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Acadiana Lifestyle

Queen Sugar Reigns

12/12/2017 09:42AM ● By Robert Frey

Queen Sugar Reigns Over Dog Show Arena

By Suzanne Ferrara

Little did New Iberia’s Queen Sugar XXV know she would one day make a name for herself in the ever-challenging and unique sport of show dogs. Mary Kendall Mhoon Maginnis, mother of four successful grown children, and a proud grandmother, is an accomplished show dog breeder. Maginnis’s journey in the show dog arena began after one fateful day back in the spring of 2000 when, while taking a walk, she encountered a couple with a small dog on a leash.

“I had to stop them, because I was so enchanted by it,” says Maginnis.  The dog was a Papillon and according to Maginnis was “the cutest little creature I had ever seen. It was prancing, and it was so proud. It seemed like it was walking on tiptoes and had the most beautiful arched plumed tail, and the ears and the ear fringe were so gorgeous. I had never seen one before.” This discovery was most definitely unexpected and perhaps even ‘far-fetched’ for Maginnis, who had never owned a dog.  “We were cat people. We loved cats, and I loved Persian cats.”

Papillons are the smallest of all the spaniels, sometimes called the Continental Toy Spaniel, a member of the Toy Group, and they are called the “Butterfly Dog,” because their beautiful butterfly-like ears resemble the movements of a butterfly.  “They are absolutely captivating!” exclaims Maginnis.

Once she knew she wanted a Papillon - just like the one she had seen – she conducted a tireless search. However, much to her surprise, “They didn’t look anything like the one that I remembered seeing that day. They may have been Papillons; they might have been purebred Papillons; but they did not have the breed-type characteristics. They didn’t look like the one I had seen, and I wanted mine to exhibit all of the most desirable breed characteristics.”

Her frustrating quest ended when she attended dog shows where she discovered beautiful Papillons like the one she had seen on that unforgettable day. “I realized those were the show dogs, the ones breeders kept for themselves.” She also quickly learned how difficult it was to own what she describes as a ‘beautiful representative of this breed.’  “You can’t just go up to them and say, ‘Can I have a puppy next time you have a litter?’”

Extensive education, research, training, rules, ringside etiquette and more goes along with being an owner of one of these keen canines. “This was totally off my radar, but the more I got into it, the more I enjoyed it.”  On a human level, however, perhaps one of the biggest challenges involves forming solid relationships and proving your credibility and worthiness with cautious breeders, to the point that you can finally be trusted. “Devoted breeders are extremely conscientious and protective of their bloodlines, and justifiably cautious about the people with whom they are willing to place their dogs.”

But that didn’t deter Maginnis. In fact, it only made her want to delve deeper into the show dog world. She was vigorously up to the task, and rolled up her sleeves to learn everything she could about show dogs and the well-defined breed standards.  “I learned health concerns, different breed types,” she says.  “I learned about correct structure, movement, gait, temperament and the characteristics of different bloodlines. Overall, judges are evaluating the dog’s conformation to the AKC Breed Standard which begins with, ‘The Papillon is a small friendly elegant toy dog of fine-boned structure, light, dainty and of lively action; distinguished from other breeds by its beautiful butterfly-like ears.’  I learned the Breed Standard and began to distinguish the appearance and relative superiority of each of these defined requirements.”  

Three years of research and perseverance finally paid off.  The moment Maginnis had been waiting for came in October of 2003, and her name was ‘Coco.’  “I got her from a lovely Papillon breeder who was kind and gracious enough to allow me to come into her home and to have the pick of her litter.  I was fortunate enough to be entrusted with a beautiful example of the Papillon breed and given an opportunity to own one.”

Soon enough, the pomp and circumstance of show dog competitions (and its stringent point system) began for Coco and Maginnis. They began entering AKC events all over Louisiana.  “Coco was show quality, and she was our first champion!”  Coco earned the AKC Champion title quite quickly. “She went over and above the requirements to complete a championship.”  Unlike today, Champion was the highest title a class show dog could earn back then, whereas today, Champions can go on to become Grand Champions, then to earn still higher levels of Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum Grand Championships.

