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Interview with Savanna Michalak – 2023 Kennel Club of Philadelphia Best Junior Handler

Savanna Michalak and her dog at a show.


Interview with Savanna Michalak – 2023 Kennel Club of Philadelphia Best Junior Handler

Thank you for asking me to complete this questionnaire. This itself is truly an honor for me!

Congratulations, Savanna Michalak, on your Best Junior Handler win at the 2023 Kennel Club of Philadelphia dog show on Sunday! Is it a dream come true?

Savanna Michalak: Being awarded Best Junior at this show at the age of 14 was, without a doubt, a dream come true for me!


How was the overall experience of being at the Philadelphia show for you? Were you busy all weekend?

Savanna Michalak: My boy, “Hawk,” won the breed at this show last year, so I knew that was going to be hard to conquer two years in a row. After not placing in the breed ring this year, I had to suddenly shift my focus to doing well in Juniors and not allow the previous defeat break me down.

I also showed “Annie,” a class Whippet, and helped a few handlers take dogs into the ring when they needed an extra hand. It was a busy weekend, but I was surrounded by my supportive family along with my dog show friends and mentors. I enjoyed the benched show, as many spectators were interested in learning about Australian Shepherds. I loved answering questions about Hawk; having the opportunity to educate others on this breed.

Savanna Michalak
Savanna Michalak

Who was the first person you called or texted after you’d won?

Savanna Michalak: The first people I called after winning Best Junior were my grandparents. They were at the show for the weekend but had left after the breed judging, as it was a few long days for them. They were so upset they missed seeing the win!


How have you celebrated your victory? Did you and your dog enjoy a special meal that night?

Savanna Michalak: Since I had school the day after the win, there was not too much celebrating. I actually still can’t believe I achieved this win!


You’ve shown several different dogs in Juniors. How did you choose which dog to show this year?

Savanna Michalak: I chose to show Hawk in Juniors because of the strong bond I share with him! We are often very much in sync, and if I am nervous he will feel it, and by his actions I know how to correct myself, or him, if needed.

Showing dogs has made me a much more social person. I used to not talk to many people, but having Hawk by my side has helped me come out of my shell and engage with people.

What does your dog mean to you now that you share this win together?

Savanna Michalak: This win means a lot, that it was with Hawk, due to the work I have put in with him over the past few years. I do all the grooming on Hawk. He is my everything, and without him the world would not be the same for me. Win or lose, showing or at home being a pet, Hawk will always be my No. 1. We are a team, and no matter, win or lose, we go home together.


How has Junior Handling made a difference in your life? In your family’s life?

Savanna Michalak: I could talk for hours about how handling dogs has helped to guide me in life. Showing dogs has made me a much more social person. I used to not talk to many people, but having Hawk by my side has helped me come out of my shell and engage with people. Showing dogs has built my confidence, and having amazing, supportive mentors (Vesta Rash, Jessica Plourde, Terri Collins, and Katharine Laz) has helped to shape me as a whole. Without their continued guidance and support I would never have achieved this win. I always use their positive criticism to come back stronger, and I hope this win has made them proud of me.

I struggled in Juniors for a long time because I had four major eye surgeries. I do not have peripheral vision due to the permanent stitches in the corner of my eyes holding down scar tissue. Therefore, I move my body more than others in the ring so that I can feel where the judge is. Also, stacking dogs, I am sometimes more hands-on because my eyes do not always align correctly. I have worked so hard not to have my motions look awkward but rather be smooth.

Dog shows are difficult for my family as I have two younger brothers, ages ten and six, who are very active in sports. My parents both work full-time, so I can’t do shows every weekend nor can I miss much school. Often, my Mom or my Grandparents travel with me to shows.


Would you like to say a few words about this year’s judge?

Savanna Michalak: This year’s Juniors Judge, Mrs. Linda Krukar, stated that one of the reasons she chose me was due to my ring awareness. This was, to me, the most meaningful comment due to my eye condition and the struggles I have had to work to overcome. When she said this to me I began to cry. It was very emotional having a judge compliment me on something I have worked so hard on that most people do not understand.

Savanna Michalak
Savanna Michalak

Can you offer any advice to Juniors looking to compete at next year’s show?

Savanna Michalak: To other Juniors looking to compete next year, I would say to go into Juniors with a clear head. Don’t let any wins or defeats in the cluster affect your mindset. Like my Mom always says, “Nothing is worth having if you do not work hard for it!” Practice hard, go out there and earn your wins. Do not be discouraged by any obstacle—just find a way to get around it.


What’s next for Savanna Michalak?

Savanna Michalak: I’m beginning to work with other breeds of dogs to continue increasing my knowledge and skills. I will be working with Annie the Whippet and also a Wheaten named “Phoebe.”