Lily Bennett • Junior Handler
BIS Magazine USA June 2021 issue
Q: To begin with, please tell us some facts about you and your beginnings.
A: I have always had a big part in raising awareness and funds for children’s charities starting from a young age. I still take most of the month of March to help three children’s charities that are supported by the Portland Roadster Show. Angels On Wheels toy drive that helps the Randall Legacy Children’s Hospital, Wagon Angels–where wooden wagons are painted custom for children with cancer, and the High School Challenge where we give scholarships to high school youth to help them follow their dreams of learning about cars. When we were helping at the county fair fine arts booth, I noticed the 4-H dog project and became intrigued. I was introduced to junior showmanship completely by accident through 4-H in 2015. My leader suggested I go to a handling class after doing so well at a fun match. After a lot of practice, I went to my first AKC show with my Miniature American Shepherd Ginger. While I was successful in 4-H in different areas of competition, I decided to acquire a more competitive dog to start the training with myself. I was told about Dr. Cheryl McDermott DVM who had a Cirneco Dell’ Etna. We had no idea what this breed was. We drove to Ethel, Washington, a small town north of us, on Thanksgiving weekend and met Cheryl. She brought Deagan in, who was just six months old. He promptly came up to me and put his head in my chest as his way of loving me. He went home with us that night. When my father came home from working out of town, we had a new dog! I then started to learn about larger dogs with German Shorthaired Pointers.
Q: What was your first experience at a dog show? Did you have a mentor as soon as you started?
A: My first experience at an AKC dog show was interesting, to say the least. The first time I walked into the ring with my frightened Cirneco, his puppy brain thought it would be a good idea to suck up one of his testicles and get us excused. I was ten at the time and was quite confused why I was asked to leave the ring. It took several people to explain to me what just happened, and it took me a while to get over the embarrassment. In fact, I did not come out of the lady’s restroom for over ten minutes.
I didn’t have a mentor when I started out. I was lucky enough to find several people to help me learn about AKC dog shows. Currently, I have several handlers, breeders, and owners that are willing to share their knowledge with me.
Q: Who do you consider your biggest supporter along the way?
A: My biggest supporters have been my parents! My mother is always willing to go the extra distance to drive me to the best shows, help me find clothes when I hit a huge growth spurt, plan my schedules, find hotels, and eat what I like while out on the road. My father always considers me to be the best junior handler, win, lose or draw. He is a patient when I forget to call him while out on the road and does not make me return a new dog that I bring home. My father even supported my crazy idea to compete at the 2019 Crufts Dog Show, with over 22,000 dogs entered. I was one of 25 who entered from the U.S. It was an amazing experience winning the Good Citizen Dog Scheme Class and then placing third in a breed class with over 26 Cirnechi! My Mimi has always been a huge part of my life and is always there for me and holds down the fort while we are gone. My mentors help me by always seeming to have a good time at the shows even though we don’t always win, teaching me how to exhibit my breeds to the best of my ability, new grooming techniques, and cheering me on even though some of them are across the country and around the world.
Q: What is a highlight in your junior handling career so far?
A: While all my wins have been exciting, the ones that stand out are being name the best junior handler of California with my Cirneco Dell Etna, Deagan in 2019 and making it to the semi-finals at Royal Canin in December of 2020. As for breed wins as a junior handler with my Deagan, I was able to represent the breed on the red carpet at the Orlando Nationals. I have also won two back-to-back NOHS best in shows with my Wirehaired Pointing Griffon (Goose). At the Placerville, California shows in May 2019, my Standard Manchester Terrier mentor allowed me to show her group winning dog in best in show. To my surprise, we were awarded BIS over some of the top dogs in the country. Everyone was surprised and delighted when we repeated the BIS win the following day. I am very honored to have won back-to-back BIS at the age of 14.
Q: What breed do you consider is the best to compete within the JH and why?
A: I believe it depends more on the individual dog than the breed. It can be very stressful being in juniors for the handler and the dog because you must maintain focus for such long periods of time. However, the relationship and rapport can be life changing.
