Miniature poodle takes handler to top of field

By Lynn R. Parks

Kaz Hosaka was only 19. He could not speak English. But when the chance came to leave his native Japan and move to the United States, he did not hesitate. Now, 23 years later, he handles 50 dogs, all poodles of varying sizes, which he keeps in kennels on his 28-acre property west of Greenwood. Recently, one of those dogs, 3-year-old Spice Girl, claimed the top prize at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, held in Madison Square Garden in New York City. “This is what I came to this country for,” said Hosaka, 43. “This is like my Olympics, and I just won the gold medal.” In 1978, Hosaka was a struggling dog handler, a skill he started learning at age 10 in his uncle’s kennels. During a dog show, he caught the eye of judge and retired professional handler James Clark, who lived in Cecilton, Md. “We were dressing for dinner one night and Mr. Clark told me about this kid he had seen in the ring,” said Clark’s widow Anne, who lives near Greenwood. “He had no training, he said, but he had an innate hand with dogs and the dogs absolutely adored him.” Anne Clark was skeptical. But she was able to observe Hosaka in the ring the next day, and saw that her husband was right. The Clarks asked around about the young man and when Hosaka learned of their interest, he approached them. “He told us that if he could get a [federal] learner’s permit, he would devote 1,000 days to us,” Clark said. Permit in hand, Hosaka completed his three years of training with the Clarks then returned to Japan to work with his uncle for one year. “He became the top Japanese dog handler overnight,” Clark said. Hosaka returned to the United States after that year and, with the help of the Clarks, set up his dog handling business. He moved to rural Greenwood in 1990. Spice Girl, an 18-pound black miniature poodle, was bred by Hosaka, Clark and Barbara Furbush, Salisbury, Md., and is one of the seventh generation descended from a Westminster best-in-show winner in 1959. Hosaka has been training her since she was 6 months old. In 135 shows last year, she claimed 103 top prizes in her non-sporting class and 30 best-in-show awards. “She was a beautiful puppy wet from the womb,” said Clark, who has not missed a Westminster show since her first in 1941. “Her conformation, her temperament, her feet, her size, the whole package. She was the best I had ever seen.”

“She is a natural beauty,” agreed Hosaka. “Even when she was little, she would crawl out of her box and get up on the bed. She always wanted to be sitting up on something, and would sit up there as though saying, “I am a queen.’ ” But all that regality does not mean that she was easy to train. “She is beautiful but she is moody,” Hosaka said. “She is hard to show,” particularly in arenas where there are lots of flowers, like Westminster. “She hates the flowers,” Hosaka said. “The smell, the colors, their funny shapes in those big vases. It is my job to get her to focus on me all the time she is in the ring. If she decides to bark once, she will lose.” In order to claim the top prize, Spice Girl had to beat out 2,500 dogs representing 156 breeds. First, she had to be judged top among the other miniature poodles there. Once she had that prize, she competed for first in the non-sporting class, one of seven classes in the show. (Last year, she also claimed best in her class.) The seven class winners competed for the best-in-show title. Judging is based on appearance, conformation and behavior. “I hoped that she would win,” Hosaka said. “I knew who the judges were, and they had liked Spice Girl before. But all the top dogs are there from all over the world and you just never know.” Spice Girl has good breeding behind her. In addition to her great-times-five grandparent, her mother, Pepper, was named best in the non-sporting group at Westminster in 1995. Her grandfather on her father’s side, Jalepeno, was fourth in the non-sporting class at Westminster in 1992. She also has a good handler, said Clark. “People are born with the ability to handle animals,” she said. “Kaz is truly gifted. And he never stops learning. Even today, he still learns something new every year he trains.” Now that she has won the top prize in dog competition, Spice Girl will retire, Hosaka said. He plans to breed her twice, maybe three times, and raise her puppies for competition. “Winning Westminster was my goal,” he said. “It is everybody’s goal. A lot of people retire after they win this, because it is something they have tried their whole life to get and once they have it, they don’t know what else to do.” But retirement is not in Hosaka’s immediate future. “I love showing dogs,” he said. “Handling a poodle is like an art: You shape them and create them. I am going to keep doing it. And hopefully, I can win again.”

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