Saturday, March 6, 2010

Junior Handler

While in Iowa City, I had the opportunity to attend a dog show handling class with Rufus' and Elsa's new owners, Ryan and Grace. You see Ryan and Grace want to become junior handlers and show Rufus and Elsa in dog shows. So they got online and applied for a junior handler number with the American Kennel Club (AKC). I checked it out and there is a lot of information on the AKC's website for junior handlers. Ryan and Grace will show the pups in conformation and in junior handler competitions. Conformation is the competition most people are familiar with from the big dog shows like the Westminster Kennel Club's show in NYC where dogs (and bitches like me) are shown in a ring and evaluated by a judge. The judge determines which dog (or bitch) best lives up to, or conforms to, the breed standard.

Ryan and Rufus and Grace and Elsa did very well in their first conformation class. They learned the basics on how to stack and be stacked on a table for the judge and how to walk around the ring and look cute. From what I understand, they are continuing to practice and should be ready to enter the show ring when the pups turn 6-months old. I don't know if you know, but puppies can't compete in official AKC conformation competitions until they are 6-months old. They look well on their way to great success in the ring. In case you want to follow their careers, Rufus' full name is Deep Acres Fields of Gold and Elsa's is Deep Acres Cornucopia. It should be lots of fun.

It's kinda a funny coincidence that right after I attended the conformation class with Ryan and Rufus and Grace and Elsa, my Aunt Joyce sent me an article from her local newspaper about a Michigan girl that took third place in the junior handler competition at the Westminster dog show showing a Tibetan Terrier. For her win, she received a $4000 scholarship. That's pretty swell.

Above: Savannah Livingston is walking in the footsteps of her grandma, Karen Tower (not pictured) who has been showing Tibetan Terriers for 20 years. Savannah took third place in the junior competition of the Westminster Dog Show this year with Dash (second from the left.) The dogs are from left to right, Josh, Dash, Barkley, and Tommy.

BURTON, Michigan — Savannah Livingston made a last-minute change to her usual dog show routine — a gutsy move at the Westminster Dog Show, known as the “Super Bowl of dog shows.”

The decision paid off as 13-year-old Savannah snatched third place and a $4,000 scholarship from 120 competitors in the national junior showmanship finals at the prestigious New York show.

The 13-year-old Kearsley middle-schooler had been showing her 6-year-old Tibetan terrier, Barkley, but she decided maybe a younger pooch should take the reins for the Feb. 16 showing.

“It was a gut feeling,” Savannah said. “I had shown Barkley at a previous local show, and he’s kind of getting a little bit lazy. He’s 6 years old, he’s been doing it for a very long time, and I kind of trust him more because I’ve shown him for five years.”

So, a few weeks before the show, Savannah chose to go instead with another Tibetan terrier, 2-year-old Dash. And it paid off.

“I wasn’t expecting much, but I just went out there and did my best and actually took third place,” she said.

It was Savannah’s best finish in the six years she’s been competing in the Westminster show. She made history as a 9-year-old as the show’s youngest competitor ever.

The junior showmanship competition is open to dog handlers 9 to 18 years old, who are judged more on their showmanship ability than their dog’s, Savannah said.

Younger sister, Megan, 11, has gotten in on the action, showing her own dog at the Westminster show.

To be eligible for Westminster show, junior competitors must win at least 10 other dog shows throughout the year. Savannah won 23 this year by traveling state to state to complete. In the past she’s won more than that.

“As a young child, she was like a sponge,” said Savannah’s grandmother, Karen Tower, of Burton, who used to show dogs herself and taught Savannah the basics. “When she was 5, she beat me for the first time. ... She was already beating adults.”

Tower keeps several Tibetan terriers, including Dash and Barkley, at her home, just a few doors down from Savannah.

Savannah, who’s been showing dogs since she was 4, plans on coming back to Westminster next year and has set her sights on first place.

She plans to be a professional handler when she grows up.

“I plan on going to school and getting a degree in case something happens, just to fall back on,” she said. “But I definitely want to do this when I grow up — be a professional handler. It’s what I plan on doing for a career and I have for a very, very long time.”