For 30 years, Bill and Becky Poole have been breeding blue-blood bull terriers at their Hixson home, Rocky Top Bull Terriers. Rocky Top will always be home sweet home to more than 55 champions.
In 2006, Rocky Top’s Sundance Kid — known in the show ring as Rufus — won the triple crown of dog championships.
Rufus was named top dog (Best in Show) at the Philadelphia Dog Show, Morris & Essex Kennel Club Show and Westminster Kennel Club Show. He was the first colored bull terrier to win the dog world’s top honor.
Tonight, the two-day Westminster Kennel Club show gets under way in New York City and the Pooles again have a dog in the hunt.
Rufus’s nephew, Rocky Top’s Holiday Design — aka Jamie — will be shown by handler Kim Frederick.
The Pooles said Rufus will also be in attendance at the 132nd Westminster show in Madison Square Garden. The past champ will be a celebrity guest along with owners Tom and Barbara Bishop of Holmdel, N.J.
The Westminster Kennel Club will be televised tonight on the USA Network from 8-9 p.m. then continue on CNBC from 9-11 p.m. Judging of the hound, terrier, nonsporting and herding groups will be broadcast tonight. Competition continues Tuesday at 8 p.m. on the USA network with judging of the sporting, working and toy groups before Best In Show is announced.
Viewers will know whether Jamie won his breed if he is the televised representative of the bull terriers in tonight’s terrier group judging. Group winners then compete for Best in Show.
Bill and Becky Poole first saw a bull terrier during a date night at the movies.
“I made Bill go to the musical, ‘Oliver,’ when we were dating,” Mrs. Poole said. “There was a bull terrier (Bill Sykes’ dog) in the movie. We had never seen one before, but Bill just loved it. He had to have one.”
A love affair grew that night (both human and canine) that has lasted more than three decades. After marrying, the Pooles bought their first bull terrier, Governor. With the addition of Bonny, they began breeding bull terriers in 1978.
Mrs. Poole said Rocky Top is now breeding the second- and third-generation offspring of Governor and Bonny.
“We’ve produced more than 150 pups through the years, but we don’t breed a whole lot,” Mrs. Poole said. “We just want to breed good dogs.”
Mrs. Poole said that although bull terriers can sell for up to $2,500, she and her husband put more emphasis on finding a good home than the price of the sale.
She said interest in bull terriers spikes with media attention such as the popular Spuds McKenzie ads or a win such as Rufus’ at Westminster. But when owners find they are not a good match with the mischievous breed, the dogs end up in shelters.
So the Pooles champion not only the show dog, but the homeless pup as well.
In addition to raising purebloods, the Pooles also rescue bull terriers and house them at Rocky Top.
“We try to be careful and protect the breed,” Mrs. Poole said. “They are the most wonderful pets in the world, but they are not for everybody.”
Mrs. Poole said bull terriers get a bad rap because the public “lumps them into the same category with pit bulls. People don’t know the difference in the breeds.”
“The bull terrier is a dog that wants to be with you — you don’t own them, they own you. They are very people-oriented, they are very affectionate. They are not an outside dog. If you keep them outside, they are going to get into mischief.”
For their devotion to the breed, the Pooles were Breeders of the Year for the terrier group, making them one of seven nominees for the national 2006 AKC Breeder of the Year.
David Gilstrap, president of the Chattanooga Kennel Club, said the Pooles are the only Chattanoogans to have won a Breeder of the Year Award.
“They breed very well-tempered dogs,” Mr. Gilstrap said. “Breeding is their life. They plan their vacations, everything around dogs and showing dogs.”
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...