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Interview with Owner Handler Penny McNiel

Owner Handler Penny McNiel


Interview with Owner Handler Penny McNiel

How were you first introduced to the sport of purebred dogs? To your breed?

Penny McNiel: After years of doing rescue work, I purchased a Golden Retriever from a breeder. He was my first purebred dog as an adult, and while he never went into the Breed ring, he was the perfect example of the Breed Standard and did performance events. I got introduced to Boykin Spaniels and the Breed ring at the same time!

About four years ago we were looking for a smaller dog that would fit into an RV, since we’d planned to live in the RV full-time at some point. I ran into a friend who had English Springer Spaniels and another “brown dog” that I really liked. I got tons of information from Sue, and six months later, I got the “pick” from her litter with the understanding that she would take him (as co-owner) in the ring and I would take his sister (that I co-own) in the ring.

How many years in dogs? In your breed?

Penny McNiel: I have had dogs all my life. As an adult, I started 31 years ago with a rescue, quickly followed by fostering over 100 dogs (mainly Golden Retrievers). I have had a Boykin for 3.5 years now and I love it!

Do you attend show handling classes? Have you attended in-person handling seminars?

Penny McNiel: I have attended two classes on handling, but most of the education has come from other owner handlers! I have wonderful people around me with all kinds of breeds, and they are great about coaching me and answering my questions. I’ve only been doing this for three years, so I still feel like a newbie!

Have you found virtual learning tools to be helpful? Videos? Websites? Social Media? AKC Canine College?

Penny McNiel: I have watched several videos that have been shared with me, but I like the ones by Will Alexander the best.

Do you compete in the National Owner-Handled Series? Are rankings important to you?

Penny McNiel: I do compete in NOHS, and I love seeing both dogs in the upper rankings! It is a testament to the great breeding that went into this litter, as well as the bond we have with both dogs.

In which class(es) are you most likely to enter your dog(s)?

Penny McNiel: I enter the basic classes, since I’m not the breeder.

Who have been your mentor(s) as an Owner Handler?

Penny McNiel: Tough question. There’s a lot of people who have helped me, but I would have to say Sue Riegerix has been my biggest mentor. Meegan Pierotti-Tietje, Alexandria Mitchell, and Beth Crocker have all been great help.

What are the benefits of competing with your breed(s) as an Owner Handler?

Penny McNiel: There is a large contingent of owner handlers in the Boykin ring. It brings a sense of camaraderie to the ring, which makes showing more fun!

How are you encouraging new exhibitors to participate in the sport?

Penny McNiel: Honestly, I tell them that if I can do it, they can do it.

Are there any suggestions you’d like to pass along about the presentation of your breed(s).

Penny McNiel: Don’t over stretch your Boykin! The hardest thing for me is getting their back feet to be far enough back without going too far. That’s something I see new handlers having a hard time with as well.

What are your goals as an Owner Handler? Is there a victory that has eluded you?

Penny McNiel: I would love to get an Owner-Handled Best in Show. I still have more to learn to get to that level, but I will get there!

Is there a funny story that you can share about your experiences as an Owner Handler?

Penny McNiel: I’m pretty sure you are asking about in the ring, so I won’t talk about getting a flat tire, then having to duct tape the windshield on the way to Westminster. I would have to say it was at Westminster when I apologized to the judge for all the glitter on “Goose.” (My top and jacket were shedding glitter all over everyone and everything!) The judge laughed and told me to hair spray my glittery clothes. Then she gave Goose the nickname of “Sparkles.”