Rattlebridge Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

By Sue LeMieux November 1, 2001

Dogs have always been a part of the life of Meredith Johnson-Snyder, Best In Show judge and breeder of the Rattlebridge Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. She speaks fondly of an early favorite. "I remember my grandmother's old dog, Ginger, and how attached I became at such an early age. I was four when Ginger died and I was inconsolable, as she was my special friend in a very dysfunctional household." Since that time, Meredith's love of dogs has never diminished. She admits, "I seem to have a physical and emotional need to be close to dogs - a need that has never slackened. Hence the Briard and six Cavaliers in bed with us every night. Thank God, I married an understanding man!"

Although Meredith's mother was not a dog lover, her father appeared to be. "My father, a traveling salesman, used to bring home dogs that he would find at dog shelters or loose on the road. My mother was never a dog person and would routinely send my beloved dogs to the pound as soon as my father left town again. Since my father was a compulsive gambler with a love for Irish whiskey and fast horses, we lived rather a gypsy life with dogs, horses, and homes being quite transient in our lives."

Cavaliers were not Meredith's first purebred dogs. Like so many others who grew up with movies and books extolling the virtues of Collies and German Shepherds, several of Meredith's first dogs were of these breeds. "I especially loved German Shepherds and Collies, both of which we had for intervals during my childhood. I read every book on dogs and horses that I could find, and could not wait to have my own horses and dogs when I grew up so that I could keep what I loved and not have them sent away."

Meredith's father died when she was only fifteen leaving five children and their mother in instant poverty. It wasn't until she graduated from college in 1966, which she attended on a full scholarship, that she was once again able to have a dog. "The first thing I did when I got my first teaching job and rented my own little house, was to call Charlotte LaRosa, whom I had known from trying to breed one of our early Shepherds to one of her stud dogs. Charlotte and I had kept in touch and she was ready to help me find a German Shepherd I could afford. At the time, I could not afford very much. Charlotte came up with Lottie of Jancur, bred by Curt and Jayne Sandberg." Lottie had started her show career successfully, but then became too spooky to be shown. "I took Lottie, loved her, put her through obedience, and watched her blossom into my first champion with Charlotte's husband, Joe, handling her. I was off and running."

Meredith was soon promoted to a principalship and was able to purchase a place in the country. Under Charlotte's guidance, Meredith established a German Shepherd kennel. "With Charlotte as my best friend and mentor, I began a small breeding program which lasted until I could no longer balance school and breeding and showing. I bred an obedience victor, a Register of Merit bitch, finished several champions, but never had the opportunity to do Shepherds the way I have been able to do Cavaliers. At the time I was doing Shepherds, bloat and torsion and entero toxemia were rampant in the breed. I lost several wonderful dogs before the age of three and it killed me. Also, when I was doing Shepherds I was getting my masters and working long days at school.

In 1980, when I received my approval to judge German Shepherds, I gave up my kennel and moved back into the city. It is strange to look back on it all now, but in 1980, I knew not one person in the all breed world, having gone only to Shepherd specialties. The Shepherd world in those days, was a kingdom unto itself. I had to work really hard to play catch up when I decided I enjoyed judging and wanted to judge other breeds."

When Meredith met and married her first and only husband, in 1984, (she met him on January 20 and married him on March 3-definitely love at first sight) and built a home in the country where she could breed dogs once again, she hoped he would join in her interest in dog shows and breeding. "I tried to entice him into the dog show world by buying him a couple of Shepherds. Nothing seemed to work out. The dogs I bought were from top kennels but had bad hips, elbows, and other problems which caused my husband to turn off from the hurt of breeding and showing Shepherd's." Never one to give up, Meredith gave Al a Labrador Retriever from the Borador Kennels for his birthday. "Ch. Borador's Bamboo was a great dog, especially at my school, where he became the resident therapy dog - mostly therapy for me, as those were the years of desegregation and times were tough in a big urban school district. "But Meredith's plan to sucker Al into the dog world had backfired again, as Boo became her dog.

