Best in show: New Claremonter is a star; her owner is pretty good too
by Lisa Butterworth | Special to the Courier
At last month’s renowned Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City, a Wire Fox Terrier named Bee stood eagerly on a table, allowing the judge to assess and evaluate her. She then trotted regally, her V-shaped ears folded forward, around the floor of Arthur Ashe Stadium, led by her owner and handler, Claremont resident Fan Yu.
Shortly after, she was awarded best of breed, and an emotional Yu swept her up in his arms. She responded with some enthusiastic doggie licks to his nose.
It was an exciting and gratifying win for Yu, his wife and fellow dog lover, Amy Yu, and of course, for the two-year-old Bee. “She was just so enjoying the ring, she was wagging her tail the whole time,” Yu said. “And you know with show dogs, we try to make them look serious, very elegant, but she always opens her mouth and is very happy looking. But I love that she does that.”
It was not Bee’s first rodeo, as they say. Though a Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen named Buddy Holly took the coveted best in show prize at Westminster, Bee has won 11 best in show awards at other competitions around the country since Yu began showing her last January.
Yu’s dog-handling history goes back much further though. It began in his hometown of Beijing in 2001. “At the time I was not a good student, I just didn’t want to be at school,” he said with a laugh. “I wanted to do something I could really put my passion into.” The lifelong animal lover learned everything he could about dog handling and began showing in 2003 — the same year he won his first best in show, with an Afghan Hound in the puppy class.
It was also in 2003 that he first encountered his idol, legendary U.S. dog handler Bill McFadden, while watching footage of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. That year McFadden won best in show with his Kerry Blue Terrier named Mick. “He is one of the best dog handlers in the States,” Yu said. “I fell in love with the handler and the dog. He was a huge inspiration for me.”
In 2009, when Yu found out he’d be competing in the U.S. for the first time, showing a client’s Siberian Husky, he knew he’d get the chance to meet McFadden. It was this imminent meeting that inspired Yu’s other great passion: sculpture. “In China, if you meet someone you really respect, you want to give him a really meaningful gift,” Yu said. “So, I was thinking, what gift can I present to him to let him know how much inspiration he gave to me? What popped up in my mind was making a sculpture of the dog he showed at Westminster, Mick. That was the first time I decided to make a sculpture. I brought that sculpture all the way from China.”
McFadden was so touched by the gift, he invited Yu to visit his home in Sacramento, to meet Mick in person. “It was the best day of my life,” Yu said. “I was so happy and had crazy tears all over my face.” Yu, also a gifted groomer, gave the then-elderly Mick a trim and a bath. “That was my first time grooming one of the greatest dogs in the world,” Yu said.
Yu began assisting McFadden, flying back and forth from China to help him and his wife Taffe McFadden show dogs at various U.S. events. In 2019, Yu and his wife moved to the States, choosing to settle in Claremont. At the time they knew next to nothing about the city, besides their most important criteria — they knew their dogs would love it, thanks in part to their home’s proximity to Higgenbotham Park and the nearby trails. “Since we moved in, the surprises keep coming; the culture, the Claremont trees, the wildlife, and the nice neighbors — we love it here so much,” Yu said.
Being next to nature also nurtures Yu’s creativity. His art career has taken off since he was first inspired by the iconic Kerry Blue Terrier so many years ago. You can find his realistic bronze sculptures of a variety of dog breeds, from Doberman Pinschers to Pomeranians, displayed at the Santa Barbara Kennel Club, as well as the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog in New York. He stays busy with commissions from dog lovers and handlers alike, and he had his first solo exhibit in the States right here in the Claremont Village at Bunny Gunner.
“The passion and our love for the dogs, it’s kind of like a bridge,” Yu said. “We’ve experienced so many amazing things; we’re surrounded by so many amazing people. To me and my wife, it’s really like an American dream come true. And it’s all from the dogs.”