For the love of dogs: Zionsville’s Labrador retriever breeder earns prestigious judging post


Pam Faerber respects how Nancy Arbuckle approaches everything she does.

“Whenever she decides to do something, it’s got to be perfect,” Faerber said. “She went on a mission to raise the best dogs in the country, and when you win at Westminster, you are doing something right.”

Arbuckle has been breeding and showing dogs for 40 years. Arbuckle, who owns Hunt Club Labradors in Zionsville, has been judging for 20 years.

“To be a judge, you have to have so many champions,” the 70-year-old Zionsville resident said. “There (are) a lot of written tests.”

Arbuckle was a judge at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2009 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. But she recently had the ultimate honor of being selected to judge in The Potomac, which is hosted by the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac in Fredrick, Md. The week-long event is the largest single-breed specialty show in the world. She was a judge on April 15, the final day of the show.

“There were some of the most beautiful dogs ever,” she said. “I had spectacular entries. So, if you are in love with the breed, it’s something to see.”

Arbuckle said a ring of spectators five rows deep watch the event.

“It’s the highest honor you can get to in your breed is to judge that show,” Arbuckle said. “You are asked to judge the show. You don’t solicit.”

Arbuckle has had a past winner in The Potomac.

Arbuckle said the show draws so many entries because the Labrador retriever has been the most popular breed for 31 years in the American Kennel Club.

“When I started the kennel, I went to England and imported dogs because that was the place to go for the Labrador,” she said. “Now, the place to go is the United States because we have the best Labradors in the world.”

Pam and her husband, George Faerber, were so impressed by Arbuckle being selected they decided to watch her judge the show in person.

“We respect what Nancy has done, so we wanted to honor her and go,” Pam said.

The Faerbers, who also live in Zionsville, have owned several of Arbuckle’s Labradors in the past.

Arbuckle started breeding dogs on Hunt Club Road in Zionsville, where she used to live.

“We had 8 acres there,” she said. “I need more acreage. We have 80 acres here, and then I sold off some and ended up with 20.”

Arbuckle’s Hunt Club has boarding kennels for all breeds. She has a staff of eight to 10 employees.

“What’s nice is when I sell my puppies, they come back to board, too, and I get to see them when they’re older,” she said.

Arbuckle said a Labrador retriever puppy costs between $2,900 and $3,200.

“I lease dogs to foreign countries, and leasing is kind of cool because you get the dog back,” she said. “I don’t like to sell a dog to a foreign country because you don’t know what is going to happen to it.”

Arbuckle leased one dog to Japan on the condition the deal included two plane tickets to Japan so she could see how the dog was being cared for.

Arbuckle said Hunt Club Labradors pays close attention to its dogs’ health.

“We do DNA testing for heredity diseases that we can do when they are born, just swab the inside of their cheek,” she said. “Percentage-wise, we breed a healthy dog.”

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Another passion 

Dogs aren’t Nancy Arbuckle’s only love.

“Art is my second passion, art and dogs,” Arbuckle said. “People always say they want to live my life.”

Arbuckle’s specialties are portraits of people and animals. She used to have an art gallery on Main Street in Zionsville.

A 1973 Indiana University graduate, Arbuckle competed in gymnastics and volleyball in college.

“That was before scholarships, but IU went back and gave us all letters,” said Arbuckle, who has three daughters, one son and 10 grandchildren.

Arbuckle has three house dogs, a Norwich terrier, a Labrador and a bulldog.