Homer City woman's prize-winning Treeing Walker Coonhound paves way for its breed
Those who watched the National Dog Show on television Thanksgiving Day may have heard a familiar name — Amanda Alexander, of Homer City.
Alexander owns Alexander Hounds, her show dog kennel, and Man's Best Friend, a grooming and public kennel, both located in Homer City.
Alexander shows all six breeds of coonhounds in competitive events and, through 15 years of experience, has graduated to most of the major dog shows in the United States.
This month, she and her 7 1⁄2-year-old Treeing Walker Coonhound — GCH Ch Alexander's Gold Rush Xcetera, or “Xcetera” for short — took to the ring at the National Dog Show, held Nov. 17 in Philadelphia but broadcast on Thanksgiving Day.
Xcetera was deemed best of his breed just as the breed debuted at the national show. The Treeing Walker was the last of the coonhound breeds to be recognized by the American Kennel Club, a distinction earned this year.
Rising to the top of his breed advanced Xcetera to the show's next level, the hound group, and earned him a spot in the televised portion of the event.
Xcetera made the cut in the group, meaning he was included in the small group of dogs narrowed down by the judge, who then goes over each of the selected dogs again before choosing the top dog in the group. An American fox hound ended up taking the group, but Alexander was extremely pleased with the outcome.
“For the first year being accepted, that's pretty good that the judge liked him enough to want to see him again,” she said.
Taking the top prize of the day, Best in Show, at the National Dog Show was a wire fox terrier.
This year was a big year for Alexander's Treeing Walkers, with Xcetera being named the number one example of the breed by the American Kennel Club as well as the first champion and grand champion in the breed, a title based on how many points he earns in the show ring and how many other dogs of the same breed he competes against.
Of Alexander's Treeing Walkers, Xcetera has won the most acclaim. He is a silver grand champion, with wins over almost 300 other members of his breed in the show ring.
In October, he won the hound group at the Fort Steuben Kennel Association show in Altoona and went on to capture the reserved Best in Show title, becoming the first Treeing Walker Coonhound in the show to ever accomplish that honor. He has a total of seven hound group wins under his belt.
During the same month, a son of Xcetera — 9-month-old Ch Gold Rush Express, otherwise known as “Express” — also earned champion honors for Alexander.
Through Alexander Hounds, all six breeds of coonhounds are shown in the ring — black and tan, bluetick, American English, Plott, redbone and Treeing Walker.
In the ring, judges look for different things in each of those six breeds, based on the written breed standard.
“They're judging breeding stock,” Alexander noted. “They choose the dog that most closely resembles that breed standard.”
This was at least the fourth time Alexander has shown at the National Dog Show. And she has several more major shows coming up. In December, she will take three Treeing Walkers, a bluetick, an American English, a Plott, and her only non-coonhound, a Staffordshire terrier, to Florida for the Eukanuba Nationals.
She'll likely take the same group of dogs to the prestigious Westminster Dog Club show in February in New York City, a show she has competed in for the last seven years.
The Westminster show has always proven to be successful for Alexander, with her Plott winning the breed every year she's competed. In the 2012 show, it was the first year the American English coonhound was accepted, and Alexander's won the breed. She also took the breed in 2011 for the bluetick.
Like the national show, the 2013 Westminster show will mark the first time a Treeing Walker will be seen in the competitive ring.
Alexander was instrumental in helping bluetick, American English, Plott and Treeing Walker Coonhounds receive AKC recognition through her involvement with several parent clubs for the breeds.
“To me, it's something I've dreamed of, to be able to show all of my coonhounds on the green carpet” at dog shows, Alexander said. “It's what a show person lives for, to compete in the major shows.”
She and her coonhounds have earned several other “firsts,” including the first Plott to win a Best in Show and the first American English Best in Show — honors that have not been equaled by any other of her coonhouds.
Alexander has owned the number one Plott in the AKC for the past six years, as well as the number one American English for the past two years, since the breed was accepted into the AKC in July 2011. This year, she holds rankings for the number one Treeing Walker and number two bluetick in the AKC.
Alexander credits her father, Robert Alexander, for instilling in her a love for the coonhound breeds of hunting dog.
Robert Alexander was a coonhound hunter for over 30 years when his two best coonhounds passed away, causing him to give up the breed.
“He was pretty upset,” Amanda Alexander recalled. “He never thought he would find dogs as good as those ones.”
More than 20 years later, when Alexander opened Man's Best Friend, Robert Alexander expressed his desire to find something the entire family could continue to do together. It wasn't until then that they began coonhunting once again.
“I really enjoyed it,” Amanda Alexander said of the sport.
Hunting led to her attending a few dog shows, and her interest was immediately sparked.
Alexander, an avid detractor of puppy mills, said Alexander Hounds is not a place to purchase a coonhound.
“We raise the dogs, but we don't breed to sell, so when we have a litter, we keep them,” Alexander said, noting that they have maybe one litter every two years. “I have a ton of dogs because we breed them and keep them.”
And though they keep all the dogs they breed, not all of them are competitive in the ring. “It's really important to have good quality dogs,” she said. “We'd rather wait until we have a spectacular male and a great female. Once they're born, it takes a lot of time to really study their bloodlines.”
It's been 15 years since Alexander competed in her first show, and she has a trophy room to prove her success in the ring. “It's what I do pretty much every weekend,” she said. “I'm only home maybe five weekends a year. We live the shows.”
Right now, travel between the show circuits has her and her boyfriend, Curt Willis, jetting from Massachusetts to Florida, Missouri to Oklahoma and everywhere in between.
Alexander chalks up her success to her ability to dedicate the majority of her time to her dogs.. “This pretty much is my whole life,” she said. “I have my business and the dogs. It's everything I do; it's non-stop. I don't think you can be successful unless you devote everything you have to them. We eat, sleep and breathe dogs.
“We absolutely love them. I couldn't imagine life without coonhounds.”
Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100 ext. 2915 or firstname.lastname@example.org.