There are certain events in the dog show world that are not to be missed and Morris & Essex Kennel Club Dog Show is definitely one. Held only once every five years, the Morris & Essex Kennel Club brings back the legacy of Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge's glamourous dog show, originally held from 1927 through 1957. This year’s show was postponed from 202 due to the pandemic and was held on October 6, 2021, at Colonial Park in Somerset, New Jersey. As is custom, the show’s entry was capped at 4,455 dogs, exactly one dog less than Mrs. Dodge’s largest entry which happened in 1939. 1
So who was Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge and why do we celebrate her show?
Born in 1882 into one of America’s wealthiest families, Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge was the heiress to Standard Oil who eventually became the richest woman in America when she merged her fortune - estimated at $100 million at the time (just over $2.7 billion in today’s dollars) - with that of her husband, Marcellus Hartley Dodge Sr., who was the scion of the Remington firearms company. 2
Mrs. Dodge housed up to 150 dogs of more than 80 different breeds at her Giralda Farms in New Jersey. In 1936, at a time when most show dogs were shipped from venue to venue by train, Mrs. Dodge’s dogs were transported in a retrofitted Cadillac Fleetwood, capable of transporting a dozen dogs. 3
Mrs. Dodge’s work in English Cocker Spaniels led to the then two varieties of Cocker Spaniel becoming two distinct breeds. 4
She wrote a book entitled “The English Cocker Spaniel in America”, and she also had a great passion for German breeds. Her involvement in German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers was extensive. 5
She was also instrumental in establishing the Rottweiler in America. 6
Mrs. Dodge finished more than 180 champions and was the owner of 200 different dogs that went Best in Show, two of them at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. 7
Mrs. Dodge was also the first woman to judge Best in Show, solo, at Westminster in 1933. 8
Before then, when multi-judge panels were the norm, Mrs. R.F. Mayhew became the show’s first-ever female BIS judge, in 1928, as part of a four-person panel. 9
Mrs. Dodge’s incredible dog show was held annually from 1927 to 1957, except for a break during World War II. Mrs. Dodge’s generosity was famous, and she spared absolutely no expense in putting on her beloved event. She did everything from bringing in foreign judges via ship, to lavish hospitality tents that overflowed with flowers. Exhibitors came and brought the highest quality dogs from all over the United States to compete. At Best in Show time, spectators and competitors alike were often a dozen deep at ringside, some standing on chairs to see whose dog would take best at Mrs. Dodge’s incredible show. 10
So why did Mrs. Dodge end her run of Morris & Essex Shows?
The answer wasn’t easy to find, but I spoke with the club and apparently by the mid-1950s, Mrs. Dodge had difficulties staffing the show at the level she needed to in order to maintain its grandeur. After WWII, American lifestyle changed and the labour force she needed was no longer available. Rather than diminishing the show, Mrs. Dodge opted to go out on a high note.
In 1996, Wayne Ferguson, the current President and Show Chair of Morris & Essex, was visiting St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Centre in Madison, New Jersey. 11
An employee who knew of his involvement in purebred dogs told him to visit the attic above the kennels as there was a lot of dog show memorabilia up there. 12
In the attic Wayne saw boxes of trophies, marked catalogues, and judges’ badges from Mrs. Dodge’s famous show! 14
Like finding treasure, there were etched names and golden club graphics that were still visible after he wiped off decades of dust. 15
As it turns out, all those memories were stored in the attic of St. Hubert’s kennels because the organization was founded by Mrs. Dodge. 16
At a show the following weekend, Ferguson shared his findings with friends, and immediately they began imagining what it would be like to re-create the famous show. 17
In 2000, the Morris & Essex show came back to life, an event of grandeur and celebration of the fancy’s finest, once every five years. 18
The modern incarnation of the show picked up where it left off. The show remains posh, with vintage cars and beautiful floral arrangements. Lunch is served to everyone and most attendees celebrate the spirit of the original show by dressing in the styles the 1920s through the 1950s.
At his year’s show, Canadian dogs wowed! Huge congratulations to GCHG CH Vanderbilt 'N Printemp's Lucky Strike, who placed first in the Working Group under Judge Mrs. Joyce Vanek! Bred by Mengru Wu and Judi Elford, Striker is proudly owned by Correen R Pacht, Marc Ralsky, Judi Elford and Blair Elford, and is handled by Laura King.
Another Group winner, GCHS CH Clarity Reach the Sky VJK-MYST placed first in the Sporting Group under Judge Mrs. Mary Ann Alston. Bred by Clair Malcolm and Mariah Dupuy, Jade is proudly owned by Val Nunes-Atkinson, Yvonne Hassler-Deterding, Carley Simpson and Clair Malcolm, and is handled by Val Nunes-Atkinson.
Canada also won big at the Anthracite Brittany Club Specialty Show held at Morris and Essex! Congratulations to Arthur aka MBIS MRBIS MBISS Can GCHEx Am GCH RiverMist Broxden Magnuttic FDJ CGN ATD JT AGN AGNJ, who won best of breed under Judge Mr. Michael Faulkner! Arthur is proudly owned by Craig and Diane Storey. His breeders are Allyson Godfroid, Amy Booth and Phil Booth, and he is handled by Emily Burdon.
Morris & Essex takes those of us in the fancy back to the glory days of dogs and the quality of the entry simultaneously moves us forward. I think it’s just so fantastic that there’s an occasion where every detail is as beautiful and prestigious as the dogs entered. I hope Mrs. Dodge looks down fondly at the event. I can’t wait to attend the next one!
*Please note: We try our very best to ensure all of our big Canadian wins are mentioned, but with thousands of dogs attending large shows like Morris & Essex, sometimes we don’t catch all the wins. If I missed a Canadian-bred dog that won best of breed or higher, please let me know in the comment below and it will be added to the blog asap!*
1 Morris and Essex Kennel Club, http://www.morrisandessexkennelclub.org/best-in-show.html
2 American Kennel Club, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/the-legacy-of-geraldine-rockefeller-dodge/
3 Ibid., American Kennel Club
4 Ibid., American Kennel Club
5 Ibid., American Kennel Club
6 Ibid., American Kennel Club
7 Ibid., American Kennel Club
8 Ibid., American Kennel Club
9 Ibid., American Kennel Club
10 Ibid., American Kennel Club
11 American Kennel Club, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/sports/morris-essex-dog-show-returns-2021/
12 Ibid., American Kennel Club
13 Ibid., American Kennel Club
14 Ibid., American Kennel Club
15 Ibid., American Kennel Club
16 Ibid., American Kennel Club
17 Ibid., American Kennel Club
18 Ibid., American Kennel Club
19 Ibid., American Kennel Club