‘There’s Only One’

“Westminster … There’s only one.” That’s the slogan for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and Ben and Mandy Swanson of Jamestown agree.

Both of these teens were invited to compete as juniors at the second-oldest sporting event in the United States. The show was held in New York City on Monday and Tuesday.

While neither sibling made it to the final eight judging, which was disappointing, that didn’t dim the excitement of Westminster. Speaking for both himself and his sister, Ben said, “Being invited to Westminster was a huge experience, and we’re both so excited that we got this far.”

Both teens came home with lovely green rosettes to commemorate their participation at Westminster.

A search for a family pet eight years ago started these two Maple Grove High School students on the road to the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Ben and Mandy Swanson were just 9 and 7 years old, respectively, when, having had Labrador retrievers for many years, the family (their parents are Bill and Meri Swanson) started attending dog shows, looking for another breed for their family.

Last week they were among just 84 young handlers chosen to compete in Junior Showmanship at the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City. Ben and Mandy qualified by being chosen as Best Junior Handler at seven or more American Kennel Club shows held between Nov. 1, 2011, and Oct. 31, 2012.

The breed that won their hearts was the Australian shepherd, and breeders Karen Mallory of Arborview Kennels in Titusville, Pa., and Belinda Rhoads, Oakhurst Kennel in Maryland have helped them along the way.

Starting with a retired show dog, call name Rowdy, (Ch. Horizon’s Waggin’ Master) Ben and Mandy learned how to show, groom and live with an Australian shepherd. Currently, Ben shows Grand Champion Oakhurst-Arborview Kick It Up a Notch, aka “Bubba,” and Mandy handles Grand Champion Arborview’s Dances With Ewes, called “Brody.”

Unlike conformation judging, which determines how closely the dog conforms to the written breed standard, Junior Showmanship judges the handler, not the dog. That’s not to say the dog isn’t important, because part of what the handler is judged on is how well they present the dog. A good dog will enhance that presentation, so, while in theory a junior could show a pet-quality dog, they generally have a dog that could be shown in regular conformation classes, and frequently the junior shows in both regular classes and in junior showmanship.

This is what Ben and Mandy do. Besides competing in Junior Showmanship, both compete at the breed level and have put Grand Championships on their Australian shepherds. The siblings are also active in the performance events of agility, rally and obedience. Together, they have put more than 20 titles on their dogs. They are active members of the Southtowns Dog Training Club in Hamburg.

They also attended the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship dog show in December in Orlando, Fla. To be eligible for that show, a junior must have five first-place wins in the Open class, with competition, and they must have a grade point average of at least 3.0.

In preparing for a show, the Swansons bathe and trim their dogs at home, a process that takes about two hours. Then, at the show, they allow another 45 minutes to an hour for grooming before they enter the ring.

These activities alone would keep anyone busy, but Ben and Mandy are also active in school activities. Ben is a senior class officer, a member of the student council and in the National Honor Society. He also works for professional all-breed handler Tim Terella. Mandy, a sophomore, is also an Honor Society member, a member of student council and participates in language club.

Both Ben and Mandy want to always have showing dogs as a hobby, but neither is interested in professional handling. Ben works with a handler, and, while he enjoys it and has appreciated the chance to learn about different breeds and how to handle them, the experience made him realize he didn’t want to be a professional. Instead, dentistry is his chosen career.

Mandy echoes her brother in saying she doesn’t want to be a professional, but she hopes dogs will always be a part of her life. Besides Brody and Bubba, they share their home with Josh, another Aussie, and with Woody, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel.

Their advice to others who might want to participate in Junior Showmanship is to attend shows, learn by watching and “try to find someone who will take you under their wing.” Good advice, and a tribute to the breeders who helped these two reach the one and only Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.