Fort Worth man to judge Westminster Dog Show for 20th time

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 05, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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• 7 p.m. Monday on CNBC

• 7 p.m. Tuesday on USA

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One of the human stars of the annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show taking place in New York’s Madison Square Garden is from Fort Worth.

Edd Bivin is serving as judge at the world’s most famous dog show for a milestone 20th time.

“I never tire of doing it,” he says. “I think this year will be just as exciting to me as the first time was and the fifth time and the 15th.”

Bivin can’t get enough of it because he has a lifelong fondness for dogs.

“It doesn’t matter whether they’re mixed breed or purebred,” he says. “I love dogs of any kind.”

That said, he’s partial to the purebreds because of their predictability in terms of appearance, attitude and behavior. Simply put, when he mates two Doberman pinschers, his favorite breed, he likes knowing in advance exactly what he’s going to get, no surprises.

As usual, he’ll be judging the country’s elite dogs in all seven breed categories: sporting, hound, working, terrier, toy, non-sporting and herding.

“In my opinion, it’s the most important part of a dog show,” Bivin says of breed judging. “It’s where you really have a chance to assess the quality of the breeding stock that is brought before you.”

The Westminster Kennel Club 138th Annual Dog Show will be televised live 7-10 p.m. Monday on CBNC and 7-10 p.m. Tuesday on USA.

But those telecasts focus mostly on groups and Best in Show — which means if you want to see Bivin in action, you’ll have to check out the live streaming of all breed judging during the day at www.westminsterkennel club.org/.

Bivin, 73, was born in Fort Worth and has lived here his entire life. He retired 10 years ago after 32 years at TCU, which included 17 years as vice chancellor for administrative services.

There have always been dogs in Bivin’s home, but the first one was a mutt.

“She was in the house when I was born,” he recalls. “It was at her death that I persuaded my parents to let me have a purebred dog, which was a Pomeranian, a little dog that acted like a big dog.

“Then, from the time that I was 12 years old, I was interested in the sport of purebred dogs and I became a student of breeds.”

When he was 21, Bivin was approved by the American Kennel Club to judge his first dog show.

During the 50-plus years since, he and his late wife, Irene, were icons of the sport. In 1999, Bivin was Westminster’s Best in Show judge.

Bivin’s wife turned him on to Dobermans nearly 40 years ago. “They’re smart, they’re loyal, they’re wonderful athletic dogs,” he says. Yes, Dobermans get bad press from time to time. “But that, generally speaking, is not the fault of the dogs. That’s the fault of the people who own them.”

It’s worth noting that dog show judges don’t critique the animals in quite the same way that layman watching on TV often do.

In short, the dog show is not a beauty pageant.

It might be hard to remember that, given the way that canine contestants are coifed and groomed to perfection. What the judges are evaluating, however, are the dogs’ qualities as breeding stock.

“Each breed has specifications and qualities written about it,” Bivin explains. “It’s what’s called the Standard and essentially it describes the ideal specimen of that breed. You judge each dog against the Standard, against what is considered to be perfection for that breed.

“It’s about a dog’s balance and proportion, carriage and outline. Also, in many instances, the written descriptions emphasize what the dog is supposed to do. A retriever is supposed to retrieve, a herding dog is supposed to herd and so on.

“These are the things that the judge is looking at. It’s not one dog against the other. And it’s certainly not about the grooming of the dog.”

Bivin, known for his intensity and decisive style in the arena, is not one to be easily swayed by a pretty face. If anything, he gets annoyed when owners over-emphasize doggie glamour.

“They have taken some breeds and made them so extreme and overdone that it’s been detrimental to the breed, in my opinion,” he says. “A poodle is a case in point. A poodle is a wonderful water retriever dog that originally came in standard, miniature and then toys.

“People who know the breed know what a wonderful dog it is. But the extremity in some of the grooming has made this breed distasteful to some people. It’s a water dog. Its lion trim was originally done to facilitate its retrieving in the water. But the grooming became fancier and fancier and fancier.

“Today, they have too much hair. They’re overdone.”

Bivin likes that the public can watch the dog show from home and learn from it.

“It’s a wonderful branding opportunity for purebred dogs,” he says. “People can see a confirmation of what they think is desirable in a breed they might be thinking about buying or acquiring, as well as an assessment of a breed they may have curled up on the couch beside them.”

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