When it comes to dogs, Ken Murray of Island Lake has a good eye. Among the best, actually.
The owner of Dominoe Pet Resort in Island Lake, along with his wife, Virginia, Murray once again has been picked as a judge for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City. It’ll be his third trip as judge to the show – known among dog handlers as The Show.
“Westminster is the most prestigious dog show in the country,” he said. “It’s considered a real honor to be asked to judge there.”
Since retiring from showing dogs – actually winning the sporting group with his Gordon Setter at Westminster in 1997, 1998 and 1999 – in 2005, he has judged professionally throughout the world. He typically judges two to three times a month at different shows.
He previously judged at Westminster in 2015 and 2012.
On Feb. 12 and 13, he’ll return to officiate over the preliminary rounds of Junior Showmanship to determine the eight Junior Showmanship finalists. He’ll be judging the American foxhounds, black and tan coonhounds, bluetick coonhounds, English foxhounds, Norwegian elkhounds, plotts, redbone coonhounds and treeing walker coonhounds on Feb. 12. On Feb. 13, he’ll judge the cane corsos, Chinooks, Dogues de Bordeaux, German pinschers, Greater Swiss mountain dogs, Komondorok, Kuvaszok, Leonbergers and standard schnauzers.
All Best of Breed winners he selects will go on to compete in the Hound Group finals.
The last time he judged at Westminster, he handled the sporting group.
“I’ve never been asked to do the Best of Show there,” he said. “Hopefully, in the future I will some time.”
He’s ready to take on the latest challenge, having studied every breed.
“When you’ve been around as long as I have, I’ve seen every great big winning dog of so many breeds,” he said. “When I’m at a show, I know what a fantastic Labrador Retriever should look like. Someone around for a short time might never have seen a great one and might be fooled into thinking a mediocre one is a great one.”
Murray showed his first dog in 1959 at the Texas Kennel Club, having grown up in Dallas. He was around 11 or 12 years old at the time and fell in love with Irish setters. He bought one for $50, entered her and won.
At age 20, he was offered a job working for legendary handlers Dick and Ruth Cooper in Barrington Hills. He quit his senior year of college, took the job, moved to this area and never looked back. And, no, he never did finish college – “much to my mother’s dismay.”
He’s seen interest in dog shows vary throughout the years with the economy, but said he believes it’s on an upswing. His wife Virginia continues to show dogs, actually winning in her breed category, Portuguese water dogs at Westminster this year. She’s not entered in the upcoming show.
Although he’s been judging and attending dog shows for years, Murray’s passion for it remains. There’s not much more he can say about being chosen to go to Westminster, other than, “It’s an honor.”