I’m not really sure how to introduce you to perhaps the most inspirational 13-year-old junior handler I’ve had the pleasure to meet this past year. All I can say is that after you read this you all will know exactly what I’m talking about.

At the 2012 AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Orlando, Fla., I made it a priority to watch every single junior as they were judged. I did this not only to see their handling skills, but also to watch and learn about the personalities of those who are the future of our sport.

As I watched, I had my eye on this unforgettable young handler who had the most amazing connection with his dog – and what a big dog for such a small boy.

Becker Reep of Weaverville, N.C., seemed to be very supportive of his fellow juniors, and he also possessed an undeniable pizzazz in the ring. At that moment in time, I decided to stand back and watch him work with his Newfoundland. Before I had the chance to introduce myself at the end of his class, he was gone.

As fate would have it, I happened to be shooting at Westminster in February. I was watching the first day of Junior Showmanship and, what do you know, this same young handler was standing right beside me. I decided to throw a tough question (or two) at Becker to see what his response would be, and, as I had anticipated, he answered back with indepth details and passion.

I asked Becker things like, “If you were judging, whom would you choose to move on to the final competition and why?” He told me that he was watching because he wanted to be prepared for the following day when he would be competing. We sat ringside chatting until the end of judging. He shared with me his thoughts about the competition, and from that moment on I knew we would be buddies.

Becker had one heck of a year last year with a total of 12 Best Junior Handler awards. He was also ranked Number 4 overall junior by Today’s Best Junior for 2012, Number 1 Newfoundland junior (the Newfoundland Club of America counts BOB wins, finishing dogs, and junior wins), and Number 2 Working Group junior by AKC for 2012. Becker also shows in the breed ring with his main girl Stella. Together they finished Stella’s championship and bronze grand championship, and won an Award of Merit at the 2012 National Specialty.

Currently Becker and Stella have nine Open Class wins, which more than qualifies them for AKC/Eukanuba, and five Best Junior Handler awards.

Introducing to you the one and only Becker Reep!

Becker and Stella doing what they do best. Photo © Rhonda Cassidy.

Kayla Bertagnolli: OK, before we get into the more serious questions,please tell our audience about your involvement in the dog world so far.

Becker Reep: My mom has had Newfoundlands for as long as I can remember. When I was born, she had two Newfoundlands ready to start smothering me in kisses. By the time I was about 7, I was intrigued by dog showing. When I turned 9, I started showing dogs once in a while. I started out in juniors with a friend’s dog, a Pyr named Party. After showing her very briefly (a couple of shows), my Newfie pup Stella was ready at 6 months old for the ring!

We were terrible; we almost never won in juniors at first, and showed once every few months. Stella (being a puppy) loved to leap into the air and playfully attack at random times whenever and wherever possible. This includes the show ring. Then we grew together as handler and show dog, and both of us got more mature – although she is still guilty of sneak attacking (in play) with me provoking it. We decided to take it a bit more seriously when we decided on a goal to qualify for Westminster 2012, before it got harder to qualify. Then we started winning more, and decided to try for Westminster 2013… and that was FUN! We made lots of friends while showing dogs in 2012. We traveled a lot with my mom’s friend and mine, professional handler Lara Spears, and she taught me how to take care of clients’ dogs, and how to be a good sport while trying my hardest.

KB: What are your views on the Junior Showmanship competition of today?

BR: I feel that juniors is doing well, aside from the dreaded Masters class. Juniors is a great way to learn about the art of handling and the politics of showing dogs. (Politics is in juniors too — whether we like it or not!) It is also a wonderful way to make friends from all over the country. I enjoy going up to Virginia to see a friend I made at Eukanuba — and then cheering for each other. I love how even if I don’t remember another junior’s name, we all remember each other’s dog’s name!

KB: What are your feelings on the Masters class?

BR: Get rid of the Masters class! I know the AKC says that they do not keep track of juniors’ points, but the AKC does provide the point count to breed clubs, the various ratings systems and Today’s Best Junior, and the reality is that points are followed by us juniors. The Masters class punishes juniors who do well early in the year by not allowing them the ability to still earn points within their breed or Group because the numbers are so small for the first six months of the year in the Masters class. Masters is not something that I think we should continue. I personally have not met another junior who likes it. For example, a senior and open junior are both in Masters, the open junior loses all four days at a four-day show, and the senior, who is graduating from juniors that year, has dreamed of being first in her breed her last year, but she cannot get any points. Meanwhile, the juniors in regular Open classes coming in fourth place in classes of 15 or 20 are earning lots of points. It’s NOT FAIR to punish juniors for doing well early in the year.

