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Junior Handlers Assist for a Summer to Remember

As far back as I can remember – and even further in the sport of dogs – young handlers have been spending their summers doing what we doggie people like to do best! No, not spending all day in bed, or going to the movies, but working our butts off and learning as much as we possibly can in three months while having fun!

That’s right, I’m talking about young handlers assisting and possibly even living with a handler for the summer. I know I did it when I was just 14 years old, and those summers were ones to remember, for more than one reason.

It’s been a while since I’ve had the hands-on experience, so I decided to take it to the streets, so to speak, and see what it’s like for young handlers today who are assisting handlers while showing in Junior Showmanship over the summer. I had the chance to catch up with and ask a few questions of four assistants, and I found that they all had at least one thing in common, but you’ll have to keep reading to find out what…

First, we have 17-year-old Carson McCorvey from Asheville, N.C. Carson has been assisting Reggie and Susan Moorhead for three-plus years, and she’s also competing in the Open Senior class as a junior handler.

Carson McCorvey and her juniors dog ‘Gamble’ showing off their free stack. Photo courtesy of Amber Aanensen.

Kayla Bertagnolli: What challenges do you face showing in Junior Showmanship while assisting a handler at shows?

Carson McCorvey: The primary challenge I face is ring times conflicting. You dedicate yourself to a handler who travels with several dogs, and you normally have to sacrifice your chance in juniors to make sure clients’ dogs are in the ring. Close ring times also make it harder to get my juniors dog ready while juggling grooming several others for their ring times.

KB: Have you ever had to skip juniors for work purposes?

CM: I have had to skip juniors several times due to breed commitments for my handler. While it’s hard to give up a chance at winning or qualifying for something, I feel good knowing I followed through with my commitment to Reggie and Susan.

KB: What is your favorite part about being a live-in assistant over the summer?

CM: My favorite part is being with all of the dogs. There isn’t a day spent at Brookridge when there isn’t a dog to be groomed or something new to learn about the dogs themselves. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge from watching them groom their dogs, and it’s exciting that they trust me enough to pass the reins over with their dogs’ care.

KB: If you get days off, what do you do for fun?

CM: On days off, I’m usually out playing with the dogs or learning something new. Reggie tried to teach me how to drive a manual truck on one of our days off. It didn’t go so well. There’s always stuff to be done around the farm though, whether it be training or kennel maintenance.

KB: What is the most valuable thing you have learned from assisting a handler?

CM: The most valuable thing I’ve learned from assisting a handler is that teamwork always prevails. When we work together, the dogs look great and get a positive experience of the show world. Teamwork prevails in the household as well, and working together makes solving a particular task or problem very easy. Team Brookridge has become my second family, and I love knowing that in my three years of working with them I’ve gained support from everyone that will last a lifetime.

Next we have Kari Burkholder of Virginia. Kari is just 13 years old and enjoys spending her summer vacation with professional handler Sarah Murphy and her dogs, while competing in the Open Intermediate Junior Showmanship class.

Kari Burkholder showing Ibizan Hound ‘Primo.’ Photo courtesy of Sarah Murphy.

KB: What challenges do you face showing in Junior Showmanship while assisting a handler?

Kari Burkholder: There’s always a lot of conflicts, whether it’s while juniors is going on or just in general. It’s hard to get used to.

KB: Have you ever had to skip juniors?

Kari: No, I haven’t had to yet, and hope that I don’t!

KB: What is your favorite part about being a live-in assistant?

Kari: You get to learn so much more by staying after the show is said and done, and really spending more time with your dog.

KB: If you get days off, what do you do for fun?

Kari: My dog loves lure coursing, long walks or runs, and, for me, spending time with my friends.

KB: What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from assisting?

Kari: To never, ever give up trying. Even if it seems hopeless, sooner or later it will be your time to shine.

The youngest of the four you will hear from today is 10-year-old Celeste Morelli. Celeste can be found at shows with her mom Emily or helping out her “Poodle people,” Sue Burrell and Deena Mattolla. Celeste is currently an Open Junior, but aspires to much more.

Celeste Morelli and her juniors dog moments before they entered the ring to win their class at PCA 2013. Photo courtesy of Celeste and Emily Morelli.

KB: What challenges do you face showing and assisting?

Celeste Morelli: The challenges I face are the ring times because with the Poodles you have to spray up their hair and you have to spend a lot of time on shaping of the body, as well we make sure clients’ dogs are all happy and well exercised.

KB: Have you ever had to skip juniors for work purposes?

CM: Yes, I have had to not show in juniors because the breed was on at the same time as juniors, and there was no time in between to get my dog ready or be available for the class.

KB: What is your favorite part about being a live-in assistant?

CM: My favorite part is that you get to spend time with other dogs, not just your own.

KB: If you get days off, what do you do for fun?

CM: We will practice handling, and we also have fun with the dogs, go in the pool, go for walks, that kind of stuff.

KB: What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned?

CM: The most valuable thing I have learned is to be firm, but fair.

Lastly, I had the chance to catch up with Alaska native, Emmylea Herring. Emmylea is 17 years old and is currently in the Masters class (kudos to her). She is spending her summer assisting and learning form Colette Livingston.

Emmylea Herring and her Sheltie in the juniors ring. Photo courtesy of Emmylea Herring.

KB:What challenges do you face showing in Junior Showmanship while assisting?

Emmylea Herring: Colette has been awesome and accommodating about juniors. She knows it is a priority of mine, and if she needs help and I am in juniors, she can ask her brother or professional handler friends.

KB:Have you ever had to skip juniors for work purposes?

EH: No!

KB:What is your favorite part about being a live-in assistant?

EH: That’s hard! I actually love the apartment I live in, but it is possibly the horses. In all seriousness, I think it is getting to learn from the absolute best! I am learning, seeing and being involved in the behind-the-scenes of the dogs, not just the final product of the ring presentation. It’s what it takes to get them there!

KB:If you get days off, what do you do for fun?

EH: Tan! I also exercise and just hang out. I read my books for my AP classes too. But that’s not as much fun. We went to the lake yesterday and met up with friends and had a great time.

KB:What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned?

EH: Hmm, I’m not sure I’ve been assisting long enough to answer that! I’ll get back to you on that one!

These four junior handlers will no doubt remember this summer for some time to come, just like I did when I was their age, and maybe even just like you!

Send me a comment below if you want to share your story.

See, I told you, 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!"
  • Joe Rosenberg July 16, 2013 at 8:05 AM

    It would be interesting to learn the percentage of junior handlers who
    go on to become professional handlers. And how many go on to be
    breeder/exhibitors. And just how many drop out of dogs entirely to
    persue other professionals and hobbies? With participation in dog
    shows shrinking, it would behoove us to learn why avid folks just
    drop out. How’s that for an assignment!!!

  • heather
    Heather rife dvm July 17, 2013 at 4:16 PM

    I got my first dog when I was 9, eventually started in juniors, and competed twice at Westminster, winning 3rd in 1972. From there I became a veterinarian, took a hiatus and rescued dobermans. Once again became interested in showing and now show in conformation, agility, Earthdog, barn hunt, rally and obedience. All stemming from my beginnings in juniors!

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