“Alexa, play Mac DeMarco,” calls out 14-year-old Kayla Penney with a smile from inside her family’s dining room, and waits for the sounds of her current favourite musician to emanate from the smart speaker.
Like most teens her age, Penney enjoys music, hanging out with her friends, watching scary movies, and—when the weather’s just right—using her snowboard to catch nuclear air off some sweet, fresh powder.
But unlike many of her peers, Penney’s just earned her way to Crufts 2019, the Olympic equivalent of international dog shows—if junior dog handling was considered a sport.
“I couldn’t even breathe for a second, I was just so shocked,” said Penney, recalling the moment she won the Canadian Kennel Club’s (CKC) Junior Handling National Championship in Camrose, Alberta, last month. After watching her competition in the arena, Penney says she felt fairly certain she “wouldn’t do well,” so the national title win came as a surprise, even though she’d already snagged the provincial title in the spring.
Born into a family of dog enthusiasts, Penney’s interest in showing her canine companions grew organically from attending dog shows with her grandparents, who own several golden retrievers. And within months of her seeing her first show, Penney was inside the arena showing her grandmother’s dog, Fyre Glow’s King of Hearts, (a.k.a. Murphy).
|Kayla Penney studies the Canadian Kennel Club handbook, which all judges use as a reference for the questions they ask of junior handlers. (Submitted) <|
However, as she’s gained experience and learned more of the nuances of dog showing, Penney tends to show larger breeds these days: “Goldens are the dogs I show best … and sporting is my favourite group (to show),” explained the teen.
Currently, the CKC recognizes 175 dog breeds, which are sorted into seven groups: sporting, hound, working, terriers, toys, non-sporting, and herding, each of which come with their own rules and regulations when being shown.
And it’s the job of the junior handler to know all of that information. While dog shows judge the physical and mental attributes of the animals, junior handling competitions judge the handlers and their canine knowledge.
Handlers are asked a variety of general canine questions such as where the breed they’re showing originates, what they were bred for, or parts of their anatomy.
“At (the Nationals), I was asked, ‘Where’s the zygomatic arch?’” said Penney, who then explained it’s the bone beneath a dog’s eye socket.
“She’s forgotten more dog anatomy than I know,” joked Penney’s mother, Deanna.
“It’s fun learning about all the different breeds … and I’d like to try and show as many different breeds as possible,” said Penney before adding, “I really like it … but it’s (also) really stressful.”
“But it’s like I tell her,” chimed in Deanna, “Once you step foot on that carpet (at Crufts), you’re already a winner and you’ve already accomplished so much!”
Labelled as the ‘World’s Greatest Dog Show,’ attendance at Crufts is by invitation only, and each year the four-day event shows more than 20,000 dogs, and more than 55 countries entered a junior handler last year.
“Only two Canadians have previously won and Kayla hopes to be the third,” said Deanna.
But organizing a trip from Chilliwack to England is easier said than done, and none too cheap, either, says Deanna.
“We estimate it will cost us about $10,000,” explained Penney’s mother. “We’re doing some fundraising by collecting bottles, making wreaths, and a dog wash at Bosleys,” but we’re only about 40 per cent of the way to our goal. And with March just over four months away, the Penneys would like to have the remainder of the funds secured by mid-February.
Thankfully, in addition to a very large ribbon and lovely glass trophy, winning the Junior Handling National Championship came with a $2,500 bursary that was created to help contenders with the cost of attending the International Junior Handling Competition.
“I’m just so excited to go and see everything,” said Penney. “Just being able to compete (at this level) is exciting.”
If you’d like to contribute to the Penney Family fundraising campaign, or if you’re interested in learning more about becoming a junior handler, the Penneys invite you to email them at DPenneyMK@shaw.ca to learn more. Bosley’s Pet Store on Yale Road is also collecting donations on behalf of Kayla Penney.