Owner-Handler Interviews

Top Owner-Handlers Share Their Experiences in Dog Conformation.


There is no question that the dog game has changed drastically in recent years. Amateurs and professionals still compete on the same level, but has this playing field remained as level as it once was? Several successful owner-handlers shared their thoughts on the role of the owner-handler in today’s dog game.

Sarah LawrenceKathy Lorentzen acquired her first Springer in 1972, and showed it to multiple BIS and specialty wins. She has produced more than 50 AKC champions and numerous specialty winners under her Ocoee prefix. Lorentzen and her daughter Melanie King have owner-handled three all-breed Best in Show winners, six Group winners and a National Specialty winner.

Karen Staudt-Cartabona’s Majenkir Borzoi kennel, founded in the early 1960s, has provided foundation stock for kennels worldwide. Majenkir has produced more than 300 American Borzoi champions, and established breed records as winners and top producers. In 2005 she was awarded AKC/Eukanuba Hound Breeder of the Year.

Tonya Struble, breeder of the Rush Hill Golden Retrievers, has produced numerous BIS winners and owned three National Specialty winners. In 2009 she won Best BBE in Show at the AKC/Eukanuba Invitational.

Sarah Lawrence, a second-generation Shih Tzu and Maltese breeder, began showing her own dogs at age 7. As a successful owner-handler for over 50 years, she has bred more than 300 Maltese champions, and owner-handled Maltese and Shih Tzu to multiple BIS wins.

Michelle Santana has bred top-winning Dobermans under the Foxfire prefix for three decades. In 2010 she was selected by AKC as the Working Group Breeder of the Year.

Janet York began showing in the 1980s and has owner-handled three Cavaliers and one Chinese Crested to No. 1 All Systems winners and two Cavaliers to No. 2 All Systems status. Her current Cavalier special ranks as the No. 1 Cavalier in AKC history with 15 all-breed BIS and multiple specialty wins.

Michelle SantanaJay Hafford has owned or bred more than 100 Afghan Hound champions under his Thaon prefix, with cumulative wins of 90 SBIS, four National Specialties and 23 all-breed BIS to date.

Cynthia Huff has bred Standard Poodles under the Safari prefix since 1971. She has produced 140 champions, including Best in Show winners in seven countries. A large percentage of these champions have been finished by Huff or her family members. Our experts shared their thoughts on the following questions:

1. Have you ever felt that you were overlooked with a great dog because you were not enough of a “face” in the Group ring?

Most admitted that money and political clout have become much bigger factors in the game, but felt that success remains within the grasp of dedicated owner-handlers.

Santana definitely feels that owner-handlers are regularly overlooked in Group competition. “I almost wish that competition stopped at breed level. The high of a competitive breed win is soon diminished by not placing in Group! Many top all-breed Specials are backed by power with a lot of money. They are heavily campaigned and advertised, so their handlers are easily recognized. This leaves little room for lesser-known owner-handlers on a limited budget to wiggle their way into Group level success. It can be extremely frustrating and discouraging.”

When Janet York began showing, she often found herself overlooked in Group, even though she had a great dog. “I was not well known and my dog was not the preferred color.” She attributes her later success to a combination of perseverance and advertising.

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Bonnie   elk city, OK

9/6/2011 9:54:22 AM

Proffesional handlers do win more frequently but i do agree with the article. Owner handlers can succeed, and it feels so good when you know YOUR DOG WON, NOT HIS HANDLER!

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