Then, in 1989, Meredith and Al attended the Windsor Dog Show in England with members of the Delaware Ohio Kennel Club. This was to be a turning point in their lives. "I knew a bit about Cavaliers before we went to Windsor, but had never seen one. I still have the picture of Al going nose to nose with the first Cavalier he saw. He was instantly besotted and my little dog show brain cheered as I had finally found the breed!" They came home from England with a pet Cavalier.

Meredith began to seriously study the breed, evaluating specimens and photos with her discerning eye. But she admits that she had a very hard time, at first, understanding breed type. "I knew what was beautiful, but could not pick out all the nuances that make up breed type. Even being a group judge by this time, I struggled to grasp type and was dismayed by how long it took me to truly understand the head of a Cavalier."

Al and Meredith became involved with the "old club," the CKCSC/USA, and soon understood and accepted that the little girl they brought home was no show dog. They began to look for a dog to show. "No one, and I mean no one, would sell us a show or brood bitch. We were finally able to buy two male puppies to show from the Wyndcrest kennel in California, and we began showing at old club shows in 1991 under the affix Rattlebridge, named for a rattling bridge on Al's original farm where we first lived. Our Ch. Wyndcrest Baroque of Rattlebridge and Wyndcrest It's A Small World at Rattlebridge did fairly well as puppies, with Baroque winning a huge major from the 6-9 Puppy class. We were on our way, and then tragedy struck. My beloved German Shepherd, Ch. Hoheneichen Caisson Avalon, accidentally killed my husband's Cavalier and the Shepherd era finally ended. Caisson went to a new home and did a bit of winning as a Special, and made his mark as a stud dog. I co-owned him for part of the time, but signed off when I realized Shepherds could no longer be a part of my life."

This could change, however, as Jim and Sheree Moses are trying to get Meredith back into the fold by insisting she co-own a lovely Ch. Kismet's Sight for Sore Eyes daughter, Ch. Kaleef 's Darling, My Darling with them. Who knows what the future will hold for Meredith and German Shepherds?

Meredith and Al finally had the opportunity to purchase a Cavalier bitch. "We bought a supposed 'show bitch' from Wyndcrest. Rosie was no show bitch, but I saw good in her, bred her, and came up with a bitch called Ch. Rattlebridge Kathleen, who has just fulfilled the requirements for a ROM. Rosie also produced Rattlebridge Rose of Tralee, who then produced Ch. Rattlebridge Rosie O'Grady, AOM at the national and one title away from her ROM, and her sister, Ch. Rattlebridge Rosemarie owned by Hazel Arnold."

At this point in her career with Cavaliers, Meredith was instrumental in forming the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Clubin 1994. But doing so brought mixed blessings. "The CKCSC/USA promptly brought me up on ethics charges along with eleven other founding members of the new club. We were all suspended and later expelled when we refused to pay a whopping fine. By this time, Rattlebridge had finished four champions in the old club - no easy feat with entries of 200+ Cavaliers at old club shows under breeder judges." The AKC started registering dogs in January 1995; the ACKCSC put on matches all that year, and was granted the opportunity to do our first National in 1996.Meredith is no longer involved in clubs, preferring to stay away from politics and concentrate on breeding and showing. She is, however, very concerned that the "old club" will not let their members breed to AKC only registered dogs and will not allow AKC registered dogs to breed to old club dogs, even if they are also registered AKC. There is not a big enough gene pool to lessen it even more by the harboring of old grudges and bad feelings. The "old club" was invited to be the AKC parent club and refused; they clearly did not want AKC recognition, but nearly all of their members registered their dogs and began showing in AKC. Al owns our recently imported dogs who are registered in the "old club" as well as AKC and so, can be used by "old club" members without reprisal should they chose to do.

To backtrack a bit, in 1992, the members of the Delaware Ohio Kennel Club had taken another educational field trip, this time to Australia. Meredith met and talked to several Cavalier breeders. "Jeanie Montford of Elevenhome fame told me, 'Meredith, Cavaliers don't breed true.' Was Jeanie ever correct!!"

