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As The Wheels Turn

They’re Watching You

True story. I was hurrying to an early ring a couple weeks ago and a total stranger stopped me to ask why I was so mad. I was quite shocked and replied that I wasn’t mad, why would he think that. “Because you’re scowling.”

I realized that I’d been squinting trying to see the ring numbers across the building so I’d know where to go and the quickest way to get there. This is what happens when you’re a crusty old bat like me — I can’t run around the ring with my driving glasses on, but I can’t see across the building without them. And that innocent facial expression came across to someone I don’t know from Adam’s off-ox, but who clearly knew who I was, that I was in a foul humor.

Private Eyes
They’re watching you
They see your every move
Private Eyes
They’re watching you
Private Eyes
They’re watching you
Watching you
Watching you
Watching you

Welcome to my world. And that of every professional handler. People watch us. Every minute of every day, someone is observing what we do.

Two current assistants, passed out at Portland after a rough day. Jessica Laborde and Brennah Holthaus

And, that is a good thing! Yes, that’s right, I said a good thing.

Professional, in this sport, does not simply mean someone paid you to gallop counter-clockwise. It also ascribes, or should, a code of conduct. This code implies a great deal more than some members of the rank seem to think is required: wearing pretty clothes and running in circles and schmoozing. Professional means the dogs and their needs come before our own, always. It means we follow the rules, not break them. It means we are polite and courteous and pleasant, even when we’re in a hurry. It means we are respectful of judges, show committees, parking denizens, other exhibitors and competitors. It means we give back to the sport that supports us. Professional, in our world, means being held to a consistently higher standard of behavior than others around us.

Amber Leonard, at the Garden being obviously observed from ringside

With this in mind, professional does not mean we are without human failings and frailties. I, for one, have had more than my fair share of regrettable moments. Normally these involve “diarrhea of the mouth,” as my father, God rest his soul, used to call it. The key here is, I regret them. I recognize a mistake and work to correct it.

So, a few words to the wise.

To anyone considering hiring a professional handler — watch people. Find someone who interests you and watch them work. Watch them win and lose. Watch them for more than a weekend, certainly more than a day. We all have good days — and bad days. As I said, contrary to popular opinion, dog handlers are people too. I’ve had folks tell me they watched me for years before hiring me. Yikes!!

To anyone who is acting in the capacity of professional handler, behave as if people are watching you. Guaranteed, they are. If you give those fanciers a negative impression, it reflects badly on all professionals. Yes, this is part of the gig. If you don’t like it, find something else to do.

Another true story. When I went away to college, my mother gave me two gifts: a functional steamer trunk with a bumper sticker affixed to the inside of the lid. The sentiment on said bumper sticker has stayed with me lo these many, many years. “Don’t tell my mother I’m a dog handler. She thinks I play piano in a whorehouse.” I strive each and every day to outperform my mother’s expectations of my usefulness to society. It should be every professional handler’s goal.

As always, this is JMHO…..

Written by

Our family always had dogs. Mutt dogs, purebred dogs, but always dogs. I grew up with dogs everywhere. My mother eventually enrolled me in dog care 4-H because I was “shy and retiring and lacked people skills”….. I am the living testimonial to the success of the 4-H program! I continued into AKC shows as my family transitioned from “dogs” to the wonderful world of Purebred Dogs. I showed all of our family dogs in conformation and participated in Junior Showmanship competition. I went to college, earned a degree and worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer. Today, I am an AKC Breeder of Merit and a member of the Professional Handlers Association.
Comments
  • Iva Kimmelman
    Iva Kimmelman April 16, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    Excellent post. I am so often horrified at what I see at shows, but more often I am proud of my fellow exhibitors. The unfortunate part of your letter? Those who need to read it can’t be bothered. But keep saying it!

  • Eric Liebes April 16, 2014 at 2:33 PM

    She is being watched by one of my favorite professionals, Karen Newman. I often watch her, especially when she handles one of my dogs.

  • Cindi Staab Gredys April 23, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    I know you practice what you preach ~ if I ever send a dog out it will be with you. Traveling with you I know first had that the dogs come first. Glad to read your writing again! Keep up the good work.

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