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An Afternoon with the Professionals

For the second year running, the American Kennel Club Registered Handlers Program, in conjunction with the Durham Kennel Club in Raleigh, N.C., and Purina, held a special event and learning opportunity just for junior handlers and anyone interested in becoming a junior called “An Afternoon with the Professionals.” This event was indeed a full afternoon that included not only free lunch, but individual instruction from current AKC-registered professional handlers, a suit swap, and a very special Q & A with the one and only Mari-Beth O’Neill!

Mari-Beth O’Neill talks to some junior handlers at Durham Kennel Club during “An Afternoon with the Professionals.” Photo by Phil Goldstein.

One of the highlights of the afternoon was actually getting to step into the ring and have individual instruction from some of today’s well-known handlers, such as Jocelyn Mullins, Lisa Miller, Kim Pastella Calvacca, Frank Murphy, Esteban Farias and Bert Halsey, just to name a few! About 25 kids attended who wanted to get some hands-on experience, and more than half were newcomers eager to learn all about the Junior Showmanship world.

A group of kids talk about the Junior Showmanship ring. Photo by Phil Goldstein.

Another cool part about the afternoon was the suit swap. This gave all the kids an opportunity to bring in suits they may have outgrown and find new ones, or even pay to pick out something they liked. I know I can speak for all juniors when I say this is a great way to get new suits that are dog show appropriate. Wish I’d had something like this when I was a junior! Plus, all proceeds from the suit swap were to be donated to a local nonprofit animal shelter. How cool is that?

Many kids brought suits to swap that they had outgrown. Photo by Phil Goldstein.

Current junior handler Emily Goldstein had the pleasure of attending. Here’s what she had to say about it: “The entire event was very well-received by both juniors and their parents. The DKC and I were thrilled to have so many newcomers attend, prospective juniors just getting started. For me, the highlight was being able to work with the professional handlers during the juniors clinic. These are people we see at shows, in the BIS ring, and look up to. It’s fun and incredibly helpful to work side-by-side with them.”

In future years, the Durham Kennel Club plans to sponsor more of these events and encourages other clubs to do the same! So, you know what that means. If you’re a member of a kennel club, don’t hesitate to put your thoughts in about holding an event similar to this. After all, juniors are the future of our sport!

Oh yeah, and one more thing, Dogs Freakin’ Rule!

Written by

Kayla Bertagnolli is a 23-year-old from Ogden, UT, who's been involved in the dog show world her whole life. A former junior handler who learned about breeding Beagles from her mother Leah, she assisted several professional handlers and is currently working to become a Junior Showmanship judge. Kayla is passionate about photography and writes the twice-weekly blog, DFR. She plans to continue breeding and showing, and expects to stay involved in dogs "for life!"