Interview with an Owner Handler, Sandi Kempton
I have been in and around the sport of purebred dogs since 1972 when I got my first show dog, an Irish Setter named Foxfyre Gillian’s Aire. From there, I went on to own, breed, and compete with Vizslas (“Glennora and/or Glen’s”) and English Springer Spaniels (with the Faust’s “Twin Oaks”). We have produced multiple champions in each breed, including specialty winners. When it came time to downsize, I fell in love with the Toy Manchester Terrier breed, which I will never be without. We currently compete in Conformation, Barn Hunt, FastCAT, and Obedience.
Where do I live? How many years have I been an Owner Handler?
Sandi Kempton: I live near Annapolis, Maryland. I have always been an Owner Handler. Way back in the 1970s, I did use a handler (Bob Forsyth) for a short while to show my first show dog for majors, but I also showed her myself.
How did I get my start in your breed? In the sport?
Sandi Kempton: Way back in 1972, I contacted George Alston for handling classes after acquiring my first show dog, an Irish Setter. At that time, I went to work for him in his kennel. That was my real introduction to the sport.
I have had Toy Manchester Terriers for about 18 years now. I had always had Sporting dogs, but my last English Springer girls were aging and my husband had become interested in a Toy breed! I knew nothing about Toys, so I did some research and really loved the look of the Toy Manchester. When I finally met one in person, I had to have one IMMEDIATELY! I just had them as pets for 11 years or so, but finally contacted the breeders we knew, Jim Burrows and Patrick Mackesey (“Burmack”), to get a show prospect.
Have I always loved to show dogs? Have I always been a dog person?
Sandi Kempton: We always had dogs growing up, but I was showing horses in my early days. When I took a break from horse ownership and showing, my interest went to the competitive world of purebred dogs.
Is there a story behind my decision to show my own dog?
Sandi Kempton: I believe that if you are able and capable, which I am, it’s so much more fun to show than to sit on the sidelines and watch.
What makes showing my own dog so special to me?
Sandi Kempton: There’s the satisfaction of knowing that consistent work, imagination, training, and then putting it into practice, leads to success. The teamwork is everything to me.
In my opinion, is there a secret to having a great dog/handler partnership?
Sandi Kempton: Always be aware of the best way to support your dog, whether it’s preparation, practice, or actually while in the ring. They will absolutely let you know what their needs are if you are listening. Be worthy of their devotion.
Do I compete in the National Owner-Handled Series? If so, for how many years?
Sandi Kempton: I do, and I love it! I began competing in the NOHS probably around 2018 or so. My dog, GCH Burmack’s Back to Zach, had finished in four weekends at just over a year old, so he stayed home to grow up for a while. When “Zachary” came back out, we started competing in the NOHS. In 2019, he finished at No. 4, but I had broken my ankle so I couldn’t go to Orlando that year.
In 2021, I started my second competitor in the NOHS. We co-own our young bitch, GCHB Maximal’s Call Sign Ivy CGC TKN, with Michelle Barlak (“Maximal”). “Ivy” also finished in four weekends (never thought that would happen twice), and she did it with a Toy Group placement from the classes! She finished the 2022 season at No. 1!
What goals did I set for myself and for my dog in 2022? What about 2023?
Sandi Kempton: When the early stats came out in 2021 for the 2022 season, I realized that Ivy had the potential to win the OH Breed competition… so that was one goal I’d set. We had goals for the “big shows.” She received an Award of Merit at Westminster where we were the only owner-handled Toy Manchester in the awards lineup there. Ivy made it through all of the cuts at the National Specialty in Houston, Texas, and just missed an Award of Merit. The next day she did receive an Award of Merit and BOBOH at the District 4 Specialty Show, followed by OH Group 1 and Reserve Best Owner-Handled in Show!
For 2023, since Ivy just received her GCH Bronze, we are going to pursue the next steps for Silver and Gold. More frequent placements in the Toy Group is another goal that we have, and she will be shown in the NOHS where we are pursuing her Platinum designation and then also working for another invitation to Orlando.
Am I going to Orlando? If so, what’s it like to have a top NOHS dog this year?
Sandi Kempton: We are entered and going! I am beyond humbled by the achievements of my girl Ivy. Her excellent breed type, work ethic, and desire to please have brought us here, and she deserves so much of the credit. I am proud to show her each and every time, and so grateful to the judges who have rewarded her.
Just for laughs, do I have a funny story that I can share about my experiences as an Owner Handler?
Sandi Kempton: There are so many stories with the NOHS Toy Group competitors that we see often, but most of them may not be printable. Rest assured, they are hilarious.
I would like to address the outstanding quality of the dogs in NOHS rings these days. Judges have commented to me that the stellar handling skills of our Owner Handlers, combined with this level of excellence in their dogs, makes the competition certainly equal to the “regular” Groups. There is a strong camaraderie among our Owner-Handled ranks that is so beneficial to the success of this sport we love. The genuine joy that we can feel at the others’ accomplishments fills my heart. I am proud to be a part of this great group.