Youth dog handler sets championships aside for senior year

SNOHOMISH — Anna Pearson trained Promise twice a week on the Centennial Trail to prepare for dog shows. She spent hours every week grooming the 5-year-old Australian shepherd.

All that work paid off.

Anna, 17, and Promise won five first-place awards in the junior showmanship category in dog shows held around the Northwest this past season. She’s one of 20 youths in Washington between the ages of 9 and 18 to be eligible to compete in the prestigious AKC/Eukanuba National Championship that will be held in Orlando, Fla., in December.

While it’s been a goal of hers for years, she’s planning to skip the championship this year and try again next year.

She’s already sacrificed drama club and reduced her time spent on ROTC to compete in Washington and Oregon dog shows. The Snohomish High School senior doesn’t want to give up her own spot competing in speech and debate.

“I will be able to go to dog shows for the rest of my life. Working on the debate team is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Anna said.

But being one of the best in the Northwest at dog handling has been a passion for the teen for years. She started competing when she was 9, the minimum age allowed to compete in the sport.

Dog shows feature a mix of competitions by breed and by activity. Handlers like Anna walk their dogs before judges who check for the animals’ appearance, temperment and obedience.

Juniors handlers are given points for how they present and train their dogs. They have to learn how each breed is best presented to the judges, said Lisa Peterson, spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club, which sponsors the Eukanuba and other dog show competitions in the country.

“The handler’s ultimate goal is to present the dog in its best light,” she said.

During all of those months on the Centennial Trail near Machias, Anna practiced with Promise, walking her and drilling the dog on commands like to stay or to sit. After training, Promise was rewarded with playtime.

Anna said she got into the sport through her family. Her mom and older sister train and handle dogs so it was natural for her to start competing. Her first dog was Jack, Promise’s father. Jack gave her problems because he was restless during the competitions.

Anna has won the admiration of her mother, Toni Viola Pearson.

“I’m having a hard time keeping up with her,” she said. “I’m really proud of her.”

Competing in dog shows in cities such as Seattle, Sequim and Enumclaw is fun — even though she spends 12 hours standing each day during the two-day shows, Anna said.

She said she has become more mature and more patient through the competitions.

While ROTC and the 4-H club are more physically demanding, dog shows challenge her more mentally.

“In dog shows, you need the extra mental push. They are 100 percent mental effort,” Anna said.

Kids and teenagers who compete learn lessons in responsibility, how to take care of an animal and good sportsmanship, Peterson said.

Eukanuba is the only national championship run by the AKC. While not as famous as the Westminster Dog Show, it ranks alongside it in prestige.

Peterson said about 300 juniors across the country qualify for the event this year. Many won’t make it, because of the cost of traveling, scheduling conflicts because it’s near the holidays, and personal reasons, she said.

Anna wants to qualify again in 2013. She needs to get the five titles before she turns 18 in April. She has won three first places since the newest season started in October, two of them at the Pacific Northwest Border Collie Dog Show held in Oregon last weekend.

Anna’s goal is to become a lawyer and perhaps a Washington State Supreme Court justice.

Still, she would trade that for a chance to be the announcer at the Westminster Dog Show.

“That’s my fantasy job,” Anna said.

Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; adominguez@heraldnet.com.

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