Dogs strut their stuff at kennel club show

Dogs strut their stuff at kennel club show
Fourteen-year-old Shannon Myers knows it's a dog-eat-dog world out there.

As a junior dog handler, this small-town girl from Weeping Water, NE, has participated in enough dog shows to know that competition can come in the form of both strangers and friends. But Myers isn't in the dog business just to win � although it's obvious by her achievements that she does win, and wins often. Myers has been invited to prestigious dog shows such as the Eukanuba show in Tampa Bay, FL, and is almost qualified to attend the Westminster dog show in Madison Square Garden in New York City.

More importantly than winning, however, is her passion for the animals.

Myers was one of scores of dog owners who spent last weekend in Vermillion, participating in the Sioux Valley Kennel Club All Breed Dog Show and Obedience Show, held at the Clay County Fairgrounds.

As a third-generation handler, a love for dogs, particularly Newfoundlands, has been passed down through her parents and grandparents. Myers owns three adult Newfoundlands, four Boizois and takes care of her grandparents' French Bulldog, in addition to a recent litter of nine Newfoundland puppies. What's crazier than 17 indoor dogs? Try adding four siblings to the mix.

"Luckily, we have a big house," Myers said with a laugh. "Since there are five kids, each kid gets a dog that sleeps in their room. I have a Boizoi that sleeps in my bed, and hopefully one of the new puppies that we keep will also get to sleep with me."

Myers became a junior dog handler four years ago at the tender age of 10. As a junior handler, she is forbidden to accept cash for payment for her services, although she is allowed to accept gifts.

She will continue as a junior handler until she reaches the age of 18, when she hopes to become a professional handler. From there, she hopes to become a part-time veterinarian and continue handling dogs on the weekends.

Although Myers is a small girl, standing at only five feet four inches, her favorite dogs to handle are the Newfoundlands. Known as the gentle giants, this breed reaches between two and three feet. Although the dogs are more than half her size, Myers said the dogs are much easier to show than the smaller breeds because they are less fidgety.

It is because of their calm, soothing manner that Newfoundlands are celebrated therapy dogs. Myers is part of an organization known as Domestic Pups, which raises money to help send therapy-trained dogs to nursing homes and hospitals around the area.

"Once we were at a nursing home in Omaha, and a lady with Alzheimer's disease was sitting by herself in a wheelchair, staring off into space," Myers said. "As soon as she began petting the dog, she knew what it was and you could just see that it made her really happy."

Myers is not the only one who chose to raise and breed Newfoundlands because of their steady temperament and therapeutic uses. Ron and Scarlett Horn, a married couple in their 60s from Denver, CO, own two Newfoundlands that are not only rated in the top 20 for the best Newfoundlands in the country by the Newfoundland Club of America, but are also registered therapy dogs. What started off as a hobby for the retired couple soon developed into a passion that has taken them on a winning streak across the country. When they're not traveling, the Horns take Lucy, the dog they use for therapy, to the best hospitals in the country and work with people who are coming out of comas.

"Nobody knows for certain why people respond so well to Newfoundlands," Ron said. "These dogs have an amazing ability to help recovering coma patients."

He related one incident in which a man,who had just come out of a coma and was slightly disturbed, had a love for Lucy. One week, the man refused to wear clothes, and nobody could get him dressed. When the Horns brought Lucy to the hospital, the nurses told them that he couldn't see Lucy today because he refused to get dressed.

Ron told the nurse to tell him that if he got dressed, then he would get to see Lucy. The nurse didn't believe it would work, but came back right away and said he would be dressed in five minutes.

In addition to being a first-rate therapy dog, Lucy is also a versatile Newfoundland, meaning she has an obedience title and three water titles, and is not only a team draft dog but also a tracking dog.

To earn her water rescue excellence title, Lucy had to undergo a series of six exercises in which she had to perfectly perform tasks such as rescuing a person under a boat. Only 13 dogs in the country have this very prestigious, very difficult to obtain, title.

Despite the high cost and arduous task of showing dogs, the Horns relish every moment they spend with their canines. Because they have no children themselves, the Horns treat their Newfoundlands like their own.

"They are inside dogs and don't spend 20 minutes outside by themselves," Ron said. "We keep a close eye on them, but because of their protective nature it's more like they're keeping an eye on us."

The Horns will continue showing Newfoundlands, but Lucy will be retired after this year.

"She's seven years old and has performed well in many shows," Ron said. "It's time for her to relax."

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