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PHA Award Recipients Inspire

Going into these two interviews, I wasn’t anticipating just how inspirational these two young handlers would be when answering five simple questions about a special award they both received from the Professional Handlers Association to help pay for a trip to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show to compete in Junior Showmanship.

I know you may be wondering, “Why is it special?” Well, for starters, each junior must first apply and hand in proper paperwork in order to compete for the PHA Junior Showmanship award. There are six PHA zones where junior handlers can be considered for this award, and usually only one award is given for each zone. In this case, however, both Christian Rutten of Snohomish, Wash., and Caleb Campbell of Sumner, Wash., received the award. After you read what they have to say, I think you will see why!

Sixteen-year old Christian from the Open Senior class prevailed last year at Westminster by making it to the finals. He has been showing in juniors for six years, and he is also the president of the DOGS 4-H club in his area.

Christian and ‘Roy,’ GCh. Windbourne’s HD Ranch King Of The Road, at the moment they were selected to advance to the finals at WKC 2013.

Kayla Bertagnolli: Please explain what receiving the PHA award means to you.

Christian Rutten: It meant the world to me receiving the PHA award. Last year was one of the roughest years of my life! I had such a winning showing year last year, and I didn’t want to not be able to attend Westminster because of financial reasons. I found a way to be able to make it to both Westminster and Eukanuba, but let’s just say the gears weren’t turning, they were screaming, because they were so low on grease. I was just trying to roll with the punches when I was told that the PHA was going to help. Those words lifted the weight of the world off my shoulders! The most difficult part was I was having my second knee surgery the day after I got back from Eukanuba, and Westminster was my returning show, meaning I wasn’t able to work beforehand to pay for myself to go. The PHA preformed a miracle.

KB: Are you currently qualified for WKC 2014? Please share with us a few highlight wins from junior competitions this year.

CR: No, I am halfway there! I took three months off this year due to the knee surgery, so I am just getting back into the swing of things! Probably one of the best highlights this year besides making it to finals at Westminster was at the Seattle Kennel Club dog show in March. It was only mythird weekend showing this year and thesecond time I had ever shown my Golden Retriever puppy. I got third in a class of close to 35! I couldn’t have been happier, not because of the ribbon I got but because of how well my puppy showed for it being such a big show and her never doing it before! It’s not always the size of the ribbon, but how much you thought you deserved it!

KB:Do you have any advice for fellow junior handlers who wish to attend Westminster Kennel Club next year?

CR: If you’re claustrophobic, make sure to bring a lot of medication! With that I believe the biggest thing to remember is it’s just a dog show. You wouldn’t have been able to qualify if you weren’t somewhat good. Just keep that in mind, keep a level head and show your dog like it’s any other weekend!

KB:Who has influenced you the most in your dog show career and why?

CR: The biggest influence for me was Tomas A. Duncan or as everyone knew him, Tad. He was the man who taught me every Wednesday for two years how to become a better handler and how to contribute back to the sport. He was able to teach me at an important time in my life, a time when I was just young enough to soak up the information and just old enough to execute it properly. I know that without him I wouldn’t have succeeded as much and as quickly as I did. He was a genuine man who I know would have taught me loads more if he wouldn’t have left us. You are still missed and remembered for everything you have done, Tad.

KB:Any last words?

CR: Very rarely am I able to speak and know my words are being heard by many, other than my occasional Facebook posts that get everyone smiling first thing in the morning. I want everyone young and old to remember this: this is a sport and this means it takes people to play. As exhibitors it is our goal to keep everyone in this sport. With a simple $500 award that you gave to someone in this sport, you’ve created an exhibitor who will never believe he can fully repay this association or the sport itself. By your little donation, you have kept someone in the sport and helped your organization grow by the good word being spread about it. In my lifetime I have had many outstanding mentors. My mentors know who they are. I’m not only thanking them, but every person in this sport who has given back and helped this sport grow.

Caleb and ‘Dodge,’ GCh. Elwha’s Grab Life By The Horns JE CA. Photo by Elite-Image.com. 

Caleb Campbell, also 16 years old, not only spends his weekends at dog shows, but is heavily involved in the FFA and 4-H in his area. He is known for having a Border Terrier at the end of his lead, but he also shows a Siberian Husky and Whippet in Junior Showmanship in the Open Senior class.

Kayla Bertagnolli:Please explain what receiving the PHA award means to you.

Caleb Campbell: Receiving this from PHA means relief. It is financially challenging to travel to New York with the hotel, flight and a dog. And I was lucky enough to have my mom to travel back there with this year, but that was twice the cost we had to worry about. Receiving the letter from PHA definitely felt like a huge blessing.

KB:Are you currently qualified for WKC? Please share with us a few highlight wins from junior competitions this year.

CC: I am currently trying to qualify to go to the Garden in 2014 and am over halfway there. My favorite win this year would have to be when I went down to Sacramento for spring break, went to the Nor Cal Terrier show and won Best Junior Handler with the dog that I started juniors with. It was special since it was the biggest Terrier show in the country, after Montgomery, which I hope to someday attend.

KB:Do you have any advice for fellow junior handlers who wish to attend Westminster Kennel Club this year?

CC: Don’t give up. It feels tough at times, but don’t stop. I tend to stress out about qualifying and it gets the best of me at times, but what really helps is just picturing yourself on that green carpet in New York City. It helps tremendously.

KB:Who has influenced you the most in your dog show career and why?

CC: I would have to say my 4-H leader, Trisa Hansen, who had a Border Terrier that I fell in love with and made me want one. She is my pseudo mom and keeps me in check from getting too caught up in this game we call “dog shows.” My mom as well, as without her I would not even be able to attend shows every weekend. I also have to say Terri Erickson, who has gotten me into the world of Siberian Huskies and Whippets and has allowed me to help and travel with her this year along with showing two of her dogs. The whole Border Terrier community has influenced me dramatically, and I thank them all.

KB:Any last words?

CC: Always believe that you can reach your goals. Always go into that ring and love your dog as much as you always do. Never lose sight of your dreams.

Also, extreme thank you to the PHA for this extremely generous gift.

Without a doubt, these two extraordinary young handlers remind us that 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!"