Connoisseur of canines


Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

The two small, yipping dogs that greet visitors at the door of Richard Camacho's Shelton home are certainly not bred for dog shows.

Camacho, a dog show judge and retired show-dog handler, said that after all the time he's spent with dogs — more than 40 years — they've become part of his life.

Even when he was working full-time, showing dogs across the United States, Camacho's motto was to treat the dogs as well as possible.

"They become part of your family," he said. "You shed a tear when they die; you get happy when they do something good."

Camacho is one of the judges at the Gig Harbor Kennel Club all-breed dog show this weekend.

The show is free and open to the public, with a $5 fee for parking. Events start at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, and continue through the weekend, with best of show categories starting in mid-afternoon both days.

The competition takes place at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds in Bremerton.

This will be second show the Gig Harbor Kennel Club will put on in Bremerton. Previously, the show took place in Shelton, but moved last year to be more centrally located for kennel club members.

"We actually expanded this year because people liked it so much last year," Camacho said.

The show hosts 862 dogs in 126 different breed and variety categories, and is not limited to purebred dogs.

Categories are open to mixed-breeds and pets, where dogs and handlers can demonstrate agility and training.

"People come to shows like this from all over, including Canada," Camacho said, adding that the economic impact from the show is a big boost for the area.

He estimates that those traveling to the show spend about $500,000 throughout the weekend at area hotels, restaurants and shops.

More than 4,000 people are expected to attend throughout the weekend, including families of those showing dogs and local spectators.

The event will also host a variety of booths selling art and products for pet owners.

In addition to giving dogs and their owners a venue to showcase their work, Camacho said the show is a chance to educate the public on the different types of dogs and their purposes.

Camacho is no stranger to life on the road as a show-dog handler — he built a business out of showing dogs for breeders and owners, first in Hawaii and then later in southern California.

Camacho was raised in the Hawaii, spending most of his life in an orphanage while his father was in the military.

He described himself as a "lost soul" who never knew what he wanted to do with his life.

But that changed when, at 19 years old, he got his first poodle.

"I caught the bug," he said with a smile. Camacho then began trying to find more purebred dogs to work with and train. He worked for the Kaiser family, which bred poodles in Hawaii, and became certified as the first all-breed handler through the American Kennel Club in the state of Hawaii in 1973.

In 1976, Camacho moved to Southern California and started his own showing, handling and breeding business.

"It is a business, just like anything else," he said. "For me though, it was more of a serious hobby."

Camacho took several dogs on a dog-show circuit around the southwestern United States, moving from show to show in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and California. Often, he traveled for a month and a half at a time before returning the dogs home, or swapping those dogs for different dogs from the same owner.

Camacho's favorite dogs were those from Asia, such as the Japanese Chin and Lhasa Apso. He also bred and showed poodles and Irish setters.

"I'm a connoisseur of good dogs," he said. "But I think the thing that set me apart was that I take the time to understand the dogs and care for them. That makes a difference."

Camacho has bred and shown many dogs awarded best in show, and some that were even ranked as best in the country.

A decade ago, Camacho retired from breeding and handling dogs. He moved to Mason County to get away from the California heat, but he couldn't stay away from the canines — he still judges dog shows regularly.

During his career, Camacho has been asked to judge shows in Japan, China, Hong Kong and Italy, in addition to many across the United States.

After he finishes judging the show this upcoming weekend, Camacho will travel to Australia for three weeks to judge.

"A lot of people think that judging is a matter of opinion, but there are standards that these dogs are judged against," he said. "You don't get to the end and just pick your favorite."

In each breed category, dogs are given points — more points are awarded to dogs that most closely resemble what the dog was originally bred for.

For example, Camacho said, the longhaired Lhasa Apso was originally bred to act as an indoor sentry and foot-warmer for monks in Tibet. Therefore, judges inspecting these dogs look for lush coats and alertness.

"We're dealing with genetics," Camacho said, adding that when breeders select a male and female to breed, they pick the two that best exemplify the breed's purpose.

"We have to accept that Mother Nature has final control over what comes out in the puppies though."

In addition to putting on shows, the Gig Harbor Kennel Club hosts regular training and handling classes to give participants basic information about showing.

The club is also working to get an emergency response vehicle and kennel area set up for dog owners going through hardship to ensure the dogs' safety.

For more information on the club, or to become a member, visit

"A lot of people think that Judging is a matter of opinion, but there are standards that these dogs are judged against. You don't get to the end and just pick your favorite."

Richard Camacho, Shelton resident and longtime dog show judge

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