From Australia, Al and Meredith took a side trip to New Zealand to visit their friend, Margaret Easson, whom they had met at an old club show in the States. "Margaret introduced us to a few Kiwi breeders and then told us about an Aust. BIS, BISS champion dog that had been sold and resold and was presently living in New Zealand. I called Margret Franze of the well-known LeChevalier kennel in Australia who had bred this dog's father. Margret Franze, who has since become a dear friend, gave me the go ahead to try to buy Aust. BIS, BISS Ch. Werrington Buoyancy of Rattlebridge who become my beloved 'Bounce' and the foundation sire of Rattlebridge." Bounce returned to the United States with Meredith and Al and Meredith handled him to his old club championship. "What I lack in technique, I make up for in panache, and Bounce finished his old club championship with a Reserve BIS at the 1993 National Specialty and his Canadian championship, with the late Garrett Lambert handling, with Group 1's at age five and one half."

Bounce sired the first AKC Champion, Wye Rebound of Rattlebridge, bred by Sally Bell and owned by Rattlebridge, and has greatly influenced the Rattlebridge breeding program. "Bounce died at twelve and one half and I will never get over missing him. I still see Bounce in his grandchildren through to his great great grandchildren. Bounce seldom produced in the first generation. But he came out strongly in succeeding generations. A few of these memorable dogs are his great grandson, the late Ch. Rattlebridge Masterpiece, and his two tri great great grandsons and also Ruben's sons, Ch. Marshell Rattlebridge Renoir, a stud fee puppy from his breeder Shelly Stout, and Ch. Rattlebridge Andrew Wyeth. Renoir duplicated his father's BISS at this year's National Specialty. Andrew Wyeth is yet to be specialed. Another remarkable great grandson is the young Blenheim, Ch. Rattlebridge Code of Honor, who is about to start his Specials career."

Meredith, Al, Jim, and Sheree do a fair amount of breeding at Rattlebridge. "I have always admired the old breeding and show kennels which were able to create their own look. This takes keeping multiple dogs. I don't think many people today can keep enough dogs to breed a recognizable line. I love breeding Cavaliers, evaluating litters, being smothered by a dozen friendly canines climbing on my head, and showing beautiful dogs. Through my husband's love for the breed and tolerance of my obsessive nature, we bought a small farm when I retired after thirty-three years in the school system. We have built a facility connected to our house that is ideal for Cavaliers. They live in a community setting and have acres of lawn on which to exercise. I feel blessed that Jim and Sheree Moses have become as smitten with this breed as my husband and I and have joined us in our Rattlebridge breeding program. We have just finished our fifty-fifthRattlebridge champion, and most of these have been home bred."

Meredith is called on often, not only to judge Cavaliers in other countries (she will not judge them in the States at this time due to specialing dogs), but also to present breed seminars and write articles about Cavalier breed type. In spite of her early difficulty in assessing breed type, Meredith now has her ideal firmly fixed in her mind. "I stress three points of breed type: 1) the all important sweet, affectionate, never sharp or shy, gay and fearless temperament, 2) the well cushioned, plush head with a melting expression in its sweet face, and 3) the outline of body both standing and moving. This breed is a glamorous, elegant, yet sturdy toy spaniel capable of accompanying his owner on cross-country walks."

Rattlebridge carries on a very controlled, carefully planned breeding program. Meredith describes what she breeds for in the following description. "The soul of a Cavalier radiates from its liquid, warm brown eyes. Its mushy muzzle and head should be framed by long silky ears. We breed for the essentials of breed type, good bone, plush heads, lovely eyes, good tail sets and carriage, and well structured bodies which are sound and capable of good movement. I hate anything that ruins the silhouette of a dog in any breed. We have had great success line breeding and occasionally inbreeding. We carefully watch all health factors when we breed."

If Rattlebridge does go outside their line, they usually breed phenotype to phenotype. But most of the breeding done by Meredith and Al is kept within their own line. "We have bred to very few dogs off our property since our breedings to Ch. Ravenrush Tartan and his son Ch. Ravenrush Gillespie, both bred and owned by John Gammon and Robert Schroll. Through the influence of the Ravenrush dogs with the addition of a little Bounce, we have truly locked in both genotype and phenotype, as our puppies tend to have the same look."

