Name: Ania Kelly
WKC BJH: 2012
Occupation: Professional Dog Handler
Breed shown: All breeds
How did you become involved in showing dogs?
My Grandmother began showing Vizslas in the early 1970’s after attending Janet Bunce’s handling class on Long Island. She was hooked immediately, and so began my family’s deep-seated love for the sport. Ever since I was an infant, my mother brought me to shows each week. When I was old enough to walk, she couldn’t keep me out of the ring. The older I got, the more my passion for the sport developed. The rest is history.
What were you most nervous or excited about showing at The Garden?
As my dog and I walked up to the ring to show in the prelims, I could feel that something was off. I knew my dog better than I knew myself and I immediately began to worry. I stopped along the way at an ex-pen but had no luck solving his distress. I know for some dogs, it can be hard to adjust to the environment at MSG, but Wizard had never been phased by much. This is what set off my nerves. At that point, I was even considering scratching since I knew he was not acting himself. Two professional handlers who I had long admired and had always been there to support me at our local shows, saw my panic from afar and rushed over. They helped settle my nerves and assured me he would be okay. We gave him some water, cooled him down, and he seemed to be back to his normal self. Once I knew my dog would be okay my nerves settled and we performed the best we could. After such a rocky start it was hard to be optimistic, but the judge made her first cuts and we were still in it! As Wizard improved, so did my nerves. The judge made her choice and we were headed to finals! What a thrill!
Describe what you remember from showing in the Junior Showmanship Finals at WKC.
There is nothing quite like the memories I have from that night in 2012. After having a bit of a scare in the preliminaries with my beloved juniors dog “Wizard,” I simply wanted to enjoy that moment with my best friend. I was just grateful he was okay. The electricity in the air was unlike anything else. The hum of chatter echoing, eagerly awaiting us to come into the ring made it that much more thrilling. I had shown in Juniors at the Garden all five years prior, but this was the first time I had made it to the finals. To add icing to an already decadent cake, one of my dearest friends had also made it to finals for her first time. To share the experience with my best friend was also a win. As we entered the ring at Madison Square Garden I felt as if I was floating. I was flooded with pride thinking of all my dog and I had accomplished to get to that point. Frequently in Juniors I was told to smile more and not look so serious. That moment, that night, I couldn’t help but smile the entire time. Wizard had never shown better than he did that night, which is always my goal whether we win or lose. I was beaming with pride at my little white dog, we had never been more in sync. Then it happened. Ms. Hundt pulled me out, and placed me up front! I did my best to remain calm, as she had not yet pointed. As she picked the remaining three placements, she pulled out my best friend for fourth place and my heart couldn’t have been any fuller. She sent us around and placed us in that order. I had just accomplished my childhood dream. I was speechless but had about a million thoughts racing through my head, when Wizard and I heard a familiar voice shout down from the nose-bleed seats, “WE LOVE YOU ANIA!” We simultaneously turned toward what we knew was my grandmother’s voice beaming with pride. I will cherish that night for the rest of my life. A once in a lifetime experience that taught me that hard work truly does pay off.
How long have you and your dog shown together before the Garden?
I got Wizard, my English Cocker Spaniel, at 6 months old and began showing him from then on. By 2012 we had been a team for about 5 years.
How has winning BJH affected your career? How has it affected your love of showing dogs?
Winning Best Junior Handler at Westminster was a goal I set for myself before I ever even qualified. I knew it was the most coveted honor in juniors. I spent every ounce of my time working for handlers, soaking in as much knowledge as I could. I would watch and analyze the professional handlers I admired. I studied every nuance that made them stand out. I decided at a young age I needed a flashier dog than a Vizsla and brought home my first English cocker spaniel, Wizard. This inspired me to learn the ins and outs of this breed, a breed now so very near and dear to my heart. Everything from their grooming to their unique presentation, I wanted to perfect it all. I had found my passion. I had found my drive, and from a very young age I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My mother and grandmother had always shown dogs as a hobby, but I knew that would never be enough for me. I wanted to eat, sleep, and breathe dog shows. I constantly yearned for advice to improve my skills, and I still do. Winning Best Junior at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show paved the way for my career. The satisfaction and gratification of knowing that all of my hard work had paid off only made me want to work that much harder to achieve even bigger dreams.
What did you do after aging out of Juniors?
Although I had been working for some of the best handlers in the country starting at 12 years old, after I graduated high school I began working for handlers full-time while attending college. I utilized all of the incredible scholarships I won which were graciously offered by so many clubs. In college I studied marketing, knowing it would be beneficial for a career in handling dogs. After being a live-in assistant for almost 5 years and a weekend/summer assistant the 6 years before that, I felt the timing was right to pursue my own career path as a professional handler.
How has the WKC BJH scholarship aided your passion for dogs? What did you go on to study in college?
As stated above, I was immensely grateful for all of the scholarships I was awarded which helped pay my way through college. I studied marketing in the business school, which has been a tremendous asset to my career.
What is the best advice you could give to Juniors showing at WKC?
Don’t focus on showing solely to win. It is a huge accomplishment to be invited to show at WKC. Cherish that moment and be proud of how hard you worked to get so far. The rest is a cherry on top.
How have you made an impact on future generations of the sport?
I always look forward to seeing young people coming into our sport. Seeing that fire in their eyes, I know it is just the beginning of a very bright future. I make sure to tell these young kids just how incredible this sport is and urge them to stick with it. I am always willing to help in any way I can. I have stayed several times after best in show to sneak in a one-on-one handling or grooming lesson. We should always focus on encouraging the next generation of purebred dog lovers. Their enthusiasm and drive is the oxygen to our sport’s fire.