had gone to Sweden and judged. I've also judged the Scottish terrier specialty at Montgomery County. That's the biggest thing in the world for terriers. When I judged Montgomery County in 2018, I had the largest entry for the entire show. I did 135 Scottish terriers. That was phenomenal.
How important was moving to the U.S. to your career? How old were you when that happened?
I was 20 when I came to the United States. I had trained dogs at Reanda for two years in England, in the Scottish Terrier Kennel. I was never going to leave because I loved it so much. England was dog country. In Germany, nobody would understand what I was doing. During my time in England, I met people from the U.S. because many U.S. breeders came to the terrier kennels to look at their dogs. That's how I met Betty Malinka ,who sponsored me to come to the U.S. That was a very important move for my career.
When did you have your first dog, and what breed was it? Was it a terrier?
Yes. The lady I worked for, Mrs. Mayer, gave me a Scottish terrier.
What do you like about that breed?
All terriers are very intense and intelligent, but Scottish terriers are on top of it. They are low-key and low maintenance. I like anything that's low maintenance because I feel I'm low maintenance. Scottish terriers, if you have time for them, they're fabulous. They love it. They do whatever you do, like chasing a ball, but they do not need constant attention. A lot of other terrier breeds are more hyper, and they want constant attention. And Scotties are not like that. I feel they fit my character.
How long have you lived in Indio? What was the attraction to moving here?
We moved in December of last year. We lived in Sun Valley, which is right next to Burbank. That's where we had a kennel for 40 years. Our house was three miles away from the kennel. We had a house on the kennel because our assistants lived there. We literally had to sell it when we realized what I had to go through, because it was too much. When we decided to do my stem cell transplant at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore ( for the Myeloma), we had to be gone two months. That’s when we decided to sell the kennel. In retrospect, it was a good time to do it because then the pandemic came. It all worked out. But it almost killed me because I loved it so much.
I did not want to leave California because a lot of my clients are also my friends. They're like our dog family because everybody in our real family is in Europe. We came to this Palm Springs dog show one day and stayed with friends of ours, Ron and Debbie Ryder. They live in a 55-plus community. And it's a brand-new place. I said to Hans, my husband, "Wow." And it's basically 160 miles from where we used to live. That's doable to visit somebody and still live in California. We figured it out and that is how we came to Indio.