Rattlebridge can truly be termed an International Kennel. Meredith imports some dogs she feels will work with the Rattlebridge breeding program and also sends Rattlebridge Cavaliers overseas. "Wendy Hilberts Goodman, of Royal Companion, and I began working together several years ago when I brought one of her girls over, Int. Ch. Royal Companion Katinka, who was shown to her AKC championship, was bred and whelped a litter here, and then returned to Wendy. Wendy and I are the best of friends and see dogs in the same way, so it is easy to visualize when we describe dogs to each other. I sent Am. Ch. Rattlebridge Jacob to Holland, where he became an international champion and has had quite an influence on the breed, especially in the second and third generations. I later sent Ch. Rattlebridge Master Blend, Masterpiece's litter brother to Wendy. He did some nice producing in Holland as well as in the States. While in Holland this past summer, I picked out a little Jacob granddaughter who is just smashing. Int. and AKC Ch. Royal Companion Tri Sensation came from Wendy to stay for a year and now will stay forever, as I love him dearly. Tri Sensation produces only tris and black and tans and has given us our first potential black and tan champion. We just imported a wonderful ruby boy from Holland who will enhance our wholecolor breeding program, which was already influenced by Royal Companion Pure Gold, another ruby from Wendy, who produced our ruby girl, Ch. Rattlebridge Dutch Treat out of a ruby bitch I bought from Cindy Lazzeroni. I am also working with Dieter Heymann of Immenhof Cavaliers in Germany who now has Rattlebridge Roses Are Red and is going to send me something special in return."

When asked to mention several Cavaliers that she especially admired, Meredith named quite a few who had struck her fancy for one reason or another. "I have admired many Cavaliers over the years, but have been influenced by a few very special dogs who have helped to continue to train my eye to type, even though they may differ in style. I much admire Ch. Annatika Andreas and was overwhelmed by the condolences of his owners, Dale Martin and Kim Murphy, when Rubens died. I was truly happy for Dale and Kim when Andreas broke Rubens' record and was touched by the graciousness in their ads which paid tribute to my boy. I admire several of Dieter Heymann's dogs, especially the Royal Companion Tri Sensation son, Ch. Immenhof Klassiker. I am in love with the young Ch. Royal Companion Tri Romancing, another Tri Sensation son and the stunning Ch. Royal Companion Valedictorian, a Rattlebridge Jacob grandson. I haven't been to England in three years, but am going to the club show and Crufts in March of this year to cheer on Wendy Hilberts Goodman as she shows her Dutch dogs. I have admired many dogs in England, especially the great brothers, Ch. Lymrey Reflection and Scandal of Ricksbury and their mother, Ch. Lymrey Top of the Pops, all bred by Sylvia Lymer and show by her partners, Kevan Berry and Brian Rix. I think that several of the Maibee and Rytonian dogs of Shealagh Waters and Bill Moffat are top drawer, especially their Ch. Maibee A Cameo. I have loved the Salador dogs of Sheila Smith, particularly Ch. Salador Cegovia. Eng. Ch. Loranka Dream Lover, who went to Australia to become a top-winning dog there, was a particular favorite of mine. He won the Canberra Specialty when I judged it several years ago. Jeanie Montford's Elevenhome dogs have always pleased my eye when I have seen them in Australia and here. When judging Cavaliers in Australia this August, I was quite taken with my breed winner, Ch. Cavashon Water Color, a Ch. Alberto of Kindrum grandson. Alberto was one of the all time greats whom I had the good fortune to see win the breed at Windsor in 1989. He died this year at age sixteen, but will influence the breed for years to come. In this country, I adored Gammon and Schroll's Ch. Ravenrush Gillespie, the sire of nine of our champions. Gillespie had a "more than" quality and presented a glorious silhouette as he gaited around the ring. Two of her favorite American bred bitches were the Eubanks' Ch. Pinecrest Kiss Me Kate and Jones' Ch. Rutherford Vivian, who, along with her half brother, Carvill's Ch. B.J. Holy Terror, dominated the old club several years ago. All of these dogs excelled in breed type."

