The Rewards of Being an Owner-Handler

Pictured above (L-R) Leslie Jaseph, Chris Leitkowski, Jeanie McAdams

We asked the following questions to our Breeder/Owner Handler friends in the purebred dog community. Below are their responses.

  1. Where do you live? What is your breed? How many years in dogs?
  2. Do you have any hobbies or interests apart from breeding and showing dogs?
  3. How often do you breed? Do you breed to compete in Conformation? Performance?
  4. Do you compete in the AKC National Owner-Handled Series?
  5. What has been your greatest challenge as a breeder/owner-handler?
  6. What has been your biggest thrill as a competitor?
  7. How are you and your dogs keeping busy now that most dog shows are on hiatus?
  8. Do you have any specific goals in mind for your return to the show ring?
  9. How important is the owner-handler to the future of the sport?
  10. And for a bit of fun: What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you (in or out of the ring) as a breeder/owner-handler?

Meg Callea

I live in Shelton, Washington. My breed is Dalmatians and I’ve been in dogs for 50+ years.

Do I have any hobbies or interests apart from breeding and showing dogs? Not really. Being a Dog Show Photographer, and breeding and showing my own Dals, just about takes all my time!

How often do I breed? Do I breed to compete in Conformation or Performance? I breed one-to-two times a year with two others; we combine our breeding efforts. Dals are a can-do breed and can do it all.

Do I compete in the AKC National Owner-Handled Series? Yes, and I very much enjoy it.

What has been my greatest challenge as a breeder/owner-handler? Really, not much. I think many use it as a crutch when they don’t win. Often, it’s because their dogs are not as well trained or conditioned and groomed.

What has been my biggest thrill as a competitor? Ohhh, there have been more than a few! Winning the National Specialty—and then again with her daughter—has to be pretty close to the top of my list! Winning the Breed and then making a cut in the Group at the Garden was a dream any kid in dogs dreams of!

How are me and my dogs keeping busy now that most dog shows are on hiatus? We had puppies early on and that kept us busy. We have been fortunate to have had some shows in the Pacific Northwest and in Alaska. I feel very lucky to have been able to go to some of them.

Do I have any specific goals in mind for my return to the show ring? My goal is always the same; to show the best, show to those I want and/or care for their opinion (though not always the case), and to have a good time with my dogs.

How important is the owner-handler to the future of the sport? There is a place for the NOHS, for sure. It keeps some coming to shows when they have a breed that is dominated by a handler or breeder in their area. There is a lot more camaraderie in the NOHS ring, for sure. I do wish they would not allow people to compete if they are licensed for more than their original breed.

The funniest thing that’s ever happened to me (in or out of the ring) as a breeder-owner/handler? I guess it’s when I was a kid and the judge asked me what kind of dog I had. It was a Dalmatian,
of course!

Gina Dattilo

I live in Indianapolis. I have both American Staffordshire Terriers and Smooth/Long Coat Chihuahuas! I bought my first “show” dog in 1997. I was involved with working dogs prior to that. I also did Pit Bull rescue.

Do I have any hobbies or interests apart from breeding and showing dogs? Between being a business owner, homeowner, grandkids, dogs and my betta fish, I’m going to say no!

How often do I breed? Do I breed to compete in Conformation or Performance? I have 1-3 litters a year between both breeds. I do Conformation as of now, but I’ve been thinking about doing some Performance Events as well.

Do I compete in the AKC National Owner-Handled Series? Yes, I do! I absolutely love it! For someone like me who is very busy and does showing as a hobby only, it’s been a wonderful addition to
dog shows!

What has been my greatest challenge as a breeder/owner-handler? My greatest challenge…I had to get out of dogs for a few years. I was raising three children and I just couldn’t do both. So after they were older, I came back to the world of dogs. I had to completely start over! I bought a dog and she ended up having major heart problems. She was spayed and placed, and then I was able to get another bitch that is my foundation and my heart. So, I would say that was my biggest challenge.

