Edit ModuleShow Tags

Best in Show

Escondido’s own Michael Dougherty is top dog at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show


Michael Dougherty and his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Jackie

Michael Dougherty and his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Jackie, at Vintana in Escondido. Right: At his own pet resort with two German Shepherds

Just shy of two years ago, Michael Dougherty received a letter in the mail that sent him to his knees. He handed it to his wife, saying, “Can you please read this, because I cannot believe what I am seeing here.” After 50 years in the world of dogs, he had been asked to judge Best in Show at the 137th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden on February 11 and 12, 2013.

“It’s one of those things that you can’t even dare to imagine, as it’s the Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby, and Miss America pageant rolled into one in the dog world. Having spent most of my life in dogs, this is an unparalleled invitation,” Dougherty says.

Dougherty’s family started raising purebreds back in 1961. “We had Whippets, Miniature Schnauzers, Smooth Fox Terriers, and Keeshonden. The whole family caught the dog show bug. My father, Jack, became a handler, and mom groomed the dogs; I started in Junior Showmanship at age nine. My father taught me how to keep the dogs relaxed and responsive; I loved being in the ring. So it was a family affair from the beginning.”

When the Doughertys found themselves with too many Schnauzers for their residential home, they bought a property in Lemon Grove that evolved into the third largest kennel in San Diego back in 1963. “We’d show our own dogs, but then others asked us to show their dogs, so my dad got licensed by the American Kennel Club and became an All Breed Handler. I was his apprentice,” Dougherty says.

“It’s one of those things that you can’t even dare to imagine, as it’s the Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby, and Miss America pageant rolled into one in the dog world.”
Michael and dogs Michael and winning Miniature Wirehaired Dachshund

Michael Dougherty at Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2011 with a winning Miniature Wirehaired Dachshund.

The family rose to great success traveling the country, often handling 18 to 20 dogs per show. As a runner who loved the racing breeds, Dougherty favored Whippets as his breed of choice. He put himself through college at USIU (now Alliant International University) in Scripps Ranch with funds from showing dogs professionally. After graduating, Dougherty landed in Los Angeles in literary public relations, working for the preeminent book publicist Jay Allen for 25 years, but continued to show dogs when he could. Even when his father retired from the ring and sold the kennel, Dougherty remained committed, though he shifted his sights from handling to judging.  

In 1987, he got his first license to judge the Hound group, and now, 25 years later, he’s received the ultimate honor. On February 12, a tuxedo-clad Dougherty will enter the center ring at Madison Square Garden, where the final seven of some 3,200 dogs who have won their breed category will wait for him to decide their “Best in Show” fate before a sell-out crowd and three million television viewers.

During this prestigious dog show—the second oldest continuously running American sporting event after the Kentucky Derby—each of the 187 breeds and varieties is judged against its own standard of excellence. “We judge on form and function, gait, showmanship, charisma, grooming, and details like number of teeth, shape of the eyes, proportion, and texture of coat. It is so detailed.”

What follows after the pinnacle event of his career? “My wife, Michelle, and I have a family-run facility called The Windsong Resort for Pets on three acres in Escondido which keeps us very busy,” Dougherty says. “And I’ll keep judging. I’ve already got stops scheduled in Beijing, Tokyo, and Seoul.”

Watch it!
Westminster Kennel Club’s 137th Annual All Breed Dog Show airs on February 11 on CNBC and February 12 on USA Network from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Attend a San Diego dog show
Bates Nut Farm in Valley Center will host the San Diego Labrador Retriever Club show on February 16 and 17, and the Del Sur Kennel Club show on March 15 to 17.  Or head to the Del Mar Fairgrounds for the Silver Bay Kennel Club show on February 22 and 23. batesnutfarm.biz; delmarfairgrounds.com


Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

San Diego's Best New Restaurants 2015

From upscale modern Mexican to a hole-in-the-wall Thai spot, food critic Troy Johnson reveals his 10 favorite new eateries of 2015

The Beer Lover's (Ice) Bucket List

Need a New Year's resolution? Further your beer education by trying these 15 must-drink brews

Holiday Gift Guide 2015

A curated list of our favorite local finds
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Dear Chargers, It's Over
    A pre-emptive breakup letter to the team we love
  2. Healthcare Goes High-Tech
    Dr. Eric Topol is putting health care in the palms of our hands
  3. Be Seen This Fall in Rancho Mirage
    Enter To Win a 2 Night Stay Package at The Luxurious Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa
  4. Growing Up in San Diego
    26 memories of being a kid in America's Finest City
  5. Incoming: Liberty Public Market
    San Diego's big public market unveils three big new concepts
  6. FIRST LOOK: Duke's La Jolla
    For decades, Top of the Cove in La Jolla held one of the most iconic restaurant spots in San Diego. Now they've finally filled that space. Take an exclusive first look at Duke's La Jolla.
Edit ModuleShow Tags


October is Rideshare Month

Join the Rideshare 2015 Challenge and get there together

Go Ahead... Ask McMillin!

At McMillin Realty, we are encouraging you to bring us your real estate questions. We will answer these questions….. for free.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags


Win Dinner for Two at Black&Blue Steakhouse

Win dinner for two at Black&Blue Steakhouse and $25 in Free Slot Play at Valley View Casino

MADE IN AMERICA — Craft Icons of the 50 States

MADE IN AMERICA is the last exhibition in Mingei International Museum’s American Icons series, celebrating 100 years of folk art, craft and design from coast to coast.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags