Interview with Lily Bennett, the 2021 Westminster Kennel Club’s Best Junior Handler
Congratulations on your Best Junior Handler win at Westminster! Is it a dream come true?
Lily Bennett: Thank you so much, it really is! It’s something I never thought I could ever achieve with a rare breed at Westminster Kennel Club. I’m very thankful for the judges who picked me in a very tough line-up of very talented Juniors.
Was the experience different somehow because it was held at Lyndhurst instead of in New York?
Lily Bennett: To me, it wasn’t that different. I’d attended WKC for three years before it was moved to the Lyndhurst Estate, and it was always a magical experience at The Piers. With it being moved to Lyndhurst, I was a bit nervous about how we were going to park, get to the grounds, and turn in our Reel Health daily assessment. But when we got there, it was a very smooth and pleasant experience, going through the line of cars, and getting our wristbands and temperatures taken.
Who was the first person you called or texted after you’d won?
Lily Bennett: The first person I called was my dad, who is currently in Idaho working. When I told him that I had made it to the floor, he thought I meant that I’d faceplanted into the ground as I was going around the ring. I had to explain to him what I actually did. He actually shut down his job early to watch Gunner and I, but the stream cut out. So, he was not able to watch. Other than calling my dad, I had so many people calling and messaging me with congratulatory messages that I got so overwhelmed and had to put my phone on silent until the next day.
How have you celebrated your victory? Did you and your dog enjoy a special meal that night?
Lily Bennett: It was quite late, so nothing was open. Gunner and I celebrated with some of my dog show family who were with me by going out to have soft-serve ice cream and crepes for dinner.
You’ve shown several different breeds in Juniors. How did you choose which dog to show this year?
Lily Bennett: This year, it was quite difficult for me to choose a dog to show in Juniors. I knew that I didn’t want to show my Cirneco, Deagan, in Juniors, because I wanted to focus on the Breed ring with him. So, I originally wanted to bring my Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, Goose, that I had been working very hard to keep in shape all year to be able to show at Westminster. But two weeks before Westminster, Goose bloated. I was worried sick about him until I got the word that he was out of surgery and in stable condition.
One member of the AWGPA found out what was going on with Goose and quickly found me his half-brother who lives only an hour and a half from the show site. Kate and Kendall DeStanto generously allowed me to have the decision to show Gunner in Juniors—and I said, “Yes!”
The dogs are really my whole world and I can’t think of a life without them and their owners.
What does your dog mean to you now that you’ve completed this journey together?
Lily Bennett: All three of my boys and their owners mean so much to me after this journey. Goose, Gunner, and Deagan have all helped me, and I cannot thank them enough for helping me get to “The Garden” and even supporting me while on kennel rest, getting better. The dogs are really my whole world and I can’t think of a life without them and their owners.
How has Junior Handling made a difference in your life? In your family’s life?
Lily Bennett: Junior Handling has taught me so many life skills with people and how to handle certain situations. I have made so many wonderful friends and relationships through Juniors, and my mom has also met some wonderful Junior parents. I think this has made our lives more positive, even through COVID.
Can you offer any advice to Juniors looking to compete at Westminster in 2022?
Lily Bennett: My advice to Juniors who are showing next year would be to just take whatever gets thrown your way, one step at a time, and just have fun with your dog because they always have your back.
Would you like to say a few words about this year’s judging panel?
Lily Bennett: I think this year’s judging panel was wonderful with having judges equally from the East and the West Coasts. I think this was a great balance.
What’s next for Lily Bennett?
Lily Bennett: Starting my own kennel, attending the World Dog Show, getting my college degree, helping younger Juniors start their careers, and showing my own breeding at Westminster—hopefully, very soon.