Doris Cozart

Denton resident Doris Cozart, 83, sits on her couch with her Westminster Kennel Club judging book and next to a picture of her family. Cozart has been invited to judge the Westminster dog show for a third time.

Shocked. Overjoyed. Amazed.

When she opened the letter several months back for what’s typically a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Denton resident Doris Cozart, 83, was honored to receive an invitation, for the third time, to judge the world-renowned Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

After breeding and raising toy and standard poodles as well as exhibiting them since 1967, Cozart has dedicated more than 50 years to dogs. She has been involved in local dog clubs, such as the Texas Kennel Club, over the years and then became a dog show judge after she stopped breeding dogs through the American Kennel Club.

Cozart was honored to get involved with the Westminster Kennel Club and to judge the best of the toy group at the Westminster show on Feb. 10, proving her hard work paid off.

“There’s so much involved in the mystique of Westminster,” Cozart said. “And the idea of being able to adjudicate the best of the toy dogs at Westminster for me was an honor, and I cannot tell you how excited I was. And I will also tell you, it was fun. It was absolutely marvelous to stand out there and see these quality dogs. I mean, it was the top of the toy dogs in the world.”

With the show having a similar status to the Super Bowl or the World Series, Cozart said, Westminster is for those in the dog show world as well as those who are not.

“I think it was pretty cool and pretty exciting for her,” neighbor Joseph Tanner, 77, said. “She’s a pretty spectacular lady, very self-assured and confident. … Since I’ve known her over the last seven or eight years, she’s been out on the course quite a lot judging domestic and international.”

The invitation to judge Westminster arrives about 18 months before judging to request that the judges not judge the breed or group for nine months prior to Westminster. This keeps judges from examining the same dogs at other dog shows prior to Westminster.

In the previous two years that Cozart judged for Westminster, she judged breed classes, where a dog is entered at a class level. The dogs are entered and judged, where it is decided which dog is the best of their breed, and then the breed goes forward to an individual group. The group is judged by another judge until the winners of the seven groups go forward to Best in Show.

However, unlike any other experience, Cozart appeared on Martha Stewart’s show in a video about the variety of toy dogs as a special guest in 2012 due to her judging Westminster that year, said Mary Ahrens, a close friend of Cozart’s.

“Every time I talk to [Cozart], I learn something new,” Ahrens said. “One of the things that was kind of interesting to know that when she was at Westminster this year, there’s certain people that she’s friends with that she could not interact with before [the competition]. It’s kind of an unwritten code because you couldn’t be seen having dinner with somebody and then have judged their dog. That would have been a conflict of interest, but after she was finished judging her event, then they could go out and be friendly and all of that.”

Cozart used to participate in dog shows all over the world and now judges them all over the world. She has judged in Finland, Italy, Slovenia, Canada, Philippines, Australia, Norway, South Africa, Korea, Brazil, China, Thailand, Taiwan and other countries, as well as many states in the U.S., according to the WKC profile on Cozart.

To become a dog show judge, Cozart said you have to apply to the AKC, and when she applied, one requirement was a minimum of 10 years’ experience in the sport of dogs — either breeding or exhibiting dogs, or somehow being involved in the dog show world.

To be a dog show judge, there are several tests: anatomy and procedural tests and private interviews with the AKC representative, and for each breed approved for, certain criteria must be met.

With 50 years of involvement in dog shows including 27 years of judging, Cozart has made her passion her life.

“It’s wonderful being a dog show judge,” Cozart said. “I always say it’s kind of like Christmas; you get to open packages every time you look at a new dog. I love the breeds. I’m approved to judge toy breeds, working breeds and non-sporting breeds, and of course, Best in Show.

“And through the dogs and judging, I’ve met so many wonderful people, had really good friends throughout the dog world, all over the world,” she said. “I’ve been very fortunate and very blessed to be invited to judge in many, many countries. It’s opened doors that would have never been open to me if I hadn’t been a dog show judge.”

No longer owning any dogs, Cozart said she would be unable to take care of them with her constant schedule of traveling to judge dog shows — but she does get her “dog fix” when she judges.

“Dogs bring so much into your lives,” Cozart said. “And I will actually tell you that dogs give you unconditional love. They don’t care if you’re fat, skinny, tall or short, what you do for a living. And to tell you the truth, looking in a dog’s eyes that loves you is a really wonderful feeling … and I can’t imagine the world without dogs.”

With the recent passing of her husband, Cozart has the support of her friends and neighbors, Ahrens said.

“I think of [Cozart] as a mother figure,” Ahrens said. “She just has this matriarchal kind of air about her where she collected chickies around her, and she takes care of everybody. If we’re going to go down a curb together, she puts her hand out to help me down, and I’m 14 years younger than she is.”

Cozart got involved in the dog show world with her family by her side, immersing herself and her loved ones in her passion for dogs. She would attend the shows with her husband, daughter and son — all since passed. Her daughter followed in her footsteps, participating in dog shows and eventually became a judge as well.

“Her husband was involved in the dog shows, which he wasn’t a judge, but he was a national show chairman for Poodle Club of America,” Ahrens said. “[Cozart] bred poodles herself, and her daughter bred poodles. And so they were 20 years, both of them serving on the board of the Poodle Club of America.”

Even with Cozart’s success in the dog show world and with three Westminster judging assignments, she is not done yet. In May, as of now, she will be judging locally for the Denton Kennel Dog Club.

“I think maybe when I had first started to judge was most memorable,” Cozart said. “Instead of presenting my dog, I was judging the dogs. And maybe that was my most memorable judging assignment because it was one I first fully realized the importance of what I was doing.

“And since then, judging Westminster this past February was an unbelievable dream come true for me.”

REBEKAH SCHULTE can be reached via Twitter at @bekah899.

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