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Theresa Robinson

Getting the chance to compete at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, presented by Purina Pro Plan, is an exciting time for any dog handler. Over 2,500 dogs competed this year, all vying for the coveted Best in Show title.

But this year’s event was even more exciting for Lindsey Cook. On top of taking home Best of Breed for both the Gordon Setter and the Irish Red and White Setter, she also got engaged. “Westminster means everything to me. This is what we try all year for, to compete here,” explains Cook. Patrick Heier, Cook’s partner, proposed on Monday, May 13, the first day of Group Judging. “He knows what it means to me.”

An Early Interest in Irish Setters

Cook first became aware of dog sports as a child growing up in Toledo, Ohio. Her dad showed an Irish Setter, Ch. Sean the Red Barron. After finishing the dog’s Championship, he decided not to move forward with competing. Cook, however, still had a strong interest in the breed.

“We ended up moving back to Ohio and saw an Irish Setter one day at the park. And of course, I had to go see it. It was from somebody he knew back when he showed,” explains Cook. “He called him to tell him we were in town, and they told us to come over. And I went to my first dog show that next weekend.”

Melanie Haid

After attending that first dog show, Cook got started in Junior Showmanship right away with her dog, CH. Interlude’s Overture. “He was a 2-year-old Irish Setter male, and I was 10, so I couldn’t reach from head to tail when I started. So he was very patient, but we did everything. We’d go out rollerblading, and he’d pull me, drag me all around the neighborhood,” says Cook.

The pair quickly found success in the ring, and by the time Cook was just 14 years old, she was the number one pedigree open Junior and went to the World Dog Show in Amsterdam.

A Lifetime of Working with the Setter Breeds

After competing with that first Irish Setter, Cook continued participating in the dog world. As an adult, she became a breeder and professional handler. She moved on to working with all four of the Setter breeds, explaining that they’re different from any over breeds she’s interacted with.

Melanie Haid

“I like the temperaments. I like the challenge with the grooming and the handling,” says Cook. “But I also just enjoy living with them. I have a daughter, and she goes out and plays out in the backyard with all the English [Setters], and it’s not something I have to worry about. They’re great family dogs.”

In addition to handling the Setter breeds herself, Cook also works to train and mentor other handlers, including AriOnna Walker, a junior handler. Walker was among the four finalists at this year’s Westminster Junior Showmanship Competition and handled Cook’s dog GCH CH Kaska’s Mystery Machine, an English Setter.

As a former Junior herself, Cook says that seeing Walker’s success in the ring was a proud moment for her. “She works her butt off and is so talented. I’m really lucky to have her,” says Cook. “She comes from Amstaffs, so a breed with no hair, no real grooming, and a totally different presentation style, and she’s just adapted with the Setters and beats me pretty often. I figured that’s the whole goal. I ought to train her to be able to beat me.”

Rings Galore at Westminster

With Cook’s success in the ring, it was already a memorable Westminster Week for her. But her wins weren’t the only things she got to celebrate. Cook’s partner, Heier, decided to ask her a very important question on Monday.

“He asked me to marry him,” says Cook. “He’d never been to Westminster. I kept trying to tell him how important it is to us, so the fact that he thought to propose there was pretty cool.”

When asked why he decided to propose at Westminster, Heier explained it was the obvious choice, given Cook’s dedication to the dog world. “It’s the Super Bowl of dog shows,” he says.

Melanie Haid

Plus, Heier has recently gotten involved in the sport himself. “He recently got to show a dog for the first time and beat me in the group, literally his very first time in the ring,” explains Cook. “And he helped me whelp and breed this litter of puppies that we have right now.”

Always Growing as a Competitor

After a whirlwind week, Cook is taking a moment to catch her breath and celebrate both her success in the ring and her upcoming nuptials with her family and friends. But she says she still has many events she’s looking forward to in the second half of the year.

Cook’s especially the English Setter National Specialty, which is taking place in her home state of Ohio. “English Setter Nationals is probably my favorite of the year. It’s always super stressful, but it’s nice to get to show off my own breeding program and show for others and get to show everybody our wonderful breed,” she says.

Despite being involved in dog sports for over two decades, Cook says she never stops growing as a competitor or as a mentor. “You never stop learning,” she explains. “And there’s still so much more I wish I knew, but you can always do the best you can with what you have.”

The 148th Annual Westminster Kennel Club has named it’s 2024 Best in Show! Catch reruns of the coverage on demand and learn more about one of the most famous dog shows in the United States at