For the Holders, breeding champion dogs is a family affair. (Christoff Griffith.)
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The Holders of Jackmans, St Michael, are no ordinary Barbadian family. While others may enjoy quality time at a picnic in the park, a night out at the drive-in cinema or an evening in Oistins, the Holders’ definition of family time is spent with their champion dogs.
On any given evening they can be found at their home or at the family’s Monifa Kennels in Jackson, St Michael, with their Rottweilers, Rhodesian ridgebacks, German shepherds or Dogue de Bordeaux.
The love affair with champion dogs began in the early 1990s when the family’s patriarch, O’Neal bought what he believed was a pure-bred show dog. Merely 18 years old when he was sold Odo, a female Rottweiler, he was duped.
“I didn’t know any better. But I have learned the standard since then,” he said.
Not dismayed about this incident, O’Neal went on to purchase other dogs and after that time show dogs became somewhat of a staple in his life. So much so that he credits them for eventually leading him to meet the other love of his life, wife Tracey.
In an interview with EASY magazine, surrounded by Tracey and their three children Khalie, Khalise, Khaleah and a number of portraits of dogs lining the walls of their family home, O’Neal explained that one weekend back in 1997 while returning home to Barbados from a routine dog training session in St Lucia he met Tracey.
“It just so happened that I missed the flight and I had to take the morning flight just to get into work. When I got to the airport I saw her, and it was the first time she was travelling . . . . She was coming to do her visa and she didn’t know anyone and you could see she was a damsel in distress,” he recounted as his wife laughed loudly and disagreed about being in distress.
He said was afraid to speak to her but was dared to by a friend. This resulted in a conversation that continued into the next day when she left Barbados.
The two carried on a long distance friendship for almost a year until she again visited the island and he decided to introduce her to his “family” [dogs]. Unknown to her, O’Neal had made up his mind that if his dogs “accepted” her it would be an indication that they were meant to be.
When Tracey and the dogs finally met they hit it off so well O’Neal said he knew there and then that this was the woman for him. The couple started to date in 2000 and were married in 2008.
Tracey admitted that when she first met the dogs, in spite of their massive statures she felt very comfortable around them.
“I fell in love with the dogs just like that,” she said.
“It was never difficult because animals were something that I was accustomed to having at home. I was never afraid that I would be bitten, it just came naturally.”
And apparently, it also came naturally for their children because at just age one their eldest child Khalie was gifted his very own Bullmastiff named Georgie and today he is ready to dive into the family business. So too does eight-year-old Khalise and three-year-old Khaleah who during the interview were busy playing with their favourite dogs Spike and Remy. Their mother said the children have helped to deliver puppies, cook for the dogs, feed them and make sure the puppies are well taken care of.
Khaleah said she loves playing with the dogs and boasted that she wasn’t afraid of them, while Khalie who is presently a junior handler has aspirations of graduating to the senior level soon.
The Holders not only breed show dogs such as Spike whose awards included the Dog of the Year 2014 and Best In Show Locally Bred Dog but also they train security dogs. Through the years the family have bred close to 100 dogs.
O’Neal said he hoped one day that all his children will be involved in the family business, although Tracey said that they will not force them. Also, they hope that one day their business will be known in the island as a place where a good quality dog is guaranteed.
The couple said that over the years they had lost quite a lot of money pursuing their dreams. In fact, they now laugh that some of the times were good but when it was bad, it was really bad but for them it was never about the money. “We see a dog, we see value and we see potential in it, we buy it and we see what materialise from that but it was never really about the money. It is more about knowing that you have something and you can care for it and it can care for you in return,” Tracey added. (SDB Media)