Mr. Bobby Barlow
Exclusive Interview by Barbara J. Andrews - August 2002
Bobby is pretty informal which is why he’s known as “Bobby.” With such a long list of top winners and clients, his record is intimidating, but he is never pretentious.
Bobby Barlow is the “Handler’s Handler”. You may know him as the business-like but approachable AKC Rep from whom anyone could get a straight and definitive answer to any question. He’s a gentleman and a professional and every competitor would say, a credit to the sport.
He has slowed down some, only accepts a few clients and as has always been the case, they are special people with a dog that really gets to him. We started out with the standard questions but kept getting sidetracked into “real” talk. Amazing insights can sometimes be gleaned when we just listen. So that’s what this reporter did…
Bobby’s first breed was a Bassett Hound and his first show dog was also a Bassett. “I didn’t show her. Frank and Dorothy Hardy showed her in 1953. She finished and then I bought another Bassett Hound bitch from Dorothy and she won some Groups but never a Best In Show.”
When did you start handling professionally? “I got my license in October 1958 when I worked for Frank and Dorothy Hardy and then later for Tom and Kay Gately. In those days if you didn’t have a four or five year apprenticeship, you weren’t going to get a license. You could forget it.”
Who else was your role model when you first got into handling? "I would have to say Melbourne Downing. He has always epitomized, to me, the quintessential dog person who studies and learns and knows about the breeds. Some say his father was an even better judge but I didn’t know the father. Mel, and then later on, Lang Skarda."
What was your first big winner? "An English Setter. Canadian-bred dog called Best Friend’s Blue Knight, he was blue and white. He wasn’t orange. Belonged to a man in Richmond, Virginia named Joe Rotella, who has been dead many years, anyway, I got six Best In Shows on him and that was the first big-winning dog I personally ever had."
What made that dog great? "He was just a damned good English Setter. He really was. And for a Blue to win in those days was quite unusual. You see, because Rockfall’s Colonel had set the mark and he was an orange. (Colonel was owner-handled so I thought that in the real early sixties, that was quite a coupe.) Anyway, Mr. Rotella was terribly pleased and his dog later became one of the best sires in the history of the breed. If you could go back enough generations you could probably see him in there. Yep, he was quite a nice dog ….he really was…"
I know you’ve had many truly great dogs but what was your most memorable show dog or the one you just enjoyed showing the most? ”Nah, that’s real easy for me. The best and most memorable dog I ever showed was a Bassett Hound called Ch. Slippery Hills Hudson. I had some other great ones, a lot of them. But this dog was the most correct dog that I ever saw in my life. Judges that ever faulted him said he had too pretty of an eye. But by God if that’s all you can say about a dog then he’s a pretty good dog" (mutual laughter)
"He got 35 Best In Shows - his record was broken two years ago by Brian Martin but it stood for all these many years. He was just a wonderful dog, he was bred by Dr. Leonard Skolnick in Harwood, Maryland. And I actually stole him. I went over to his house one day and I saw these two puppies, a dog and a bitch running around in the kennels. Well I was taking a dog back that I had finished for him, and I just picked up that dog pup, and I thought ‘damn, this is a beautiful dog’ and so I put him in my truck and that was the end of that. I paid $500 dollars for him and sold him for $5000. That’s the honest-to-God truth BJ. That was a lot of money too, back in the early sixties. And worth every penny of it!”
What was your most memorable win? ”I would have to say winning The Garden (WKC) in 1981 was my most memorable win because it was under one of the best friends I have ever had in the world, Lang Skarda. I had only shown this dog for about four months and Bob Forsythe had the top winning dog the year before. Lang pulled out the two of them there for Best In Show and I just showed the best dog. I won it easy. He belonged to one of the best clients I’ve ever had. He’s dead and gone now but his name was Robert Hauslonder. He lived in Brynmar PA. Now of course Mrs. Robson owned Hudson and Mrs. Robson owned a lot of my dogs and she was wonderful but Mr. Houslonder was a very very unusual person.”
When you became a show rep for AKC was it awkward to have to evaluate the judges who had been evaluating your dogs? “No m’am, not at all. But I hated the job for one reason and one reason only. I loved the people I worked for, I loved the rest of the Reps that were around me but in those days (and I think it’s even worse today), the Board of Directors of the American Kennel Club didn’t give “a damn” what we told them. They just did whatever they wanted to do. And that always bothered me and that’s why I quit.
