Monday, February 11, 2013

Vinton couple hopes pet will be top dog at Westminster show

An English springer spaniel bred by a Vinton couple will compete Tuesday at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden.

Peyton, an English springer spaniel bred by Billie Kerfoot (shown) and her husband, was featured on the cover of Dogs in Review magazine in July 2011.

Photos by Stephanie Klein-Davis | The Roanoke Times

Peyton, an English springer spaniel bred by Billie Kerfoot (shown) and her husband, was featured on the cover of Dogs in Review magazine in July 2011.

Billie (left) and Charlie Kerfoot have bred English springer spaniels for years. One of their dogs, Peyton (not shown), will compete Tuesday at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Billie (left) and Charlie Kerfoot have bred English springer spaniels for years. One of their dogs, Peyton (not shown), will compete Tuesday at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Television coverage will be aired live today and Tuesday

  • Today: Hound, toy, nonsporting and herding groups, 8-11 p.m., CNBC
  • Tuesday: Sporting, working and terrier groups; best in show 8-11 p.m., USA Network
  • Live breed judging videos will be available throughout the day today and Tuesday online at

When you hear Billie and Charlie Kerfoot of Vinton talk about Peyton, you might think he's one of their children.

In a way, he is. But Peyton is also the second-most-winning English springer spaniel in the past 60 years of U.S. dog show history. He came in as the No. 3 sporting dog in the country at last year's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. He holds 81 best in show titles and is looking for his 82nd this week, when he returns to Madison Square Garden in New York as one of 2,721 dogs competing for Westminster's top honor.

Peyton, also known as Wynmoor Champagne Supernova, is the culmination of the Kerfoots' 36 years of marriage and 33 years of dog breeding and showing.

Charlie Kerfoot said after the litter containing Peyton was born at their home and kennel, Wynmoor, in Vinton, the puppy stood out immediately.

"We knew we wanted him when he was a week old," he said. "There was something about him."

Billie Kerfoot's passion for showing dogs began when she was a student at Northside High School and Radford University, showing her family's Siberian husky in junior handler competitions with her 4-H club.

Billie and Charlie, also a Roanoke native, knew each another growing up, but Charlie went to Roanoke Catholic School and Virginia Tech. The couple began dating after college and eventually married.

Charlie "came with" a golden retriever, Billie joked. She passed her passion for showing dogs on to her husband after getting involved with the Roanoke Kennel Club, which they are still active with today, both serving as officers.

The couple owned and showed goldens for a few years, but after too many items were knocked off the coffee table, they decided they needed a smaller breed with a shorter tail. After looking through a book of dog breeds, they decided English springer spaniels met their criteria.

The Kerfoots owned both of Peyton's parents, Lexi and Parker. Charlie Kerfoot said the idea to breed the two came from the couple's daughter, Erin Kerfoot.

Erin Kerfoot caught the dog show bug early in life. She was showing dogs as early as age 6 and won best national junior handler in 1990 and again in 1994.

Although she currently lives in Washington state, Erin Kerfoot stays involved with Peyton as one of his five owners and backers.

But before Peyton took off as a serious show dog, he had a lot to learn.

To start the process of getting a dog ready to show, the Kerfoots socialize the puppies with lots of new people and new situations.

Billie Kerfoot, a retired teacher who still teaches SOL remediation classes part time at William Byrd Middle School, would take puppies to school and to play with a neighbor's children.

Some dogs must learn how to walk and behave in a show ring. But Billie Kerfoot said Peyton was a natural from the beginning. She said Peyton's long, straight gait is one of his best characteristics, along with the size of his head and the placement of his ears.

Since the Kerfoots decided to take Peyton to the most competitive level of showing two years ago, he has lived with his handler, Robin Novack, in Jackson, Mich. Peyton and Novack travel to dog shows at least every weekend. Novack is a part of the Telltale Kennel, which has traditionally been one of three kennels that produce many winning English springer spaniels.

Telltale has helped financially sponsor Peyton's "campaign" for Westminster over the past couple of years, and several Telltale owners and executives are among the dog's owners, a group the Kerfoots call "Team Peyton."

One of the Kerfoots' friends from Roanoke Kennel Club, Dee Duffy, knows well the process of campaigning a dog for Westminster. Duffy, who runs Three D kennel and breeds Sussex spaniels at her Montvale home, has been to Westminster seven or eight times since 1989, and one of her dogs, Stump, took best in show there in 2009.

She compared the team it takes to send a dog to Westminster to a professional car racing team.

"It's like you've built the car in Roanoke but then it's driven by a professional driver at Daytona," Duffy said.

Charlie Kerfoot likened his dog to a professional athlete or a supermodel.

"When they travel in a big rig, they had to install a treadmill so Peyton could work out," he said.

Billie Kerfoot said sporting dogs need to be in good condition. For less serious show dogs, simply running and playing in the yard suffices, but for dogs such as Peyton who travel and need to stay in top condition, about 30 minutes a day on the treadmill helps him.

Peyton also has to look his best for a show. It takes about two hours to groom an English springer spaniel.

Once Peyton arrives at Westminster, he'll face 24 other English springer spaniels in their breed competition Tuesday at noon. If he beats them all, he'll move on to the televised sporting dog group competition that evening.

If Peyton wins the sporting dog group competition, which includes a representative from each of the 30 breeds, he'll move on to the best in show competition.

Duffy said in that her experience, Westminster is a difficult show to travel to, but also a rewarding one regardless of whether your dog wins anything.

"Even just making the cut at the Garden is a big deal," she said.

For many dogs, Westminster is a last hurrah before retiring.

After the Kerfoots' dogs are done on the show circuit, they become breeding dogs. The couple currently have three dogs at their home who are retired champions.

When Peyton gets off the show circuit, his stud fee, or the fee to breed him, probably will be about $1,800 because of all of his wins.

Just because Peyton is a winning dog doesn't mean he's raking in the dough. Not many dog shows offer cash prizes, and if Peyton wins one, it goes to Novack as a bonus for her hard work.

"Really, what you get from the Garden is bragging rights and prestige," Duffy said. But, she said, it's the experience of taking a dog there that makes Westminster worth it.

"It's like the MasterCard commercial," she said. "It's expensive and difficult รข? but the memories and competing really are priceless."

"All my friends ask me is there money in it," Charlie Kerfoot said. "And I tell them, no! It's not about getting money back, it's about dogs. We love the breed and we want to do good by the breed."

To Duffy, the Kerfoots and many others, love of their dogs makes the hard work of raising a show dog worth it.

"When you're sitting there in Madison Square Garden, seeing your dog on the big screen, the crowd is cheering and it's pretty awesome," Duffy said. "Just being at Westminster is always exciting."

And even if Peyton doesn't win, he's a winner in the minds of Billie and Charlie Kerfoot.

"Peyton is practically perfect," Billie Kerfoot said. "Peyton is a one-in-a-million dog. We got lucky."

Weather Journal

News tips, photos and feedback?
Sign up for free daily news by email