By Ranny Green
Thirty years ago, Elena Landa experienced a dramatic change in her life and that love affair with a new fun-loving dog breed has continued to blossom ever since.
She and her parents, Jorge and Shirley Landa, of Bothell, owned Bouvier des Flandres for years.
“I never read dog books,” she says, “since I was raised working with various trainers, groomers, breeders and others that came through my parents’ kennels, to the people that took me to dog shows to learn about different breeds. I just absorbed it all.”
One day while walking through the family’s kitchen she spotted a book her parents had received from a publisher. (At the time, they were writing a weekly column for The Seattle Times and were recipients of review copies from numerous publishers.)
The volume, “Soft-Coated Wheatens,” by Maureen Holmes, hooked her. “I loved the Bouviers but I liked that the Wheatens were smaller and possessed a great sense of humor. The Bouviers were so serious after they turned 3, since they had a job to do in life. I wanted a dog that seemed to laugh its way through life and I thought I had found it.”
Landa’s affinity for Wheatens and her enormous contributions to the breed’s welfare will be recognized by the American Kennel Club Dec. 18 as one of seven group recipients for the Breeder of the Year Award at the AKC /Eukanuba National Championship Show in Orlando, Fla. All seven will receive medallions honoring their nomination, with the winner being named moments later.
A surprised Landa received notification of the honor last summer via phone call from an American Kennel Club official. “I was so shocked,” she recalls, “that I did not really believe what I was hearing. I kept thinking. I heard it wrong and I did not know how to reply.
“I have watched the Breeders of the Year walk out to get their awards every year and I thought how awesome and always wished that I could be one but never believed it could happen. The honor is the biggest one that a breeder can achieve and I’m still a bit overwhelmed.
“I have always believed that you go along in your own little world trying your hardest to do all the right things to be ethical and true to yourself no matter how hard it is sometimes. That means sticking to your beliefs and honoring the dogs that you breed. It never occurred to me that anyone would notice.”
As the show and ceremony edge closer, her excitement is building.
“The award means so much since it comes from the most respected people in the dog world, those who I have looked up to and learned from. It is dream come true and something I thought was unattainable. I am thankful to everyone who has taught, helped and supported me through all the years. This award is for them, too.”
Landa credits her parents with the ethics and “old-world wisdom” they instilled at childhood, which included sportsmanship, honesty, hard work and responsibilities of being a breeder.
Her efforts with Wheatens extend far outside the conformation show ring. She has trained in tracking, backpacking, weight and travois pulling; participated in school events and parades; breed rescue; meet-the-breed gatherings; guard work; go-to-ground competitions; agility; and obedience.
More than two decades ago she initiated a kidney ultrasound screening for renal dysplasia in Wheaten puppies, after hearing about its use in Canada. The information collected by her veterinarian has prompted other practitioners and breeders nationwide to begin their own programs.
Landa’s resume includes the following: 10 dogs for a total of 44 specialty best-in-show; multiple best-in-show dogs; six dogs with a total of 11 national specialty best-of-breed titles; five No. 1 breed winners in seven years; dogs in the Top Ten AKC standings for 17 years since 1990; the top winning female of all time Jolie (Ch. Doubloon’s Ultimate Player), an honor her dam (Ch. Doubloon’s Playing the Field) held before her. Both have two all-breed bests-in-show.
She will be showing Ch. Doubloon’s Salt of the Earth (Morton) at Eukanuba and the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City in February, but plans to take her young female Ch. Doubloon’s Extreme Play (Derby) as a backup. Morton is the No. 1 all-breeds soft-coated Wheaten for the last two years.
Landa limits the litters of her “girls,” to one to two litters in a lifetime, explaining “I like to spread that out so there is no more than one a year or one litter every two years. The pups require plenty of attention and to do it right, it takes total commitment on my part.”
It’s a Herculean task for an owner-breeder-handler to put a best-in-show on a Wheaten, and add to that, a shoe-string budget, the task becomes even more monumental.
The Breeder of the Year award was launched in 2002 by the American Kennel Club. Here are the criteria for nomination:
• Twenty years-plus dedication to a specific breed.
• A dog from breeder’s line has qualified for the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship Dog Show.
• A substantial number of champions bred, especially when compared to the litters/puppies bred.
• Active member of a specialty breed club.
• Regularly performs breed appropriate health tests.
• Breeder of integrity and good sportsmanship.
• Breeder of dogs that achieved AKC titles other than conformation.
• Performs dog-related community services.
• Has multiple Top 25 breed winners over many years.
Occasionally the AKC receives suggestions for potential nominees from the public, according to Lisa Peterson, AKC communications director, adding, “and if the breeder that is suggested meets the criteria then he/she is added for consideration.”
The award committee composed of AKC board and staff members, reviews the previous year’s best-in-show and Top 25 breed records, identifying quality breeders. Each committee member suggests a minimum of one candidate in each of the seven groups. Next, Top 25 breed and breeding records for previous years are reviewed, and then the committee will vote for one honoree in each group, plus the overall winner.
Now the dedicated Bothell breeder is in a countdown mode until the big event, which she concludes,”There is nothing that will ever compare to this in my lifetime. I just want to savor every moment.”