What has been my biggest thrill as a competitor? I’ve had a few big thrills as a competitor. For me, winning my first Group back in 2001 was huge! Since I’ve been back in dogs, I would say winning an OH BIS with three different Am Staffs…two of which I bred!

How are me and my dogs keeping busy now that most dog shows are on hiatus? Oh, we have no problem staying busy in this house! But one thing I’ve enjoyed doing with the dogs is being able to play with them in our big yard!

Do I have any specific goals in mind for my return to the show ring? Goals are something I love to set and work to achieve. One of them is to win a BISS with one of my bred-by Am Staffs. I won BISS on one of my bred-by Chi’s, so the Am Staffs are next!

How important is the owner-handler to the future of the sport? I can’t stress enough how important the owner-handler is to the sport of dogs! There are a lot of OHs who go to shows just for the OH Series.

The funniest thing that’s ever happened to me (in or out of the ring) as a breeder/owner-handler? Well, this is one of many things that’s happened… Many years ago, I was waiting to go in the ring with an Am Staff. I was chatting away with friends (not paying any attention) when my dog hiked his leg on me and it absolutely soaked the inside my shoe!

Cheri Herschell

I live near Zelienople, Pennsylvania, a beautiful, quaint town north of Pittsburgh. I own and breed Labrador Retrievers, primarily Black and Chocolate. I have been showing dogs since 2002, when I acquired my first Labrador and competed in Obedience.

Do you have any hobbies or interests apart from breeding and showing dogs? I enjoy activities outside of the show ring with my dogs, including pheasant hunting, hunt tests, obedience, and
dock diving.

How often do I breed? Do I breed to compete in Conformation or Performance? I typically have one litter a year. I breed for a dog that is capable of winning in the show ring in the morning, and hitting the fields or the duck blind in the afternoon.

Do I compete in the AKC National Owner-Handled Series? I enter NOHS whenever it is offered at a show, and have been invited to the National Championship with Top 10 Labradors three times.

What has been my greatest challenge as a breeder/owner-handler? Often my greatest challenge is managing the balance between my real-world job and my hobby in dogs. One is clearly more appealing, but the other pays the bills!

My biggest thrill as a competitor has to be when my bred-by dog, GCH Rebellion’s Mischief in Me JH, CA, CGC, WCX, went Owner-Handled Best in Show.

How are me and my dogs keeping busy now that most dog shows are on hiatus? Thankfully, field work has continued as it is done exclusively outdoors. I was able to get in lots of hunt test training and put a JH on a dog over the summer, before shows started back up.

My goal for returning to the show ring is to start competing with my new puppy in early 2021, as well as working towards Grand Champion Bronze level on my new GCH.

I believe the owner-handler is vital to the sport of dogs, but the breeder/owner-handler even more so. Without the breeders at home in the whelping box, there will be no great dogs to “wow” us in the show ring. Breeders are truly the life blood of the sport, and I believe the Bred-By-Exhibitor Class is one of the most important classes in any breed lineup.

The funniest thing that’s ever happened to me (in or out of the ring) as a breeder/owner-handler? Oh goodness, there’s been so many incidents! Probably the funniest was sitting ringside for Owner-Handled Groups at the National Championship, where a friend was showing his Labrador. A dog from a litter he produced was also sitting ringside with the owner, next to me. As my friend in the ring did his go-around, the ringside dog popped up and moved out into perfect show position (albeit on his right side)! Thankfully, the owner had the end of the leash (and I also managed to snag it), so he didn’t get too far. We still laugh about it to this day.

Leslie Jaseph

I live in Crownsville, Maryland, not far from Annapolis. I have been in dogs personally for 48 years, getting my first Sealyham Terrier in 1972 when I was 11 years old. I bred my first litter in 1976. I grew up with Airedales, as my mother bred them, and we also bred and showed Border Terriers in the 1980s.

Do I have any hobbies or interests apart from breeding and showing dogs? I have always been involved volunteering for local nonprofits that provide clothing and food assistance to people in need. I also love spending time with my family, traveling, and reading.