I said ‘you don’t need to be paying me all that money just to throw my opinions in the trash’ which is what they used to do. I understand they still do that but that’s why I quit."
“Now my best years other than as a Handler, is when I worked for the MBF. Had Tom Crowe given me a percentage of the business I would probably still be there. But it’s a family business and well, y’know, if it was different, I would probably still be there because I loved that. I wrote all the judging programs and of course I knew how to write ‘em and you know BJ, you really have to know about dog shows to know how to write a judging program. Schedule is important. You need to know what breeds to put in what ring, best times, this and that, you know… I loved Tom Crowe and his wife Lois and I liked the people I worked with, well except maybe for one of the daughters. It was a good experience. I worked there almost five years and really enjoyed it.”
What do you like most about the sport? “I just like the one-on-one competitive nature of it. Like baseball or football, and golf. Y’know, I think showing dogs is an awful lot like golf. You can’t blame what you do or don’t do on your partner. You did it yourself and I think that’s what it is all about. The same thing is true about baseball which is the only other thing I ever did in my life. So you can’t blame your teammates, if a guy makes an error so what, everybody makes errors. And the same thing is true at dog shows.
I must tell you, there is one small note to this interview, I have been blessed with some of the best assistants the world has ever seen. I could never have made it without them" (long pause) "Handlers are no better than their number one assistant. There’s a lot of truth in that.”
Look at some of the best judges now and who they apprenticed under... the system is sure different now and they really haven’t had the experience. “Most, not all, but most of our young handlers coming up do not have the background that they need to have. I can’t begin to tell you BJ, how many people, young and old, have come running to my truck and say ‘my dog’s sick, what do I do?’ And I’ve got a drug box that most pharmacists would be glad to have. So that’s what we learned when we were little guys. That’s what we learned. Look at Tom Gately and Mr. Hardy and of course, Mrs. Gately - they taught me ‘this is what you do Bobby.’
I’ll never forget Mr. Gately saying ‘this is a quick fix, we’ll get this dog to the vet on Monday" (emphasis on “quick fix” and “to the VET”) "And I had someone tell me, ‘well she’s got a vaginal infection but I didn’t have time to get her to the vet’ I said, ‘Honey, that just tells me what kind of handler you are…’ You didn’t have time to get them to the vet? She didn’t even know what to give her. I gave her stuff to give her, she went fourth in a class of four on Saturday and she won the breed from the classes on Sunday. So it bothers me, see?
They wanted me to get involved with this new assistant handler’s program. I said ‘no, I won’t, I won’t do it -- because we don’t have anything to offer them today.’ We do not have a license waiting for them …and I said, ‘No I don’t want to be a part of it, I’m sorry, I’m getting ready to quit anyhow.…’ I said ‘you gotta offer these youngsters more than $100 per week and slave labor. Which is what it is. You really do, you have to offer them a real education.”
Tell me about this little Pom you're showing, I fell in love with her in Tennessee and only a few months later she’s the number one Pom. “Well you do have an eye then. She’s got twelve Best In Shows this year, she got three last year, that gives her fifteen. She’s the greatest winning bitch of all time. She’s bred by a woman named Sharon Hanson in Beckley, WV and Katy and Charlie own her. She’s a wonderful Pom - she’s so correct and she can walk. That’s not something that Pom judges are accustomed to. She can really walk at both ends and she’s a wonderful bitch. I mean, if she could cook I’d marry her. That’s what I think of her. Ed Bivin said to me ‘I’ve been messing with this breed fifty-five years and she’s the best I’ve ever saw.”
That’s high praise from someone who knows eh? ”From him, that is Eddie, it is, and of course you know that’s his breed. Well she is a great bitch.
“Katy and Charlie are just absolutely wonderful people so she’s been a great wind-down for me. I’m probably going to retire in March after the Pom Nationals. I’m not sure of that, we’ll wait to see what the AKC does about licensing. Y’know, I never really cared to judge but I know I’ll miss seeing all my many friends. (chuckling) I missed that when I retired the first time.
Is it going to be any better? No, so I thought I might judge, just do that. But I will not take thirteen breeds, I’m sorry. Would thirteen breeds help me??? I doubt it. So they either change it to where a select person gets a group at a time or else I’ll just show my Poms and my Pugs and just putz around. You know, both the Pug and the Pom client are the best people coming up. I won the Group with my nine-month old, well wait, he ain’t even nine months old yet!! I won the Toy Group last Saturday with my little less-than-nine-month old pug. It’s still fun for me and I love the people.
