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Dog shows may not currently be as widely popular as other sports, but with younger generations involved in the game, things could be changing.
Jennifer Necker, a fifth-grader at Piñon Elementary School, is one of the youngsters jumping into the ring.
Necker participated in the Junior Showmanship at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Long Beach, Calif., Dec. 12-13.
She took her 3-year-old English Setter, Arthur, to the competition. The duo made it through the first round of cuts, which was Necker’s goal for this year’s competition, before being eliminated.
In the invitational, about 120 junior participants were divided into four classes; each class had 30 competitors. Necker was one of only three junior contenders from New Mexico who competed in the event.
Judges evaluated Necker and her competitors on their ability to present their dogs with skill and confidence.
To participate in the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship, dog handlers need to be invited. Eligibility is based on academic accomplishments, students need to have a B grade point average and competitors need to have won at least five times in an open class.
This is the second time Necker has competed in the AKC Eukanuba National Championship. Last year, Necker said she was nervous but this year, she entered the competition knowing how things would be done.
Besides the AKC Eukanuba National Championship, Neckers has competed in many dog shows since August 2007. She has traveled to Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Alamogordo and Roswell, as well as cities in Arizona including Flagstaff, Tucson and Phoenix, and throughout Colorado including Colorado Springs, Greeley and Denver.
Her victories include two Best Junior awards in Amarillo, Texas.
In April, she also won Best Junior in Wichita, Kan.
Necker explained she got into dog shows through a family friend named Jill Warren. Warren, she said, raises show dogs and introduced her to Arthur and another English Setter, Owen.
“I would have never, ever gotten to show dogs if Jill hadn’t hooked me up with Owen,” Necker said.
Arthur, whose AKC recognized name is Esthet’s Knight in Shining Armor, had gotten his jaw dislocated and Warren was unsure what to do with him.
Necker said she asked Warren if she could bring Arthur over to a sleepover, which resulted in her taking the dog in.
At that point, her father, Carl, said they were just looking for a pet.
However, after going to a dog show in Albuquerque, Necker fell in love with the sport.
“I’ve always loved dogs so much,” she said. “(So) I think when I went (to the dog shows) I got to interact with dogs that I’ve never seen before. It looked like fun.”
Through her participation in dog shows, Necker said she has learned how to groom dogs and, she added proudly, she can groom almost any breed.
Besides Arthur and Owen, Necker said she has shown Havanese, a dachshund named Twinkle, an Affenpincscher, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a Norfolk Terrier.
However, Necker said she enjoys showing Arthur because “he’s got characteristics.”
Plus, when she is showing Arthur in the ring, he stays put.
Although preparing for these competitions can sometimes mean practicing with the dog in the driveway in the freezing cold, Necker encourages her peers to become involved in dog shows.
“I know a lot of people love dogs and you get to meet a lot of dogs,” she said.
In fact, her fourth-grade teacher was interested in owning a dog and Necker said, “I got her hooked up.”
Carl commented that competing in dog shows has been a valuable experience. “There’s certainly a lot of responsibility that goes into this. There’s a degree of maturity that is necessary to show well,” he said. “She’s had to become more focused.”
Necker added the experience has also allowed her to meet new people and to travel.
“It’s been an absolutely fabulous opportunity in terms of always trying to figure the one thing a kid enjoys doing and get serious (with),” Carl said. “This appears to be it for her.”