Westminster Winner 'Siba' Is A Star

Westminster Winner ‘Siba’ Is a Star

The magical journey of a Standard Poodle called “Siba” started with a dedicated breeder. Next came a warmhearted handler who excels at artistic poodle grooming and a family to love, especially a 2-year-old boy. The puppy whom they all agreed could be something, indeed, became something.

Winning her 57th Best in Show at the 2020 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, MBIS/MBISS GCHP Stone Run Afternoon Tea granted their dreams of a lifetime. Her trademark bow before the down and back, powerful movement, desire to please, and electrifying reaction to audience clapping made her a natural-born show dog.

High in the bleachers of Madison Square Garden, far from glimpse range, Stone Run Standard Poodle breeder-owner Connie Unger of Northampton, Pennsylvania, took in the surreal experience of watching her homebred Siba win the show. “I am just a normal person without a kennel or kennel assistants who loves poodles,” Connie says. “I research pedigrees and study movement to match the best dogs to breed. With careful breeding, breeders can produce dogs that are able to do anything.”

When Siba’s litter of seven puppies was 8 weeks old, Connie took them to Hanover, Pennsylvania, to be evaluated with Paul and Chrystal Murray-Clas. Puppies were stacked on the grooming table and videotaped as they trotted down the driveway. “We could see Siba’s potential in her head and eyes and the way she gazed at you,” Paul recalls. 

Second-generation poodle fanciers, Paul grew up in Frederick, Maryland, where his mother bred under the Clas Haus prefix, and Chrystal, whose mother bred Brielle Standards, is from Guleph, Ontario, Canada. Their paths crossed as junior handlers, though it was not until 2010 when grooming side by side at York (Pennsylvania) Kennel Club’s Celtic Classic that they became acquainted. In 2014, they were married, merging two successful all-breed handling businesses and their love for showing dogs. Their son, Aiden, born in 2018, would become a playmate for Siba, with favorite games of peekaboo and chase amusing everyone.

Although Paul and Chrystal usually switch off handling the dogs they campaign, it became apparent that Siba and Chrystal clicked. “They have similar personalities — both are calm and orderly,” Paul explains. “I was like the substitute teacher.”

Chrystal brought out Siba’s natural ability. “She knows this is her job, so she stands there and stares at me,” she says. “I’ve never had to stack her or fuss with her coat in the ring. The more clapping, the better it is, as she lights up from the energy.”

Two-year-old Siba began her specials campaign in the summer of 2018 by winning multiple Bests in Show, Reserve Bests in Show and Groups Firsts — enough to make her the No. 1 Standard Poodle in 2018. William Lee from Taipei, Taiwan, became co-owner to help support the campaign.

At the 2019 Westminster show, Siba won the breed and placed fourth in the Non-Sporting Group, rocketing her to the No. 1 Non-Sporting dog in the country. The wins came steadily. At year’s end, Siba won Reserve Best in Show at the AKC National Championship.

“I was ready to retire her after that,” Connie says. “Chrystal said, “Let’s take her to Westminster.’”

When Westminster Best in Show judge Robert H. Slay of Cary, North Carolina, chose Siba as his pick out of a stupendous lineup, it was a dream for the team. “How could I not choose the Poodle? She was elegant, exquisite and had an air of distinction to be recognized,” he said.

Congratulations, Team Siba!