Ben started showing in 2022 just as shows were starting to ramp up again after COVID. His very first show was an All Breeds show in March 2022 and in a sign of things to come, he won Best Baby in Group. The following week, he took a Best Baby Puppy in Show.
And so it went... Our tiny, sparky little firecracker with the huge personality just kept on winning. In fact, this is a list of what he's been awarded since he stared showing 14 months ago:
11 Reserve Best Dogs
40 Best Dogs
14 Reserve Best of Breeds
25 Best of Breeds
2 Best Baby Puppy of Groups
8 Best Puppy of Groups
13 Junior of Groups
7 Reserve Best of Groups
2 Best Baby Puppy in Show
2 Best Puppy in Show
Ben doesn't always win, but when he does, the secret to his success is there for all to see. Ben is a charmer. He is hilarious. His tail never stops wagging. He is the happiest dog on Earth. He loves all people and is afraid of nothing. He's the only Chihuahua who struts into the ring with his chest puffed out and his head held high to the sound of laughter from the sidelines at how full of himself he is. He makes judges smile. Junior Handler, Arvia Caldwell, put it best when she said "Ben does't walk, he prances".
And prance he does. He has a fan club. Other exhibitors, who have never spared Chihuahuas a thought in their life before, will come over to our gazebo for a Ben cuddle at some point over a show weekend. The comments we get from judges in the ring have ranged from, "Oh good, you're not going to bite me, are you?" to "One day, that dog will beat them all.".
Which brings us to the 37th Supreme Showdog and Puppy Contest.
This is an invitation only, black-tie event (with a sit-down meal, cocktail hour and a DJ!), held in the South Island every year. To qualify for an invitation, a dog must have won a Championship All Breeds Best in Show or Reserve Best in Show. To qualify for the Supreme Puppy contest, a pup must have won a Best Baby Puppy in Show or Best Puppy in Show at Championship level, which Ben did last year in Invercargill when he won Best Puppy in Show at the SKA Champ shows in November.
We had attended this event in the past as spectators and barely dared dream that one day, a dog we bred would qualify for such an elite event. Ben proved you can dare to dream and amazingly, we have also already qualified for the 2024 event as well with little Stella (but that's a 2024 story yet to come!).
The Supremes is not like a regular dog show. It is a knock-out event judged by a panel of 3 judges. We fully expected to be knocked out in the first round (we cannot stress enough the quality of the competition in his contest as some of the "puppies" Ben was up against were now adults an also competing in the adult contest as they had gone on to win multiple Best in Shows since winning their Best Puppy in Show). We got lucky however, and scored a bye in the first round so we made it though to the second round, where Ben was up against a stunning (and enormous) Bouvier des Flandres.
Ben gave it his all. He was, for the 3rd time that day, examined on the table by three judges, one after the other, and was still wagging his tail and bouncing around like this was the best fun he'd ever had. Even the judges commented during the judging "that is a very happy puppy". The Bouvier won (but it wasn't unanimous, so at least one of the three judges thought Ben should progress to the next round - YAY!) so we collected his prizes (so many prizes!) and settled down to enjoy a well-earned drink and the rest of the show.
But Ben wasn't done yet. The Supreme Personality Puppy title, decided by the judges, is awarded to the competitor with the most outstanding personality. We were utterly thrilled when, at the conclusion of the Puppy judging, NZ CH Kitaco Ben de la Crème was announced as the 2023 Supreme Personality Puppy.
Besides being a great honour for Ben and Kitaco, it is impossible to quantify the importance of this win for our breed. Chihuahuas have such a negative image for being snappy and fearful, when in reality, they are wonderful companions with amazing personalities. People don't always get to see this at shows (our pet owners need no convincing!), because sadly, some Chihuahuas entered might be well-constructed or look great on the move, but are terrified of their own shadows. The Breed Standard says Chihuahuas should be "saucy" but this "snappy, horrible Chihuahua" myth is such a long-held and pervasive belief in the show world, that when we first started showing, we were horrified to learn some judges refer to Chihuahuas as a "bucket breed", as in: you need to keep a bucket of water handy when judging Chihuahuas to wash off the blood after they bite you!
Our mission at Kitaco has always been to get rid of the "bucket breed" stain on our breed's name. We set out, right from the very beginning, to improve the breed in a meanigful way. It's not just about health testing, although that is important. To have a Chihuahua singled out in such an elite field of show dogs for their outstanding temperament and personality is beyond our wildest dreams. It confirms we are on the right track and that all the work we do with our pups to prepare their temperaments for life in the big wide world is paying dividends we can actually see.
In a way, despite all the other wins Ben has collected in his 14 months in the show ring, this is his proudest moment for us. It's easy to breed for type and construction, but excellent temperments are so much harder to nurture and we have made this as our top priority since we started breeding. It is wonderful to have our efforts rewarded and so reassuring to know that we are on the right track.
Thanks to the Supreme Showdog committee for an amazing show and to Blackhawk for such fabulous prizes. And thanks to Deb, Tracy, Casey and Alex and the Ben de la Crème fan club for sharing the fun with us. This is a night we will not forget for a very long time.