From Junior to Pro Handler with Ciara Cassell

Professional Handler Ciara Cassell sitting on grass with her Basenji dog


Interview with Professional Handler, Ciara Cassell


Where do I live? How long have I been in dogs?

Ciara Cassell: I have recently moved from my hometown in Fort Worth, Texas, to Royse City, Texas, which is a small town about 30 miles east of Dallas. I am third generation in Basenjis and have been active in dogs my entire life, both breeding and showing. My older sister has three daughters who are all fourth generation and are currently enjoying Juniors, and I have a son whom I hope will enjoy and be active in the sport, at least somewhat, moving forward.


When did I decide to become a Professional Handler?

Ciara Cassell: After Juniors, I continued to show my own dogs as well as others’ dogs on the side, and I still worked for handlers when I could. After 12 years of a very successful career in veterinary medicine and working in ER/ICU vet med full-force during COVID, I needed a break. I started showing my client dogs more and more, and eventually transitioned to full-time handling in 2021. Being able to travel and show alongside Matias Mato helped to make it a smooth transition.


Who did I apprentice under and for how many years?

Ciara Cassell: I worked for handler Erin Roberts throughout most of my Juniors’ years, and here and there in adulthood until her retirement. I also worked for Sergio Espejo for many years. I assisted many handlers as needed, here and there, intermittently as well.


How many shows do I typically attend each year?

Ciara Cassell: We attend shows usually 2-3 weekends a month, with the exception of January and July when we usually attend far more during the big circuits.


How many dogs do I generally show on a given weekend?

Ciara Cassell: We generally show about 15 dogs on a given weekend.


How do I decide which all-breed shows to attend? What about specialties?

Ciara Cassell: Several factors come into play when it comes to deciding where to go. Location, travelling time, judging panels, and family affairs all come into play. We try to go where the best chance is for the majority of our dogs—sometimes that means driving farther to go where more majors typically are, or where the Group judges line up well.

Coming from a breed where specialties are very important (Basenji), I am partial to specialties and I understand owners’ goals and their desire to attend specialties. So, we try to honor those needs as well.


Can I talk a bit about my facilities? Do I have a kennel?

Ciara Cassell: We currently have a fully functional kennel and are in the middle of establishing a new one as well. We have a full groom room, crating room, outdoor runs, and large exercise yards.


What’s it really like to be “on the road” with a group of show dogs?

Ciara Cassell: Although it comes with a huge responsibility, being able to love, care for, and show these dogs definitely comes with a huge advantage. Traveling the country, establishing friends far and wide, and meeting some amazing breeders and owners are some of the biggest advantages. It can be very difficult and it is not an easy task, but having a lifetime of experience makes it a little more enjoyable even through the stressful times.


Am I going to Orlando? If so, what are my goals for my current string of dogs?

Ciara Cassell: Yes! Last year we had an extremely successful year for all of our dogs. Everyone was in the ribbons, it seemed like, and on Royal Canin day our dogs really did well and we had several Best of Breed wins to celebrate. If we can continue some of that success to share with our clients, it will definitely be a great way to end the year!


Just for laughs, do I have a funny story that I can share about my experiences as a Professional Handler?

Ciara Cassell: About a year ago, I was showing my Bred-By Exhibitor Basenji in the Hound Group. As I often do, I was playing with her in the corner. She likes to lay on the ground, and jump or bounce around and play with me while waiting for her turn, only this time, I misjudged her next move and she “popped” the lead right out of my hand and took off running in the other direction. THANKFULLY, she did not really know that she was loose, and I was able to grab her quickly. I was mortified!

Everyone else was laughing and I was lucky enough to have missed the judge seeing the showdown in the corner. Of course, it was Pat Trotter’s ring, and although I do believe she would have also laughed at the Basenji playing, I would have been far more embarrassed had she witnessed it as well.

  • I live in Royse City, Texas. I am third generation in Basenjis and have been active in dogs my entire life, both breeding and showing.

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