Q: Do you think it is better to be consistent and show one breed in JH or to change breeds and dogs more often?
A: I personally love showing different breeds of dogs in juniors. I enjoy learning the different breed standards and learning how to handle the different dogs’ individual style and aspects of their breed. Within the eight different groups of dogs, I have found that each breed is unique with their own quirks and foibles. This is what makes learning so exciting and fun.
Q: What are the sides of dog shows you like, what do you dislike?
A: One of the unique things I like about the dog shows is the ability to try different food from different areas of the country. I like most of it, but not all of it. I like the people. I love being able to see my friends from different parts of the country. We talk about different hobbies or different sports, K-POP, and Anime. Who has been to the most current Comic-Con? What are their plans for the summer? I get to see breeds that are not as common in my area. I love to see the different handlers and how they each have their own style of grooming. I don’t like that it can be so political and can have such poor sportsmanship.
Q: What do you like doing more: showing dogs or grooming and preparing them?
A: I like doing all the above. I really enjoy grooming as it is quite therapeutic, presenting the dog you have groomed gives you an adrenaline rush. I am excited to take a new puppy and train him for the show ring. Taking a puppy on the journey from not knowing anything to being successful in the ring gives me the warm fuzzies.
Q: Do you think it is important for young people to work and be around professionals?
A: It honestly depends on the professional and what their outlook is on junior showmanship. Handlers can have different attitudes about competing with juniors. The handlers can see it as “That junior is serious competition” or “That junior is great! I hope they are very successful”.
Q: Would you like to become a professional one day and do this job for a living or do you have other plans?
A: I’d love to keep this as a hobby rather than a living mainly because I feel that it would take the fun out of it for myself and the dogs. I have plans to go to college to major in animal science with a minor in business, with the goal of becoming a microbiologist. No matter what I am doing in life, I will always give back to my community and help with children’s charities.
Q: Have you ever considered becoming a breeder or judge one day?
A: My Boston Terrier mentors have allowed me to co-breed a few litters and we are now Breeders of Merit. My first Cirneco Dell’ Etna litter will be my Deagan (GCHS Ch. Kr’Msun Nero D’ Avola RN TKI ACT2 CGC CGCA CGCU VHM FDC ATT) bred to Ch. Kr’Msun Declaration of Independence. The owner of GCHS Ch. Colisto’s Bella, the only best in show Cirnechi in the breed, has allowed me to co-breed a litter with Deagan as the sire. I would love to judge all breeds and juniors so I can travel the world and be able to interact with the best dogs and junior handlers.
Q: Have you attended or watched any shows outside of the USA besides Crufts? If not, do you wish to visit some of them? What in your opinion is different than the shows in America?
A: I was lucky enough to show at Crufts in breed in March of 2019. We were one of 26 Cirnechi, this being the largest entry we have ever competed with. A dream is to be able to show at the World Show in Spain in 2022, in both breed and juniors. The difference between the two venues is Crufts in Europe did not have any ring stanchions, the chairs defined the ring. The catalogs, procedures and class names are different. The European show attire is more casual.
Q: How do you manage your school activities with all your hobbies?
A: For me, it is quite difficult because of late nights and early mornings to prepare the dogs for that day’s show, somehow wedging in schoolwork at the same time. But my online teachers and principal at Peak Prep Academy are great and very supportive about my weird schedule. I am even able to write reports on the places and museums I have visited for extra credit.
Q: How has Covid-19 influenced your life and activities? Did it change a lot, or did you continue with life normally?
A: Covid has really impacted my life with dog shows being shut down and opening mostly on the east coast. Since the west coast has not been as quick to open as the rest of the country this has impacted the ability of the juniors on the west coast to be competitive for national rankings and Westminster / AKC National qualifying wins.
Covid also made maintaining my friendships complicated, because of the shutdown of the dog shows. Thankfully with technology, we have been able to stay in touch.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for young people just entering the dog show world? What should they be aware of?
A: For junior handlers just starting out, remember that the best dog is the one going home with you. It is important to keep a sense of humor and every time you go in the ring it is a learning experience.