How often do I breed? Do I breed to compete in Conformation and Performance? I breed no more than once a year, and place puppies first and foremost in loving homes as companions. I do encourage the owners to be active with their dogs and compete wherever they are most comfortable. If a puppy turns out to be show quality, I encourage them to participate in conformation, helping to the best of my ability or connecting them with those who are in closer proximity. I am also happy if they participate in performance, barn hunt, earthdog, or therapy dog; wherever they find activities they enjoy. For me, the most important part is that the dog is an important part of the life of the owner.

Do I compete in the AKC National Owner-Handled Series? Yes, I started competing with NOHS five years ago, mostly for ring practice and experience for my dog. I found it was also a great way to create awareness for Sealyhams and realize that owner-handlers could groom and show their own dogs. My dogs have had wonderful success in NOHS. One that I imported in 2014 is in the Top 50 All-Breeds Lifetime, #1 Sealyham Lifetime; her son (my bred-by), is currently #1 this year and #4 Breed Lifetime, both achieving multiple NOHS BIS and RBIS. They have also been very successful in the “regular” show ring as breed specialty winners and Terrier Group winners/placers.

What has been my greatest challenge as a breeder/owner-handler? There are, occasionally, challenges as a breeder/owner-handler in the bigger picture of shows. As a breeder on a small scale, I often travel on my own and will usually have one, perhaps two, dogs that I am exhibiting. I cover my own expenses and maintain the condition of my dogs without assistance. This can make it difficult to enter many shows, as well as create more visibility and awareness for my dogs, compared to those who have chosen this as a career. This, however, actually encourages me to work harder to make sure my dog is competitive every time I walk into the ring.

What has been my biggest thrill as a competitor? I count myself fortunate to have experienced several amazing wins with dogs as a breeder/owner-handler. In Sealyhams, my first bred-by dog won his first major at seven months at Devon DSA, the day before our National Specialty, under judge Billy Kendrick when I was 15 years old. As an adult, he was a Group and Specialty winner. More recently, my multiple Group-winning Sealy bitch has produced Group winners in the US and in Europe. Perhaps the biggest thrill I have experienced came with our Border Terriers; showing our foundation bitch to the second BIS won by a Border (first for a bitch and American-bred Border), under Anne Rogers Clark. A few years later, her daughter went on to become the second Border bitch to win a BIS (as well as being awarded Terrier Group 3 at the AKC Centennial Show in 1984), under judge Michelle Billings.

How are me and my dogs keeping busy now that most dog shows are on hiatus? We have three Sealyhams at home, and we make sure they are mentally engaged and have fun on a daily basis. We live on an acre that is partially wooded. We have our own earthdog and tracking opportunities as we see most every kind of wildlife found in the mid-Atlantic. We also enjoy long walks, lots of playing (squeaky tennis balls and anything with a loud squeaker are favorites) and, of course, refresher practice for the time we can return to showing. Most important is the one-on-one time without hurry that we
have enjoyed.

Do I have any specific goals in mind for my return to the show ring? I think my goals are the same they have always been; to present a quality representative of my breed in the best condition I can achieve each time I walk into the ring. As a breeder, I take this privilege seriously and, as an owner-handler, I am extremely
grateful for the opportunity. Beyond that, I am happy for the recognition my dog receives.

How important is the owner-handler to the future of the sport? I think owner-handlers are, indeed, important for the future of the sport. Most dogs are exhibited by an owner, and they are usually the people who will be approached at a show when someone wants to know more about their breed and are looking for a puppy. We have an opportunity to present the sport and our breed in incredibly positive ways. We need to be open to conversation and introduce people to our breed in personal ways, using each chance as a mini Meet the Breed. Each encounter can lead to a new breeder/owner-handler; the next generation to carry on our breed, and future events.

