Kudos to the Canine Health Foundation for honoring Mari-Beth O’Neill with its annual President’s Award during the extravagant Orlando week. One of dogdom’s most versatile persons, Mari-Beth’s resume includes that of a breeder, educator, judge and AKC delegate, as well her current job as Vice President of Sport Services.
“The President's Award is given each year to a person or organization who has made an exceptional contribution to advancing canine health." Mari-Beth’s decades of dedication to protect reproduction specialists supporting the health and well-being of dogs of the future as well as those of the present are legendary. Her continued outreach on behalf of veterinary student specialists and others who work for the good of the order are totally committed to the well-being of the purebred dog.
Mari-Beth had been teaching school for 11 years when she became the Associate Director of the Judges Education Department in 1990. Her work with elementary-school children and later middle-school teens had certainly prepared her for anything, a skill she has exhibited repeatedly over the years in difficult situations. In time she designed and created Judging Institutes that began as a general overview of what judging dog shows was all about.
It was my honor and privilege to work at these events with the incomparable Anne Rogers Clark, Dorothy Macdonald, Frank Sabella and of course Mari-Beth herself. Subjects ranged from keeping your records properly to understanding the evolution of the purebred dog, appreciating type, understanding structure and prioritizing virtues.
Sporting Dog Institute in 1988. From left, Dorothy Macdonald, Anne Rogers Clark, Mari-Beth O'Neill, Steve Beltech and Pluis Davern.
At the opening of each morning session, Miss O’Neill professionally greeted the new day with “Good morning, class” and a mischievous smile for her adult students. All of us looked forward to these experiences, and we learned as we taught. The crowning experience of these education endeavors came in 1998 with the Sporting Dog Institute held in San Jose, California. Every breed presentation featured quality dogs (with points and/ or championships) performing the job they were bred to do, whether on land or water.
Instrumental to securing the location for this was Pluis Davern, well-known breeder of Sussex Spaniels, Sporting Group judge and bird dog trainer extraordinaire. Lecturers and presenters were like a Who’s Who of Sporting breeds. Personally, I took more notes at this Institute than in most of my college classes en route to my masters! Furthermore, these breed experts continued to be mentors to aspiring judges through the years.
Because Mari-Beth’s father Chuck O’Neill was already a dedicated Doberman Pinscher fancier, Mari-Beth grew up in dogs. Truly “born into dogs,” she was attending dog shows in utero while the family eagerly awaited her birth. By the time she was a toddler, she was practicing and counting the years before she could become a junior showman.
Obviously for such a petite child, a Doberman might be too much dog. At 9 years of age, the family settled for another black-and-tan breed for the little girl — a Toy Manchester Terrier that resembled a tiny Doberman. The young bitch obtained from breeder Rodney Herner (today a respected AKC multiple group judge) was to become the Westminster Toy Group winner Ch. Renreh Lorelei of Charmaron. This occurred under the guidance on that day of professional handler J. Monroe Stebbins, affectionately called “Steb.” Mari-Beth had already won multiple breed and group honors on Lorelei and went on to become the breeder of the top sire in the breed — Ch. Charmaron’s Cheddar of Toy, the grandson of Lorelei. In time her master breeder status was enhanced further by her contributions to the gene pool of the English Cocker Spaniel.
Judge Virginia Sivori awarding young Mari-Beth Toy Group Best Brace at the last Westminster held at old Garden and the last Westminster that featured Best Brace in Show.
Stebbins had piloted O’Neill’s Dobermans for years and himself bred a super sire in the breed — Ch. Steb’s Top Skipper. Mr. O’Neill obtained a son of Skipper from a litter born on Long Island given football names; Ch. Ebonaire’s Touchdown was a big winner like his sire before him in the mid-20th Century. To say that the O’Neill family was one of true participation and contributions to the world of dogs almost seems like an understatement. Charles “Chuck” O’Neill was a respected and productive member of the Board of Directors of AKC for years.
Mari-Beth’s versatility knows no bounds. As Vice President of Sport Services, her department oversees Foundation Stock Services, breed standards, Junior Showmanship, registered kennel names and the Breeders of Merit program as well as the Vet Outreach Program. The Vet Outreach program includes “Meet the AKC” presentations at vet schools, averaging 18 a year; awarding of the AKC vet scholarships; coordinating vet students tours of dogs shows, and staff liaison to the AKC/ AKC CHF Theriogenology Residency program.
Her own service record at AKC has established her as the “go to” person at AKC when a dog person needs answers. To say she could qualify as the sport’s best friend for her long and dedicated service to dogs and the protection of their future is no exaggeration. The entire sport is in agreement that the President’s Award to Mari-Beth O’Neill was well deserved!