Over and over again, you will hear Meredith express one of her strongest beliefs when discussing the selection of breeding stock. This belief is that a great brood bitch or stud dog has to have a "more than" quality - an extreme of breed type to pass on to their progeny. "I love plush bitches (having turned into one myself), with lots of bone and excellent construction, generous heads with wonderful big round eyes, and flowing body lines. I will always keep what I think will become good brood bitches with lushness of head and construction even with a minor fault or two. Cosmetics are so important in this breed in the show ring. A smudge on the face, too wide or narrow a blaze, asymmetrical blaze, too heavily marked or too lightly marked, too many freckles on the face or too much ticking in the coat can all influence general appearance and expression. I put head shape, eyes, and construction ahead of cosmetics. Look for the essence of breed time and forgive minor faults in favor of breed type. Movement is important since this is a sturdy spaniel who should be able to go cross country-- good legs are important, but not if all you have at the end of the day is a generic dog with great movement and no breed type. One of the problems we are having in the show ring right now is that some judges simply do not seem to understand breed type in the Cavalier, but then they do not always see good dogs. Ugly Cavaliers are finishing championships. So many people have jumped into this breed without understanding breed type and are showing dogs lacking in the essentials of type. Sometimes so many bad dogs come in the ring, that when a good one is shown, it looks wrong. A friend of ours who has a young girl from us with a lovely head and outline is having a hard time finishing her bitch because there are so many untypical Cavaliers being shown in her area that when her girl walks in the ring, she looks wrong compared to the others. Cavaliers should be pretty!!!!!!!!! We are committed to showing good dogs because if exhibitors, breeders, and judges do not see good dogs, mediocrity becomes the norm."

Rubens' mother, Am. Can. Ch. Rattlebridge Make Believe, ROM, is absolutely luscious, with a gorgeous head, great body, and wonderful soundness and movement. She has dense bone, lovely coat, and good angles front and rear. She is not a small bitch, neither is she too big, she is just 'more than' - a quality not easy to explain. Our Rubens was a 'more than' dog, seventeen pounds, but with great bone, angles, and a head to die for. In only a few litters, he produced several beautiful champions and grand kids who also possess 'the look'. Because he was on the road so much being campaigned, I only bred to him a few times, but look forward to using his frozen semen on a couple of special girls. He is buried next to Bounce by the front door and will live in my heart forever."

Rattlebridge started breeding on dog lines, with Bounce as the catalyst. He was soon joined by Ch. Redthea Daniel of Rattlebridge, bred and co-owned by Jane and Anne Thaeder. He was one of Meredith and Al's early old club, AKC, and group dogs. "Daniel was by CKCSC/USA Ch. Rutherford Elliot of Shagbark, who was half brother to Ch. Ravenrush Tartan, Make Believe's sire, and produced girls for us that bred on. We have a lovely young dog, Ch. Rattlebridge Alexander, by Daniel out of our Rosie O'Grady who may prove useful in our breeding program. We started off with dogs because no one would sell us a really topnotch bitch. Sylvia Lymer of Lymrey sold us a couple of nice girls, but they did not work out as breeding stock. Lymrey Tea Rose, however, became Al's favorite girl and is the light of his life. Peter Watkins, of Bembridge in England, was kind enough to sell us Bembridge Rejoice of Rattlebridge, a five year old girl who had produced an English champion and top producing English bitch, Bembridge Smooth and Sharp. When bred to Bounce, Rejoice produced Rattlebridge Radiance, who needed improvement in eyes and cosmetics, but who had a gorgeous body and that 'more than' quality. Radiance was bred to Ch. Ravenrush Tartan producing Ch. Rattlebridge Make Up and Ch. Rattlebridge Make Believe, ROM who then produced Multiple BIS and BISS Ch. Rattlebridge Masterpiece and his eight champion siblings by Jeanie's half brother, Ch. Ravenrush Gillespie. Jeanie has produced two other daughters by Ch. Peakdown's George and Ch. Rattlebridge Code of Honor who look just like Jeanie and hopefully will produce the same way. All the Jeanie daughters have that 'more than' quality and all have really 'clicked' when bred to our young import, Ch. Peakdown's George. We have been successful in importing two dogs that have been great out-crosses for the Rattlebridge girls, the previously mentioned Ch. Royal Companion Tri Sensation and Ch. Peakdown's George, bred by Brenda Turnbull in England. Both of these boys have given us really lovely Cavaliers that can then go back to the Rattlebridge dogs. I am constantly aware of the many hidden recessives in this breed and am often surprised in litters by things never before encountered. As Jeanie Montford said, 'They don't breed true'. Jim Moses constantly shakes his head at the stages our Cavaliers go through and often remarks how he has never seen a breed change as much as this one can. We now have much more predictability in our lines, but we are occasionally thrown a curve ball that disrupts our plans. We once bred a really great producing bitch to a really great producing dog with a pedigree totally complimenting hers. On paper and in phenotype, it should have been the breeding of the century, but it was positively the worst litter we had ever bred. So much for best laid plans . . ."

