Our sport is rich in noble traditions. Among the strongest is that of hard-working assistants apprenticing for successful professional handlers in the fancy. Anyone with stars in their eyes about a life of glamour is quickly disabused of those notions when they learn that the dogs always come first for top handlers and that partying is never a job perk. Many handlers’ assistants aspire to stay in the sport and strike out on their own one day. Others are happy to remain exhibitors while pursuing other career paths. We reached out to handlers’ assistants to get better acquainted. — Allan Reznik
- Briefly tell us about your background, including your age, where you grew up, if you came from a doggy family and if you have siblings who also show dogs.
- If you didn’t come from a family that showed dogs, where did your interest begin?
- What handlers have you worked for in the past, and for whom are you working now?
- Is this a live-in position, or do you live elsewhere during the week?
- What are some of the best things about being a handler’s assistant?
- What has been the most memorable moment in your dog-showing career?
- What was the greatest disappointment?
- How could the sport be improved?
- What’s the biggest misconception about professional handlers?
- Is your goal to go out on your own and become a full-time professional handler one day?
Assistant for Valerie Nunes Atkinson
- I was born on August 21, 1988, in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Since I was a kid, I brought a variety of different animals home, including puppies, goats, cats and goldfish! When I was 14 my school classmate bought a yellow Labrador Retriever puppy, and I fell in love with that breed. I did some research, and I found that, that puppy was from one of the best show kennels in Europe. I visited a dog show in my town and there were a couple of dogs from that kennel; right away I knew I wanted a puppy from that breeder. Two years later my first black Labrador Retriever arrived at my home from Golden Drop Kennel.
- A few years ago I assisted a Croatian handler, Mr. Ante Lucin. Working for Peter and Valerie is my first full-time assisting job. Since working for them, I’ve realized that they are two of the greatest and most talented handlers in the sport.
- This is live-in position.
- I learn something new every day working at their boarding kennel, as well as attending dog shows.
- The most memorable moment for me was when I won Best of Breed at Crufts 2012 with one of the most-winning Clumber Spaniel bitches in breed history, Chervoods Snowsun, owned by Miss Lana Levai from Croatia.
- The same year I won Best of Breed at Crufts, my dog and five others “failed” their vet checks and weren’t allowed to compete anymore at that show. This was very upsetting considering the circumstances and the fact that all of these dogs were actually healthy.
- The best way this sport can be improved would be to have fewer shows and a regional ranking system. The national ranking system diminishes at the breed level.
- In my opinion the biggest misconception about professional handlers is that they are winning because they know the judges.
- I don’t think that I will be a full-time professional handler in the future. That might have been a goal if I had started to work for handlers at a younger age. I show and work with dogs because I love them. I’m lucky that my work is also a great hobby of mine.
From the 2014 Annual issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine.