Tenacity Pays Off
by Amy Fernandez
Attending Westminster often feels like entering a battle zone. No amount of preparation can offset the inevitable mental and physical challenges prepackaged with the experience. Therefore, an uplifting, encouraging anecdote might provide a timely perk for everyone entering the fray on this frigid Monday.
Born and raised in Wisconsin, fourteen year old Erin LaPlante typifies the dog crazy kids that populate the JS ring every weekend. At age eight, she invested her savings in her first dog, Buddy, a Westie. Like many Midwestern kids 4H provided their introduction to basic obedience. It also sparked Erin’s interest in every aspect of dogs. We’re all on that page.
…and we all know the downside. Erin and her family spent her twelfth birthday at the vet saying goodbye to the family’s beloved Doberman. As consolation, her parents promised her a puppy. Obviously, they wanted to find a knowledgeable, responsible breeder, but let’s face it, top breeders are typically reluctant to place show prospects with novices- especially 12 year olds.
Veteran breeder Betsy Zellmer took that chance and a few months later,
Fayek I’ll Have Another (AKA Shamrock) joined the LaPlante family pack.
Shamrock was Zellmer’s second pick pup, and by then, Erin was mad for dog shows. Zellmer encouraged her to give it a try. Although Erin’s family had always owned Dobermans, this dog show deal was now different on their agenda. Moreover, many would argue that the Doberman ring is no place for beginners, especially a 12 year old neophyte. But that’s the beauty of being a greenhorn. You jump in at the deep end simply because you don’t know any better.
After a round of conformation classes with Julie Darling and Carol Starr, Erin and Shamrock entered their first show. For most of us, that is a distant memory. Eventually, that noisy, chaotic, intimidating mess begins to seem like home. But it’s a daunting challenge. Parking, unloading, and set up can finish you off before you set foot in the ring. Erin left the ring in tears. That could have been the end of this story, according to Erin’s mother Christy. “ Erin came out of the ring in tears and a sharp dressed lady named Kathy Moats approached her and said ‘you are a darn
good handler, don’t you dare cry’, I can’t tell you how much those
kind words helped her.”
Despite the odds, Erin kept at it. Her determination and talent began getting noticed by many veteran exhibitors and handlers. Admittedly, qualifying for the Westminster JS finals seemed like a longshot. But Christy confirms that their ongoing encouragement kept her focused on that goal. And by fall, Erin was close, chasing that last win. And like that frustratingly, elusive final point, it can sometimes be the biggest hurdle of the whole deal. And so they entered the DPCA national in Topeka last October hoping for that JS win. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.
Luckily, Christy also threw in an entry for the regular classes, thinking that Erin could use the extra ring experience. And it turned out to be a once in a lifetime experience for fourteen year old Erin. It was a shock when Shamrock won her class. The whole thing seemed pretty surreal by the time she defeated 200 challengers to become her the youngest handler to go BOW at the Doberman National. It was also the first national specialty win for Betsy Zellmer. And for the breeder who took a chance with a novice owner/handler – that is a truly satisfying bit of dog show justice.
And yes, a few weeks later Erin picked up that last win she needed to qualify for Westminster. Like the rest of us, she will be there hoping for the best and ready for anything.
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