The funniest thing that’s ever happened to me (in or out of the ring) as a breeder/owner-handler? In the ring, a few years ago, my lead broke while finishing the first go around. I don’t think my Sealy noticed (she was well experienced by then), and she stood there perfectly, watching me, until a friend grabbed a lead from my tack box. Outside the ring, a male Irish Terrier had gotten off lead and was having a grand time running and dodging everyone around. I’d quickly remembered the Sealy girl I was showing was in heat, so I pulled her out of the crate, and walked her towards the path of the Irish. I have never seen a dog reach a dead stop so quickly!

Chris Leitkowski

I live in Uncasville, Connecticut. I’ve been in Weimaraners for 16 years and Labs for 12 years prior to Weims.

Do I have any hobbies or interests apart from breeding and showing dogs? Mountain biking, boating, SCUBA diving, hunting, fishing, and competing with my dogs in performance events too.

How often do I breed? Do I breed to compete in Conformation or Performance? We are on our third litter for this year. We breed for conformation and performance. I feel form is extremely important for function. As a breeder, I strive to produce a truly versatile dog that not only can compete in the conformation world, but also in obedience, the field, tracking, agility and, most importantly, to be a part of your family.

Do I compete in the AKC National Owner-Handled Series? Yes, I compete in NOHS.

What has been my greatest challenge as a breeder/owner-handler? Earning the respect of professional handlers and judges. I feel many view an owner-handler as an athlete competing in the special Olympics, and that owner-handlers are a joke, beneath them.

What has been my biggest thrill as a competitor? My biggest thrill is also my biggest frustration with the AKC: When a good judge truly recognizes and rewards our outstanding breed type and movement, and chooses to judge the dogs in the ring based on their merit and not who’s on the lead. Throughout COVID, there has truly been a great divide in judging, with many good judges taking their time to judge dogs on merit rather than who’s on the other end of the lead. These judges are the ones who will truly help maintain good breeding stock in each breed—and this is the whole point of dog shows.

Where the thrill turns into frustration is when you see a dog get put up, not based on your breed standard as all dogs should be judged, but rather on the handler who is on the other end of the lead. This type of antics completely defeats the whole purpose of a conformation show. It then starts a domino effect and hurts future generations of your breed. These judges aren’t doing anyone a favor as in the end this will destroy quality in each breed. I had a judge (whose name will remain anonymous) tell me the way they judge each breed is as if they had a check in their pocket to buy the best dog of that breed at the time to add to their breeding program. So, at that point you then ask yourself, “Is that a dog I want in my breeding program?” If the answer is no, then that dog hasn’t met muster. It was a great explanation that really hit home.

How are me and my dogs keeping busy now that most dog shows are on hiatus? We have had to travel much greater distances to be able to show. When all shows had stopped, we did some breedings, trained dogs, and refocused on the things to better our home.

Do I have any specific goals in mind for my return to the show ring? Continue to bring superior dogs to judges for their evaluation, so they will appreciate how nice a truly purpose-bred dog is when it is true to the breed standard and type.

How important is the owner-handler to the future of the sport? I think, as a breeder/owner-handler, it is the real backbone of the sport. If the breeders continue to see the bad judging, as I have on many occasions, you start to see dog shows lose credibility in their ability to ensure good breeding stock.

Jeanie McAdams

I live in Denton County, Texas. My breed is Miniature American Shepherds. I’ve had Australian Shepherds since 1975, but bought my first Miniature American Shepherd in 2007.

Do I have any hobbies or interests apart from breeding and showing dogs? There’s not much time for anything else now, but I love to learn new things, travel and explore, water and snow skiing, any kind of design work, architecture, photography, horses, etc.

How often do I breed? I breed for myself, so not too often, but I am an AKC Breeder of Merit. Do I breed to compete in Conformation? Yes. Performance? No, I do not compete in Performance Events at this time.

Do I compete in the AKC National Owner-Handled Series? Yes, most of the time, depending on the show schedule. However, my main goal is to showcase my dogs in the regular Group and Best in Show rings.

