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Nouvelle Society Redefines the Cavalier Attitude

February 18, 1988|KEVIN ALLMAN | Allman is a Santa Monica-based free-lance writer. and

Frank Sinatra just got one. Bill and Pat Buckley have had them for years. Emma Samms cuddles one in the credit sequence of "Dynasty." And Americans see Nancy Reagan's every time the First Lady gets off her helicopter.

They are Cavalier King Charles spaniels--"Cavaliers" for short. The breed of playful, big-eyed dogs is undergoing a renaissance in the United States. On the East Coast, they have become the new favorites of nouvelle society, part of the return to a world of L.L. Bean fashions and George Stubbs paintings, and the popularity of the breed has spread to Southern California.

Last Saturday, fanciers of Cavaliers from as far away as Canada and the United Kingdom gathered at the Ramada Inn in Burbank for the fourth annual Spring Championship Show of Cavaliers of the West, organized by Steven and Anne Shapiro of Studio City.

Anne is outgoing president of the group, and Steven served was show steward. Cavaliers of the West is one of the four regional clubs that constitute the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, USA (CKCSC-USA), the official organization for Cavalier fanciers.

It was a chance for Cavalier owners and prospective owners to meet breeders from around the country. Moreover, it was a chance for Cavaliers to meet each other. At times, the hotel resembled a scene from "101 Dalmatians," with identical dogs bounding up to greet each other with the eagerness and cheer characteristic of the breed.

Larry Sherwood and Susan Davis of Irvine drove up for the weekend with Reggie, their Blenheim Cavalier, whose chestnut-on-white markings and limpid eyes made him look like a puppy in a black-velvet Walter Keane painting. Whereas most of the other dogs in attendance were there to strut their stuff in obedience and conformance competitions, Reggie was just there for fun.

"They've had an awesome amount of love bred into them," said Sherwood, as Reggie proved the point by thrusting himself into a stranger's arms. Sherwood and Davis adopted Reggie after seeing several Cavaliers on a trip to Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive. "It's too bad that some people are buying them because of status. A dog isn't a status symbol," added Sherwood.

In a roped-off ring, judge Betty Regan was putting Kilman Oreo, a tricolored Cavalier owned by Sheila Siegel and her son Ian, through his paces. Oreo sat, stayed, heeled, and performed a figure-eight with ease, undaunted by a low-flying plane that rattled the nerves of some of the owners. When it was all over, Oreo picked up the highest score for a tricolor in the Novice A category, 187 points out of a possible 200.

Wingaway's Sparks-a-Flyin', the next entrant, was unfazed by the rope barrier at the show ring. When his handler turned at the ring's edge, Sparky continued in a straight line over to meet Kilman Oreo. The crowd groaned softly.

"You really never know what they'll do in the ring," said Dale Martin, who had driven down from Oakland for the weekend with Martell's Enchantress, a 10-month-old Blenheim. Martell's Enchantress, the daughter of Rocky Raccoon of Wyndcrest and La Pigeonnaire Petula, seemed like a rather tiny creature to carry such a huge name, but she also answered to Circe.

It was Martin's first show and Circe's second; she ended up taking second place in the senior puppy bitch category. Martin received a small silver cup from the judge, and Circe won a squeak toy that preoccupied her until the excitement eventually became too much and she took a nap in a nearby hotel room.

"I bought her primarily as a pet, but the woman who sold her told me she had show potential," said Martin. Circe, her work done, happily got into a tangle of leashes with several other dogs. "They're friendly with other dogs, but they really go crazy when they meet another Cavalier," he said. "And they have a very outgoing temperament."

The Ideal Pet

The CKCSC-USA's description of the ideal Cavalier states: "It is the typical gay temperament, combined with true elegance and 'royal' appearance, which are of paramount importance in the breed." Those indefinable traits that also add up to general cuddliness seem to be important as well, judging from the number of children who carried Cavaliers around the hotel as if they were live teddy bears.

Cavaliers were popular in England in the 16th Century during the Tudor reign, but it was under the Stuarts in the 17th Century that they received their royal appellation; King Charles II, history records, was obsessed with his Cavaliers.

By the 1920s, the characteristic appearance of Cavaliers had been lost by indiscriminate breeding, but Roswell Eldridge, an American, began to revive the old breed. The CKCSC was formed in Britain in 1928, and, by 1958, an American branch had been organized in Kentucky.

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