TARRYTOWN, NY – She’s a citizen-worn royal, a Tom Brady who might be mistaken for a special teamer. Spending this weekend on the east bank of the Hudson River, at the epicenter of the nation’s second-longest non-stop sporting event, Patricia Trotter wants all attention to be focused on the event, not her 85-year-old record-shattering self.
“The Westminster Dog Show is the Super Bowl and the World Series (boxed),” Trotter told USA TODAY. “There are hundreds and hundreds of dog shows, but there is only one Westminster.”
The 145th edition of Westminster begins Friday morning and ends on Sunday evening when Trotter, a longtime middle school history teacher in Carmel, California, is the judge of the Best In Show competition, the most prestigious judging show in canine sports. Show rich. For the first time since it premiered in 1877, the Westminster Kennel Club’s showcase event will not take place in Madison Square Garden but will be moved 25 miles north to Lyndhurst, a historic riverside mansion in the village of Tarrytown – a change of venue, the WKC – Officials have been commissioned to hold the show outdoors. Large white tents now line the verdant property, and so will be more than 2,500 canine competitors, including four new breeds. But there won’t be any fans or vendors or the hustle and bustle of Midtown Manhattan – not until the show returns to the garden in 2022, when it’s pandemic-ready.
“It’s going to be weird,” Trotter said with a laugh.
Pat Trotter may be an eighty-year-old but looks, talks, and acts like she is in her middle years. She talks in great detail about her decades as a football fan (she saw Johnny Unitas, Eddie LeBaron and Joe Montana in person and vividly remembers watching the 1958 Giants-Colts championship game with her father) and her teenage foray into journalism, in She wrote high school sports stories for a local newspaper in the Tidewater area of Virginia, where she grew up. For decades she was a passionate long-distance runner, today she is a long-distance runner, always with a four-legged companion.
She is not against sharing the secret of her youth.
“I think dogs in your life keep you going as you get older,” she said.
Trotter fell in love with her first dog, a mixed breed named Queenie, which her parents gave her when she was fifth year. Soon she was volunteering in kennels, walking puppies, showing cocker spaniels, and spending every moment she could spare with dogs. One day she saw some adorable dogs in a paddock owned by a neighborhood man. They were stocky in body, friendly in temperament, with lush silver-gray fur and a tightly curled tail.
“You are a bear hunter,” said the owner, who was actually a bear hunter.
The dogs were Norwegian Elk Dogs and the young girl loved it. She showed her first Elkhound, Candy, at the Tidewater Dog Show in 1950 and bred and registered her first litter a year later. Trotter made her Westminster debut in 1961 and basically never left, becoming a fixture like the pointer in the WKC logo. She won the best of breed in 1969 and the group best a year later, the first of an unprecedented 11 group victories, the proverbial record that will never be broken.
David Haddock, co-chair of the Westminster Dog Show, estimates 350,000 handlers have registered dogs in the event’s history. Neither has come close to what Trotter has achieved, an accomplishment that is even more remarkable given that Trotter is and has not been a professional breeder or handler (although she is married to one).
“Pat is an icon – a living legend,” said Haddock. “For most people, winning Westminster is the (high point) of their lives. She embodies what we all want to achieve. On a good day, I couldn’t carry Pat’s bags, and yet she treats me as equals, just as she treats everyone in sports. “
It turned out that Trotter was an equally great luminary in the Carmel Middle School classroom for over 35 years. She loved teaching about colonial history, and not just because George Washington was “one of the first great dog breeders in our country”. She taught students about her fellow Virginia countryman Thomas Jefferson, Enlightenment thinkers, and the early beginnings of the concept of democracy.
One of her students was Jimmy Panetta, now a Democratic Congressman from Carmel Valley, California.
“Ms. Trotter has been a great teacher who has made a lasting impact on many Carmel students, including myself and my two older brothers,” Panetta emailed USA TODAY. “She made a point of telling us about civics and the cornerstones of ours Teaching democracy, including the need to express yourself in the classroom and in our community. Many of the lessons she taught I use today as a member of Congress. “
Panetta joked that the fact that he had dealt with recalcitrant eighth graders all these years probably greatly enhanced Trotter’s ability to judge the behavior and characters of different breeds of dogs. All Trotter knows is that a virtual life as a dog lover and thoroughbred owner, breeder and handler put her in a rare place in her sport this weekend, and she is deeply honored by it.
“I think you could say it was a calling for me, and the calling started with my mixed breed Queenie,” said Trotter.