Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Road to AKC/Eukanuba: Junior handler Ashley Julien and her Westie Chalo learn hard work really does pay off!

This week, nearly 5,000 dogs and their handlers will converge on the Orange County Convention Center for the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship dog show. I'm attending as one of the Eukanuba "VIP Bloggers" and this week will take a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to become a competitor in the world of conformation, agility, obedience and in juniors.

Ashley "gets it done" with Chalo, winning Best in Junior Showmanship
If you've never been to a dog show or trained for a competition, there's a lot more to showing dogs that what you see on TV! This week, we're talking to several competitors who have overcome great odds to  make it to the biggest dog show in the country!

Today's spotlight is on Ashley Julien,  a 14-year-old junior handler in the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship Junior Showmanship competition. She has Spina bifida, scoliosis, a pars fracture and bulging disks in her lumbar vertebrae with an annular tear. Due to these conditions, she has to deal with pain on a daily basis. She began in Junior Showmanship with her grandmother’s West Highland White Terrier. After some tough times at the beginning, she has finished that dog’s championship and has started handling a second Westie. Ashley received the award for No.1 Junior West Highland White Terrier Handler in the United States this past October! Nothing stops Ashley. Instead of saying she can't do something because of her pain she says, "I have to get things done and nothing is going to stop me!”

Ashley picks up her award
The Junior Showmanship competition has been part of the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship since the first event in Orlando in 2001. Junior handlers between 9 and 18 years of age are invited to demonstrate their expertise for an opportunity to receive a $2,000 scholarship. Junior Showmanship preliminaries will take place during the day on Saturday, December 17th, with the Finals that evening.  

Ashley is traveling to the AKC/Eukanuba National dog show from her hometown of Hudson Falls in Upstate New York with her mom Jenniffer, grandmother Dori and great grandmother, Nana Gigi! That's four generations of dog show enthusiasts! Wow! 

TDWL: Does showing dogs run in the family? How did you get started?
Ashley: My grandmother had lost her Westie Benny after 13 years. He passed away suddenly and she was so heartbroken but could not imagine not having a Westie in the house so she asked my mom to find a good breeder. She got Dunkin two weeks later as a pet and the day after he arrived the breeder called and told her to have him evaluated when he was 7 to 8 months old. And if he was show quality, the breeder would change his papers and allow him to be finished.

My mom used to show Samoyeds and Akitas when she was a teenager and she encouraged me to become a junior handler. She bought me a Shi Tzu but he refused to show in the ring for me so my grandmother said I could use Dunkin. I took him every Wednesday night to conformation class and mostly on my own learned to hand strip him because there were no Westie people in our area. It was a challenge for me but it was really worth the effort. Dunkin finished with four major wins and a total of 16 points in less then a month! I didn’t finish Dunkin myself only because there were no majors in our area and I have to go to school, so my grandmother sent him to a professional handler. I did get his first point on him though!

TDWL: What did you need to do to qualify as a junior handler for AKC/Eukanuba?
Ashley: To qualify as a junior handler for Eukanuba you need to have five first-place wins in Open Class (that means you’re no longer a novice in junior handling) and a grade point average of at least 3.0.

TDWL: Do you compete against other juniors or against other Westies?
Ashley: I compete against other juniors and I also compete in the conformation breed ring with professional handlers because I am finishing my female Westie Chalo on my own. The differences between the two are, in juniors the child is being judged and in the professional ring the dogs are being judged. In Conformation the judges are looking at the dogs grooming, training, structure and the overall quality of the breed.

TDWL: Do you hope to continue to show dogs after juniors?
Ashley: My plans after I age out of juniors are to go to college to become a veterinarian and to also continue on as a professional handler and a juniors judge. College is very important because you need to have a backup plan just in case something happens and you can’t show dogs anymore. Besides that, an education is very important, and when you’re showing dogs I figured that going to school to get my degree for veterinarian is going to be to my advantage. You can never know too much about dogs in this profession.

TDWL: What is the name and age of the current dog you are showing?
Ashley: My Westie is now 2 years old. Her show name is Spirits Faire Trade Winds. Her call name is Chalo. After Dunkin got his championship ,Jane Sajban and Dawn Martin brought Chalo into my life! We became a team immediately! Chalo is a fantastic little girl! When we go to shows I not only take her into the juniors ring but also compete in conformation with her because we’re working on her championship title. For a little dog that’s a lot of work but no matter how tired she gets she gives it everything she’s got for me!
Three firsts in one weekend for Ashley and Chalo!
TDWL Is this your first AKC/Eukanuba National Championship?
Ashley: Yes, and my mom, grandmother and great grandmother are driving Chalo and me to Florida! I wanted to fly there but the airline said because Chalo was over 10 pounds she would have to fly in the cargo hold area. Chalo is about 16 pounds  and a carrier for her will not fit under the seat.

TDWL: About how many shows do you compete in each year?
Ashley: As many as possible! This year I competed in 28 shows. Because of where we live we have to travel long distances to most of the shows, and with my mom working and the expense of traveling it’s not always possible to go.

TDWL: What is your biggest challenge?
Chalo hopes for a nice liver snack!
Ashley: My biggest challenge is my back. I always have pain and I’ve learned that it’s something I have to live with, but lately it’s been really bad! My doctor took me out of my regular classes and so now I only go to school two hours a day to be tutored. I’m keeping up with my school work and I make sure I study and work harder then usual to get the grades I need which is very important for a junior handler!

The other biggest challenge is showing in juniors with a Westie. Most of the other kids have flashy breeds so getting noticed can be difficult, but I always try to do my best to stand out and be noticed! Another one was when my mom kept telling me to put the liver I use for baiting the dogs in my mouth! Now you tell me, what kid likes liver? But I did listen to mom and put the liver in my mouth!

TDWL: What are you looking forward to most at the National Championship?
Ashley: Going to Eukanuba has been a big dream for me! It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I first watched The Eukanuba National Championships on TV. Now just going for me is a dream come true! I’m just excited that I made it this far! My mom was right, hard work really does pay off in the end…lol

TDWL:  Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Ashley: In my own words, I’ve worked my butt off from head to tail! I have to work my dogs seven days a week no matter what and I’ve had to be very inventive! When you’re teaching your dog how to stack and you don’t have Happy Legs you take your grandmothers cans of black olives or peas and use them instead! It was so funny because my grandmother kept saying, “where are all of my olives and peas going to?” She thought she was going crazy!

Also, I play the violin and Chalo loves to lay by me and listen when I practice. She also loves when my grandmother sings to her. Chalo loves music just like me so I guess we have a few things in common.

For the kids reading this I want them to know that I really don’t go and hang with my friends. I’m way too busy and showing dogs keeps me focused and out of trouble. It has taught me to be responsible and the importance of making good decisions.

As a junior I’ve met a lot of wonderful people and I am so grateful to my mom, grandmother and great grandmother for all that they have sacrificed to get me where I am now.

TDWL: Thank you Ashley and best of luck to you in Orlando!


  1. Ashley. You are a wonderful girl and a terrific Junior Handler...Keep up the good work.

    Best wishes.
    Emma Grayson Echols & Tucker.
    2011 Eukanuba Best Junior Handler.