I like my friends, as a matter of fact I adore my friends, but I don’t pay attention to - you know, the rest of them. I don’t even know them and even if I do, I don’t remember their name. I just go on and do my thing…. and don’t worry about it.”
Bobby, we've been talking off the record part of the time but if you don’t care, I’ll share that with our users. It really is the best way to approach the sport. Be loyal to your clients, appreciate your friends, and don’t be bothered by “them.” “Just don’t even know their name! There are first-class people out there, like Isabelle Robson, and Bob Houslander, and Mrs. Jessie Sasenalla who owns my Pug. She lived in Chicago most of her life then two or three years ago she and her husband moved down this way. And she’s one of the best breeders in America. Last week I won Winners Dog and Winners Bitch and Best Of Breed and they were all litter brothers and sisters. So she’s doing something right. So those are the kind of people you appreciate. The rest of them? You just say hello and keep on walking.”
How do you manage to spot these dogs, like that Bassett Hound puppy you “stole." “Well, as far as I’m concerned and some people would take exception to this, but I think the biggest thing that people overlook in dogs is the character of the dog. Give me temperament over EVERYTHING, because I can hide all those faults if that dog or bitch has the right temperament. And you ought to see this little specials dog. If he isn’t the most vibrant little dog you have ever seen, no he’s a butt-hole at home, Jessie said, (laughing hard!) ‘he’s coming over to live with you! I said “Hell no he isn’t, I don’t want him!” But on the road he’s the most model, wonderful little dog you have ever seen in your life. He don’t never do nothing wrong.
As Frank Sabella said, “Bobby do you think he shows?” (grinning, pretended sarcasm) I said, ‘No Frank he’s got a few more lessons.’ He said, “If he gets any smarter he’s going to be smarter than you.” I said, “You’re right!” His brother and sister, who we don’t own (meaning his client) but they belong to a friend of ours, and when they stay with us, they’re the same way. And I’ll tell you something, this is the funniest thing in the world, their mother was a pet. I had to call on all my girlfriends to get her finished. That’s how ugly she is. But she has a wonderful pedigree, her father has a fabulous pedigree. Her father’s side is Best In Show dogs that Jessie owned and behind him, he had all that you would ever need and the bitch had a wonderful pedigree behind her and so it skipped a generation. We’ll finish five out of the litter of seven.”
Bobby, what (other than baseball and dog shows) is your favorite pastime? “Golf. My really favorite pastime of all is spending time with friends of mine. I mean, George Ward, who is not well right now, he’s one of the best person’s you could interview. He’s 86 years old and one of a kind. I tried to call him today. George would fall into the category with Melbourne and Lang. He helped me immensely and people consider George a terrier handler but he used to show Springer’s and Dachshund’s, hell, he used to be in all breeds. He knows about dogs. It’s a shame he never would judge. He would have been a good one.”
What would you say to a young person that’s hoping to have a career as a handler today? ”Oh Lord, I think the biggest thing is, you gotta have a God given talent. That’s the biggest thing I can think of. Cause y’know, I’ve seen people, I have a girl that works for me off and on - she works for Robin Novack right now - and she’s really a very, very talented handler because of what the good Lord gave her. She hasn’t had all the training that she needs but she is a flat good handler. Her name is Meagan Ulfers. She’s a wonderful young lady, one one of the best Boxer handler’s I have ever seen. She’s only nineteen or twenty years old.
”It’s all in the God-given talents. I bought my wife a horse one time, a trail horse, biggest sonofagun you ever saw. I could go out in the pasture and call him and he’d come right to me. My wife could go out and call to him and he’d go the other way. Now once she got on his back he was fine and he was a great horse for her. But there’s just a way to do things and some people just know it. I don’t tell anybody that I know how to do everything but what I don’t know, I can ad lib it and most of the time it works out. Most of the time….”
Mr. Barlow, you’ve had an incredible career. I guess you have a whole lot of that natural talent but I know you also worked hard at it and loved every minute. We hope to see you judging because the sport will be the better for it. Thank you for giving us this very candid, completely refreshing interview. It was and still is “the good old days” eh?
“You can say that again. It’s a wonderful thing that we do and it has been good to me.”
Footnote: Bobby passed away from cancer only two years later, in spring of 2004. He was cared for by a former client and Bill and I called him weekly. TheDogPress featured many moving tributes to him. Bobby Barlow will be remembered as an icon of professionalism for decades to come.
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