When asked about how she decides which puppies to keep and which to sell, Meredith, in her ever-humorous way, had this to say. "Sheree and Jim Moses tease me about the grip I have on our dogs. Sheree says that when she pries one of my hands off a puppy, I only grab it with the other hand. I do tend to keep bitches and dogs that I think will do well in our breeding program. Through Sheree and Jim's encouragement, I am beginning to let go of dogs to help other's breeding programs or showing goals. But I still want to keep some control. I panic at the number of new people, with no Cavalier experience and no homework done on the breed, who are jumping into breeding programs without looking at bloodlines, great dogs of the past, breed history, and sadly, the Standard and breed type. I know how hard it was for me to learn breed type, but I studied, attended old club and English specialties, and learned pedigrees. I have to know a person pretty well before we sell a show or breeding prospect.

I am honored to work with several really great friends who have shared dogs with us: Hazel Arnold of Red Oak, Roxy Hayes of Roxians, Anne and Jane Thaeder of Redthea, Darlene Petralia of Greystone, Lu Dunham and Helen Jesse of O'Skot, Shelly Stout of Marshelle, and as mentioned before, Wendy Hilberts Goodman of Royal Companion and Dieter Heymann of Immenhoff. We sell quite a few potential champions into pet homes on neuter agreements and limited registrations. Cavaliers are a hot puppy mill commodity right now, with dogs not only coming from puppy mills in the States, but from other countries as well. There are several new registries cropping up to bypass AKC field inspections and registration procedures. We would prefer to sell puppies into pet homes than chance them ever winding up in unsuitable situations. I also hate to feel the responsibility, call it my ever present Catholic guilt, that goes with selling a show potential puppy that may ultimately not turn out. Cavaliers change so much that it is unbelievable. Heads and bites can change up to three years. Heads can go into Beagle-like stages or English Toy stages, only to come back just as the breeder is ready to throw in the towel. I tend to run on some puppies just because I cannot believe that they will remain as they are. I have had the experience of keeping a puppy with a head like that of a Platypus and with such squinty eyes that I kept him out of disbelief. He had lovely construction and movement, even though his movement was hampered by the brown paper bag I kept over his head. Today, that puppy is a champion with a lovely head and big, round gorgeous eyes. He is waiting his turn to come out as a Special. Our Ch. Rosie O'Grady, at seven months, was so straight behind and front that she looked like a terrier. She is now one of the most beautifully angulated Cavaliers that we own. Breeding Cavaliers is not for the faint of heart and keeps one very humble."

