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Kaz Hosaka, 65, Dies; Led Two Poodles to Westminster Glory

Kaz Hosaka, a prominent Japanese-born dog handler who guided two miniature poodles to Best in Show victories at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show — the second one just last month — died on Sunday in Langhorne, Pa. He was 65.

His wife, Roxanne Wolf, said the cause was a traumatic brain injury as a result of a fall.

Mr. Hosaka was a masterly handler for more than 40 years. Edge, a lifestyle magazine, recently said he was “to the poodle world what Michael Jordan is to basketball. Smooth, clever, elegant and nearly unbeatable.”

In a profile in The New York Times in 2009, he was described as “an artist who tends his poodles’ poufs as if they were bonsai trees from his native Japan.”

Mr. Hosaka radiated intensity, from the backstage grooming area to the green carpeted show rings, said David Frei, a former voice of the televised Westminster show and the club’s former communications director.

“When he’d walk in someone’s ring, other handlers would say, ‘Oh,’” Mr. Frei said in an interview, “and judges would say that must be a pretty good dog if he’s handling it.”

Mr. Hosaka was a poodle specialist who handled all three size varieties: miniatures, toys and standards. He showed the winningest toy poodle in breed history, Ch. Smash JP Win a Victory, also known as Vikki, to 108 Bests in Show and to the ranking of No. 1 dog in the country in 2007. The tiny exemplar of canine topiary also won the toy group at Westminster in 2007 and 2008, although she lost in the Best in Show competition each year.

In May, when the Westminster show was held at its temporary home, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens, Mr. Hosaka was not anticipating much from Sage, whose full name is GCHG Surrey Sage. She ranked No. 39 in the country, based on points accumulated at previous shows, and fourth in the non-sporting group.

But she rose above her rivals, sporting a “sumptuous coiffure” styled by Mr. Hosaka that, the New York Times reporters Sarah Lyall and Callie Holtermann wrote, “rises to a huge pouf above and around her head, surrounds her body in a kind of puffball and reappears again as topiary-ed pompons on the end of her tail and at the bottom of her skinny legs, as if she is wearing après-ski boots.”

After Sage’s victory, Mr. Hosaka said, “No words.” But he followed up by saying that Sage “gave a great performance for me.”

Sage then retired. So did Mr. Hosaka.

Kazuhiko Hosaka was born on Nov. 22, 1958, in Kamakura, Japan, a seaside city near Tokyo. His father, Kazuhito, was an executive of a manufacturing company, and his mother, Teruyko (Murikami), ran the home until she died when Kaz was 10.

After her death, Kaz worked in the summers for his uncle, a dog handler who specialized in showing Dobermans and other working and sporting breeds. But Kaz also wanted to go to college, where he hoped to play soccer. His uncle cajoled him to show a Doberman puppy instead.

“I won seven Best Puppy in Shows in a row!” he was quoted as saying in the 2024 book “Behind the Scenes of Best in Show,” by Kelly Lyn Marquis. “I thought, ‘Forget it, I don’t need to go to school, I’ll stay in the kennel.’”

In 1979, he met two married American judges, Anne Rogers Clark (who, as a handler, had won Best in Show at Westminster three times) and James Edward Clark, who were visiting Japan. They became his mentors and invited him to live with them on their property in Maryland, where he learned to groom and show poodles.

“One day,” Mr. Hosaka told Dog News magazine this year, Mrs. Clark asked him, “What is your dream?”

“I answered, ‘Best in Show,” he remembered telling her.

“If you try hard, the dream will come true,” she told him.

In May 1982, he won his first Best in Show, with a black female miniature poodle, Ch. Surrey Sakura, owned by Mr. Clark, at the Red Rose Dog Show in Lancaster County, Pa.

Mr. Clark told The Intelligencer Journal of Lancaster that Ch. Surrey Sakura was the first dog Mr. Hosaka had taken through training, trimming, grooming and showing.

“This is a triumph for him,” Mr. Clark said. “We’re enormously proud of him.”

He left for Japan that July. But he returned to the United States about a year later to work for the Clarks, and he started to show on his own in 1984. In 1990 he moved to Greenwood, Del., where he bought property that Mr. Clark helped him find.

Two of Mr. Hosaka’s early successes were Ch. Surrey Sweet Capsicum, or Pepper, who won 34 Bests in Show and the Westminster non-sporting group in 1995, and Ch. Dignity of Jewelry House Yoko, or Giko, who won Westminster’s toy group in 1998.

Four years later, Mr. Hosaka handled Ch. Surrey Spice Girl, or Spice, a flirty, moody miniature poodle with a beautiful face, beautiful feet and beautiful movement. She appeared to be close to a perfect dog. But Mr. Hosaka knew better.

“She’s not an easy dog to show,” he told The Times in 2002. “I bred and raised her and spoiled her. She’s a spoiled bitch. Sometimes she seems to say, ‘I don’t want to do this.’”

But there was no rebellion that night as she faced six other group winners in the Best in Show competition. After she won, Spice stuck her paws in the winner’s silver bowl.

Asked why he thought Spice had won, Mr. Hosaka said: “Well, she was very steady, very calm. Everybody said this judge likes quiet dogs.”

Spice was Sage’s great-grandmother.

In addition to his wife, who met Mr. Hosaka when he was showing her standard poodle, he is survived by his son, Hiro, from a previous marriage, which ended in divorce.

In 2009, Mr. Hosaka arrived at Madison Square Garden at 3:45 a.m., nine hours before his miniature poodle, Ch. Surrey Sweet Spice, or Reggie, was to enter the breed ring on the first day of the Westminster show. Show poodles require hours of grooming time.

Mr. Hosaka used a pair of curved scissors to trim the furry bracelets that encircled the dog’s legs.

“The more I do this breed, the more I really like it,” he told The Times. “Poodles are an art form, you know.”

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