Vetset Kate Winsit . . . wins it!

Kate Winsit

Vetset Kate Winsit in her show stance at the 2012 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Photos courtesy of Dr. Elly Holowaychuk.

For Alberta veterinarian Dr. Elly Holowaychuk, it was a complete surprise to hear that her “little Canuck” — Vetset Kate Winsit — had won Best of Variety: Poodle (Standard) at this year’s prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City’s Madison Square Gardens.

“I never thought that would happen to me. It’s a bit like the Academy Awards of dog shows – certain dogs are expected to win. It’s one of the biggest compliments that a judge can bestow on you and your breeding program,” says Holowaychuk, a 1976 graduate of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

While Kate Winsit (“Kate”) has been described as a dark horse at Westminster, the almost three-year-old female has been winning accolades at shows in both the United States and Canada since she was a puppy.

Kate was a Canadian champion as a puppy. She obtained her American Grand championship status at 15 months of age, followed by an Award of Merit at the 2011 Poodle Club of America National Specialty when she was only a year and a half.

She then went on to become Canada’s #1 Poodle All Varieties and #1 Non Sporting breed in 2011 before she returned to debut at Westminster in February 2012.

Kate Winsit

“Kate” with her handler at the Westminister Kennel Club Dog Show in February 2012.

“Kate has great presence. She has an exquisite head piece and a beautiful long neck on a great body that is in perfect weight and well-muscled. And she moves effortlessly with a wide open gait. She truly embodies the essence of the breed,” explains Holowaychuk.

Holowaychuk, who breeds Vetset Poodles with her husband Bob in Sherwood Park, Alta., is certainly no stranger to the qualities of a champion. Her love affair with the standard poodle breed began 27 years ago, and over the years, the couple’s breeding program has produced an impressive list of champions and Best in Show winners.

While proud of their many accomplishments in the show ring, Holowaychuk emphasizes that breeding show dogs isn’t their first priority. “We want all of our dogs to be house dogs first. They are show dogs only if they like the ring. If they can excel in the show ring as well as in the home, that’s icing on the cake.”

Vetset’s breeding program reflects that philosophy. All of their breeding animals live with them or with families in the Edmonton area so that the dogs are easily accessible to the Holowaychuks during the breeding process.

All the puppies are born and raised in the Holowaychuk home. Having two veterinarians in the household is a huge advantage when it comes to breeding, whelping and, of course, health testing — a major priority with them.

Holowaychuk spends innumberable hours working with her litters — socializing, exercising, grooming, leash training and exposing them to all things wonderful in the home. “We also practise becoming a show dog,” adds Holowaychuk.

Dr. Elly Holowaychuk: “Kate moves effortlessly with a wide open gait. She truly embodies the essence of the breed.”

Poodles are one of the most difficult breeds to show as their hair (wool) requires regular bathing, conditioning, brushing and banding. The puppies receive their first exposure to brushing when they are only two weeks old and are clipped by four weeks of age. The puppies are clipped and scissored like little show dogs at eight weeks of age before going to their new homes.

“Bob and I take time off work so we can have our special time with our moms and their puppies,” Holowaychuk explains. “This allows us the opportunity to really assess them and work with them so we can match them perfectly to their families. It also allows us to realize which ones should stay behind to further enrich our breeding program and have a show career.”

While it’s important to pick the animals that meet the standard of the breed, temperament plays a huge role in determining which ones can be show champions. Being a show dog is tough job. These animals are always in the limelight and are forever travelling from show to show, so they have to be outgoing and able to deal with the pressure.

Holowaychuk’s philosophy is that she “wants people to remember the high notes,” so she likes to retire the animals from showing when they are at the top of their game. Her “retired kids” will either return to live with them or they will be placed in loving homes. The Holowaychuk household always includes up to but no more than four dogs. Their three children all have retired champions living with them as well.

What’s next for Kate Winsit? She will compete at The Poodle Club of America’s 80th National Specialty in Salisbury, Md., this April and then a decision will be made about her future in the show ring. Whatever happens, Holowaychuk is extremely proud of her and of the breed that she has represented so well.

“This is a breed that I’ve loved and adored for decades. Words can not adequately express what they do for their families and what they have done for our family and now our grandchildren. As long as I am able to breed a dog that really embraces the breed and make so many families happy, I will continue just as I am.”


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