MARION — A Shih Tzu and Australian Shepherd won the coveted title of best in show Saturday and Sunday at Crab Orchard Kennel Club’s all breed dog shows, but the real winners of the weekend may have been the junior handlers entered in the show.
On Sunday, Skyelar Williams, 14, of Gerogetown, Kentucky, was named best junior handler on Sunday by Judge Marilyn Pipes for showing Looker, a 4-year-old Australian Shepherd.
Skyelar started showing dogs at fun shows, then joined 4-H with her brother. She said she slowly started going to American Kennel Club Shows.
“I can see myself doing this for a long time. I love the connection with dogs, and I love the people here,” Skyelar said.
Pipes said the connection between Skyelar and Looker was wonderful, and it definitely showed in the way she handled Looker in the ring.
Show Chairman Bryan Helvey said the club offers a $350 scholarship for the winner. They also offer more trophies and a reduced fee for the young competitors.
“Juniors are the future of our sport, so we really want to encourage them,” Helvey said. “We have a group of kids who come in every year and make it a fun get together.”
In junior showmanship, the young handlers are judged on the way they show and handle their dogs.
“Judges really worked them a lot harder than they did in the regular breed ring,” Helvey said.
Young handlers are ages 9 to 18, and compete in two age groups with different experience and win levels. They have a masters’ class that renews each year.
“Once a junior has 10 best junior awards, they qualify at the master’s level,” Helvey said.
Juniors are required to have seven best junior wins to qualify for Westminster.
Two young handlers, who are too young to compete as juniors, were hits, too. Evan Catterson, 8, of Smithville, Missouri, and Gabby Horbe, 7, of Decatur, both won breed awards on Sunday.
Gabby, who won winners bitch (best female) with her Saluki “Fancy,” was quick to tell everyone who passed by about her win. Fancy did not seem quite as impressed. Her “grammy,” Ellie Case was proud of Gabby for showing in the ring with adults.
Evan, whose parents Paul and Kelly Catterson are professional handlers, won a best of breed.
Helvey said 571 dogs were entered in the show.
“We are really fortunate. For our smaller show, we had really nice quality,” Helvey said.
A Shih Tzu named “Winterholme Anyway U Want it,” nicknamed “Jax,” took best in show on Saturday. Jax is owned by Wendy and Richard Paquette of Savage, Minnesota, and shown by Amanda Carlson.
An Australian Shepherd named “McMatt and Graffiti Rumer Has it” captured top honors on Sunday. She is owned by Michael Halley, Paul Pombeck and Janet Loehr, and shown by Paul Catterson.