A picture that describes Becker and Stella’s relationship to a “T.” Photo courtesy of Becker Reep.

KB: How difficult is it juggling school and showing? What do your friends say?

BR: My deal with my mother is that as long as I have all “A”s, I can go to shows and skip school. School friends think it’s cool, although it is funny because none have ever been to a dog show. But they do think that Stella is awesome.

KB: What is your best memory of your dog-handling career thus far?

BR: I think of my dog show life as one big moment. No one piece is better than another because each memory is just a path leading to a better one. I guess you could say that every moment I enjoy is the most memorable. But that wouldn’t be right because I have felt disappointment too. I know that heartache is inevitable and that it’s part of anything I do, and that I can only get better. BUT, in dogs, my (so far!) best memory is our Newf National for Stella and me last year. She was very naughty and would get wild every time the crowd clapped. When we would make a cut, she would get even crazier with the crowd noise. However, that is one memory for me at 12 years old that was a keeper. We earned an Award of Merit that day with a BOB entry of 130-plus, and it was great!

KB: I heard that you are a small business owner. Will you tell us about this and why you created your business?

BR: I have my own lawn care service. I wrote a business plan with projected earnings and a budget for operation. I emailed it to my grandfather to borrow the money to purchase a mower. He generously agreed, so I was able to negotiate a used mower posted on Craiglist, and I’ve been mowing lawns ever since. I am ahead of schedule in paying back my grandfather, and have regular clients and one-time customers. I am mowing lawns after school and on weekends when I don’t show. I probably won’t be ranked as high in juniors this year because I am mowing lawns instead of going to many shows, but that is OK too. I am saving for college because I know that is what I want to do after school.

KB: If given any free time, what do you enjoying doing?

BR: Science. I spend my lunch hours in our science lab using the school’s microscopes! I go to Evergreen Community Charter School that is very supportive of my showing dogs, but is just as great at encouraging me to keep my academic standards high. I am inspired by my science teachers. I love studying slides, keeping my notebook, and I want to make a difference in science when I graduate.

KB:KB: If you could be president of the AKC for one day, what would you do differently?

BR: I know that running the AKC is a business. Like inventing grand championships to bring back nice champions who would never special was a brilliant move to generate revenue. I would like to see more AKC money spent in research making popular breeds healthy, then reward breeders who succeed in producing dogs with type that are healthy.

KB: What are your plans for the future in the dog world?

BR: My plan for showing in the future is for it to mainly be a hobby. Or if my mom begs me to show one of her dogs!!! After I retire from a career, I will show my dogs because I enjoy it so much.

KB: What advice do you have for anyone who may be having a hard time or experiencing a bump in the road in their handling career?

BR: It’s only one judge’s opinion on a single day at a dog show. And I still have the greatest dog in the world, and so do they.

KB: Who would you like to thank and for what?

BR: First, two great ladies: my mom and Lara Spears! They are the two who are there every show, asking if I have my spit rag, cheering for me and Stella and cheering us up, depending on the day. Other super people are Ashley Watkins, Emily Edwards, Teri Votare, Arvind DeBraganca and tons of other people who encourage me, give me advice, tips and, most importantly, Stella the Newfoundland dog. She is the diva.

KB: Any last words?

BR: It’s a dog show! I know that sounds silly, but sometimes it cheers me up, sometimes it makes me laugh. The breed ring is hard for me sometimes because I show a bitch against pro handlers in a breed where dogs generally win. And I know I look young, so for judges to take Stella and me seriously is always a challenge. I just have to go in the BOB ring knowing that on some days I am literally there to have fun with my dog because the judges won’t consider Stella and me. So while that is frustrating, at the same time it is really that simple. This is always the best part about a dog show for me. I am away from my “real world” of stress about grades and homework and work and my siblings (did I mention I am a middle kid of five?!), and I just get to hang with my dog, who always thinks I am the best. I see my junior buddies who love their dogs like I do. So a dog show is an escape from the real world for me, a place to go with my dog to hang with people who “get me,” dog people… and who can say the word bitch without giggling like my middle school classmates do. And who else understands that dogs don’t live forever, so we better love them while they are here?

Thank you once again to Becker for this wonderful interview. He truly makes me speechless. Let’s just say, I want to be like you when I grow up.

I think we can all agree that Becker, Stella and all Dogs Freakin’ Rule!