What has been my greatest challenge as a breeder/owner-handler? Getting caught up at home with work, etc., so we can go to another show!

What has been my biggest thrill as a competitor? There have been several…winning back-to-back Nationals Best of Breed, also winning two regular Best in Shows and 35 Group Firsts on my third generation bred-by. Also, winning a regular Reserve Best in Show with his sire (also a bred-by) and four Group Firsts! My bred-by boy winning the AKC National NOHS Invitational Best in Show was a thrill, as well as placing in the AKC National Bred-By Group multiple times with bred-bys! It’s more fun to win with a bred-by!

How are me and my dogs keeping busy now that most dog shows are on hiatus? We have been back to showing since the Learning Cluster in Oklahoma at the end of June, but during the Covid break I just tried to get caught up on lots of things at home and at work.

Do I have any specific goals in mind for my return to the show ring? I just finished my third generation bred-by’s Platinum Grand Championship, so I am very thrilled with that accomplishment. He is also the #1 All-Breed MAS through August and #2 Breed! He is the only MAS in AKC history to have won two regular Best in Shows and 35 Group Firsts. I would like to win some more Groups with him. Our breed has only been AKC fully-recognized since July 1, 2015, so to accomplish all this in a few years has been
very satisfying.

How important is the owner-handler to the future of the sport? I think, very important. It is a very popular event and encourages participation and more entries.

The funniest thing that’s ever happened to me (in or out of the ring) as a breeder/owner-handler? Watching the Dobe ring and seeing three ladies have wardrobe malfunctions almost simultaneously! They kept going like nothing ever happened!

Laurel Medley

I live in Dunnellon, Florida. My breed is Vizslas and I’ve been in dogs for 14 years.

Do I have any hobbies or interests apart from breeding and showing dogs? Who has the time?

How often do I breed? Do I breed to compete in Conformation or Performance? I breed, maybe, one litter a year. My dogs compete in conformation, hunting, obedience, and rally.

What has been my greatest challenge as a breeder/owner-handler? Trying to do it all and do it well. Also, bringing new puppy owners into the world of dog sports.

What has been my biggest thrill as a competitor? Showing my “keeper” from my first litter at our National and being awarded Best of Opposite Sex in an entry of 350.

How are me and my dogs keeping busy now that most dog shows are on hiatus? I’ve had a litter and been training towards hunting.

Do I have any specific goals in mind for my return to the show ring? Introducing my next generation to dog sports and have them love it.

How important is the owner-handler to the future of the sport? Without the breeder/owner-handlers, where would the sport be?

Lori Mills

I live in Grand Bay, Alabama. My breed is Coonhounds, Redbones mainly. I’ve been in dogs for over 50 years.

Do I have any hobbies or interests apart from breeding and showing dogs? My hobbies are fishing and hunting.

How often do I breed? Do I breed to compete in Conformation or Performance? I breed when I want pups, not for the general public. I breed for all-around dogs: Hunt, Show and Companion.

Do I compete in the AKC National Owner-Handled Series? Yes, we do compete in the NOHS.

What has been my greatest challenge as a breeder/owner-handler? Bypassing politics; and judges’ lack of caring for
this competition.

What has been my biggest thrill as a competitor? My greatest thrill has been taking Best in Show and OH Best in Show with a multi-generation dog from our kennel.

How are me and my dogs keeping busy now that most dog shows are on hiatus? We have just been enjoying the break, waiting for things to return to normal like the rest of the world.

Do I have any specific goals in mind for my return to the show ring? My goal is to bring out new dogs and pups, and resume the dog show family relationship we all need and miss.

How important is the owner-handler to the future of the sport? The owner-handler is very important and helps to promote the sport. It is the basis of a good, ethical sport and an esteem builder.

The funniest thing that’s ever happened to me (in or out of the ring) as a breeder-owner/handler? The funniest thing that’s ever happened was a judge pointing at my dog and awarding me the Group, but calling it the wrong breed. I said it’s not that breed, but I will take it!

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