A conversation with a great Canadian.
If you don’t know who Taffe McFadden is, chances are, you know her dogs. Taffe is one of America’s premier professional handlers seen at all the major televised dog shows including the AKC National Dogs Show, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show as well as hundreds of shows in between.
I have long admired Taffe’s work and the relationship she has with her dogs in the ring. While covering the Canadian brags at Westminster a few years back, I was delighted to find out that Taffe is Canadian. She was born in Scarborough, Ontario and raised in Tsawwassen, British Columbia. She now lives in Acampo, California with her family.
I introduced myself to Taffe at Westminster 2020. Perhaps with other famous handlers, I might have been a bit nervous to introduce myself to someone so accomplished at one of the most important shows of the year; however, Taffe’s reputation is second to none. I have never heard a bad word about her and her immediate kindness towards me confirmed why– even though she was mere hours away from taking her Havanese “Bono” into the Best in Show ring at the Garden, she was happy to talk with me.
How did you get involved in purebred dog?
It was my honour to interview Professional Handler, Breeder, Mother and new Grandmother Taffe McFadden.
My sister, Honey Glendinning had English Setters and I ended up with one that I started showing. I was addicted from the beginning.
Do you recall your first time in the ring?
I showed a Golden Retriever for a friend of the family under Judge Forest Hall. He was not very kind about the quality of that dog I was showing and it broke my heart. When I came out of the ring my mother asked me “Are you going to let this man break you or is this going to be a defining moment?” Well, here I am!
Who did initially work for and when did you go pro? How did you meet your husband?
I worked for several handlers while I was growing up in Canada. Jim Campbell, Larry Ingalls, and finally Susan Hillman. I worked for Susan for 5 years and during that time I had met my husband, Bill McFadden, at shows in Victoria, BC. He was up from Washington State showing his Cairn Terrier and traveling with Stella and Bill Newbie. I decided that I was still young enough to change my career if being a professional wasn't going to work out. I decided to go out on my own and give it 5 years to see if I could survive. Bill and I married in 1984 and we moved to Campbell, California.
Which differences did you find between shows in the United States vs shows in Canada?
This was a very exciting time for me. The competition in the U.S. verses Canada was profoundly different. Although Canada has great dogs, the sheer number of dogs competing and the number of shows in the states was quite a draw for me, let alone the number of my idols in the handling world who were also living and showing in the U.S.
When was your first Best in Show Win?
My fist Best in Show was on a white Miniature Poodle Ch. Braelane Bugsby in Yakima, Washington. It was a horrible windy day and we were all wearing jeans and rain gear. Not the win photo I was hoping for! I believe it was 1990.
Which big win was your most exciting?
The most exciting win would have been Best of Variety under Rick Koester at Poodle Club Of America with my black Miniature Poodle CH. Halcyon Heirsey, who was bred by Daniel Agustus and Mark Shanoff. I had just had my third child, Conor, nine days prior to the show and I didn't know if I would make it there. We did and it will be a day I play over and over in my head!
Which show is your favourite one of the year?
Westminster is my favourite/least favourite show. There’s so much stress involved and the win is elusive.
What’s your most embarrassing memory from a dog show?
My most embarrassing moment, which if you know me, takes a lot, would have to be when my Bedlington Terrier won the Terrier Group in 2000 and we were going into Best In Show at the Garden. He had diarrhea all through the entrance to the ring. That never made it onto the filming - thank goodness!
What keeps you motivated?
The thrill of the chase and the quest to find the next beautiful dog!
What would you say is your greatest accomplishment in dogs? Outside of dogs?
I have personally campaigned two dogs to Top Dog. First was Giant Schnauzer Gailee's Pure of Spirit, who had 100 Best in Shows. I’m hoping to reach that milestone with Bono my Havanese.
On a business level, my husband and I have had the privilege of having some of the top handlers in the country today, work with us over the years, including Gabriel Rangel, Amy Rutherford, RC Carusi, and Janice Hayes to name a few. They are the future of the sport and we are so proud to have helped them get there. Outside of dog shows, my wonderful family.
Which breed have you worked with the most?
My heart will always belong to English Setters, but my other favourites are Standard Poodles and Havanese.
Can you name a favourite show dog of all time that you didn’t handle?
There are so many favourite show dogs that I would have loved to have handled! An Afghan. Pahlavi Smokin
N' The Boysroom who made the hair on the back of my neck stand up- it was at Santa Barbara. I watched this dog and missed one of my own! I was transfixed.
Who is or was your favourite Judge of all time to show to?
Elsworth Gamble. He will always be my favorite judge.
What’s your favourite book on the topic of purebred dogs? Born To Win
by Pat Trotter. Read it cover to cover!
What advice would you give to someone just getting into professional handling?
Work for the best handler you can find. Learn from the bottom and know that no job is too small, then go to school and get a backup plan!
And now, some questions about BONO aka GCHP Oeste’s In The Name of Love…
I couldn’t interview Taffe McFadden without talking a bit about the little Havanese that has charmed the continent- Bono the Toy Group Winner of Westminster 2020 and the Reserve Best in Show Winner of Westminster 2019.
When did you first think Bono was going to be a star?
Bono was born on July 23, 2016.
I graded Bono's litter when they were 8 weeks old. He was a standout right away.
What makes the breeder/owner/handler relationship so special?
Being responsible for breeding Bono is more my co-owner's handle. We make decisions together and I'm blessed to have amazing people involved with this breed. I'm so very thankful they allowed me to be a part of this- he is a very special dog.
How many Best in Show wins does Bono have to date?
90 best in shows to date. We will try to reach 100.
Does he have any funny quirks or habits?
Bono's most annoying habit is that he loves to sneeze on his down and back. It makes me crazy because his hair ends up in his face! But it makes me laugh. He plays to the crowd and they always laugh!
I wish Taffe and Bono the greatest of luck as they continue to show this year and I’ll be cheering them on every chance I get!