With all of the attention, love, and caring that goes on at Rattlebridge, one can well imagine what special care mothers and babies are given. Meredith and Al make certain that any bitch they breed is in excellent health and weight. A bitch in whelp receives multiple meals and more meat in her diet as her pregnancy advances, while continuing to receive vitamins and kibble."We feed Purina Pro Plan and our dogs seem to stay in good coat and condition. Our bitches never seem to go down in condition, never shed to bare skin, and seem to have plenty of milk. We give our puppies access to their dams until about eight weeks but start feeding the puppies separately beginning at four to five weeks." Rattlebridge puppies are fed meat, baby cereal, and goat's milk at first, then graduate to canned puppy food and mushy Pro Plan Puppy while keeping dry Pro Plan available at all times. "We do not supplement the puppy diet and try not to let them get fat."

"Our adult dogs eat once a day with a traditional biscuit routine at night which turns into a game with my girls racing in and out of different doors trying to fool me into giving them double and triple treats."

Rattlebridge does health screening of eyes, orthopedics, and hearts. According to Meredith, Mitral Valve Disease is the Achilles Heel of this breed, and states that they are very careful in their breeding program. "We are honest about our dogs and any problems we seem to have produced and wish all breeders would share information about their dogs. We work very closely with our fabulous veterinarian, Dr. Mark Harris, who bred Goldens for a time with his ex wife. Mark is always there for us and has certainly contributed to the success we have had with our Cavaliers."

The Rattlebridge Cavaliers live in a luxurious setting. Meredith describes their facility as follows. "We have a very large, well-equipped kennel room attached to the sunroom on the house. The kennel room, which has puppy areas, bathing and grooming areas, its own bathroom and heating/cooling system, leads out to a large gravel paddock and then to a couple of acres of lawn for the dogs to run. The sunroom is our whelping room, with separate exercise areas for our girls in heat or whelp and a very uncomfortable couch, which becomes my bed before, during, and after whelpings." Meredith, Al, and Maxine Price, the kennel manager, have just converted the back boarding kennel, no longer in use, into a huge puppy playroom with lots of toys and things to do.

Meredith begins looking at puppies at birth and admits that she sometimes makes picks then. "I begin the process of obsessing over the puppies as soon as all are born, hanging over the whelping box and just watching the babies. At about five weeks, we start putting the puppies out on the deck, weather permitting, or on the floor in the whelping room, letting them play and explore and introducing them to the world. We spend a lot of time cuddling. We are fortunate that our really outstanding kennel manager, Maxine, has two young daughters who adore our puppies and help with the socialization process. I spend hours, watching puppies, looking at head shape, eyes, movement, and tail carriage. I hate gay tails!! From eight to ten weeks, puppies start going to pet homes if they have eliminated themselves as potential show dogs or performance prospects. I am so pleased when our dogs can excel in agility and obedience and am especially proud of Ch. Rattlebridge Over the Top, owned and trained by Annette Houdek, to his many degrees and highs in trial. When our puppies are ready for the show ring, they go to Jim and Sheree. The wonderful Victoria Seiler handled Rubens to his many Specialty and BIS wins and was as heartbroken by his loss as I was, but Jim and Sheree show most of our dogs, including Renoir who is presently number one in breed points."

In a rather short period of time, the Rattlebridge Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have made their mark on the breed. Meredith reminisces about her time spent with her beloved Cavaliers. "I have had several great thrills in dogs: watching my husband win Best Puppy with Ch. Rattlebridge Kathleen at back to back "old club" shows just before the split, the success of Over the Top in performance, winning with my Bounce, watching Rubens and his son Renoir win consecutive Nationals, retiring the brood bitch challenge trophy at this year's national, and watching our young Aim 'n' Fire, 'Target', duplicating Rubens' win at our first National in 1996 by going best puppy and reserve winners dog this year. Although I am gone many weekends judging or attending shows, Al and I keep a hands on approach to our dogs, spending most of the time we are at home with them, enjoying them, and constantly evaluating them, ever mindful of improving on what we have. I have always bred for the enjoyment of watching beautiful dogs. I get a thrill every time I see one of our Cavaliers make a great pass across the lawn or look at me with its soul radiating from its eyes. It is lovely to have the approval of judges and other breeders, but we must like our own dogs first or what's the point of our breeding program? I hope our program will continue for many more years, as, since my retirement, I can now devote myself to this wonderful breed I love so passionately."