It’s not surprising to hear that other show breeders offered the use of some of their beautiful bloodlines for Coco.  “In her first two litters of four puppies each, Coco produced five AKC Conformation Champions and one Agility title holder. In her third and last litter of two puppies, Coco produced both an AKC Champion and an AKC Grand Champion. Coco, still beautiful and healthy at 14, is now a beloved pet living happily with Maginnis’s daughter and her family in Savannah, Georgia.

From Coco’s first litter, Maginnis had an opportunity to return the same favor that a show breeder had given to her.  “I knew that someone was very interested in owning one of my Papillons.   She was quite hopeful of having a show quality Papillon, and so I allowed her to have the pick of the litter, a male who went on to become a champion very, very quickly.  Someone had been kind in entrusting Coco to me, and I was returning that kindness to someone else who was in the same position I was when I wanted to get into showing Papillons.”  

Becoming an AKC Breeder of Merit is one of many high standards that has elevated Maginnis to another level among breeders.  “I chose to do all of the health testing to earn the designation as an AKC Breeder of Merit,” explains Maginnis.  Among many other requirements, it means that you voluntarily agree to screen your dogs for the health issues pertaining to your breed.  It is an expensive endeavor in which you submit the results to various medical organizations to keep archived, and health testing assures that your primary intention remains the continued improvement of the breed.” 

Today, Maginnis is still an AKC Breeder of Merit with deep commitment to improving the breed. “Coco has meant the world to me; she has provided me with the foundation and capability to preserve some of my favorite bloodlines.”  Maginnis has bred very few litters during the intervening years, each one carefully planned and researched.  Each successive litter has improved breed characteristics and produced Champions and Grand Champions, some of whom also earned and maintained national rankings.  Being so extremely selective has proved to be a wise decision.

“My most famous Papillon, however, is Kiki, who was bred almost five years ago.  She has led us on an amazing and incredible adventure of nationwide achievements and awards!” exclaims Maginnis.  Kiki’s formal AKC title indicates some of her remarkable accomplishments.

“Kiki has surpassed our wildest imaginations, winning All-Breed Multiple Best in Show titles, Multiple Best in Show Specialty titles, the Papillon Club of America National Championship from an international entry of almost 400 Papillons, and eight All-Breed Reserve Best in Show wins, sometimes from an entry of over 1500 dogs,” states Maginnis.  “Kiki has also likely set several new records of achievement in the history of the Papillon Club of America.”

Perhaps the one accomplishment of which Maginnis is most proud is Kiki’s receiving the coveted People’s Choice Award, an honor bestowed by other breeders from both America and abroad, voting for their favorite Papillon of the year.  “Being so honored by my peers is the best validation that my tiny breeding program produces outstanding Papillons whose breed type is recognized and appreciated.”

Kiki was ranked by the AKC in the Top 10 of the entire Toy Group as well as the #1 Papillon Bitch for 2015 and 2016, thereby earning the prestigious Papillon Club of America Silver Butterfly Award for two consecutive years.  Kiki is currently still ranked as America’s #1 Papillon Bitch for 2017.  She was invited to participate in the Westminster Kennel Club and was also qualified to participate in the famous Crufts show in England.

In New York City at Westminster 2016 Kiki was named Select Bitch, and again at Westminster 2017 she was named Best Opposite Sex. Winning Best of Breed at Westminster is one goal that Maginnis has yet to achieve.  

Maginnis reflects, “Owning and showing my Papillons for the past 14 years has brought such a sense of joy, challenge, accomplishment, and most of all, new friendships with people from all over the world.” Such sentiments might equally apply to Mary Kendall Maginnis’s reign as Queen Sugar XXV, over 50 years ago.

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