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 Amy Rutherford
- My name is Swenja Nasse, I am 22 years old, and I am from Germany. Dogs have always been part of my life and my family. My dad worked with police dogs, my mum was into showing dogs, my older brother always had a companion dog, and I wanted to take part in every aspect of the dog world.
- The dog show world in Germany and Europe has no such business as being a full-time professional handler. Two years ago, I decided to move over here and go work for Amy Rutherford at Aimhi Kennels in Northern California.
- I am a full-time live-in assistant. Our house and the kennel are on the same
- Being able to spend time with a lot of different dogs is definitely one of the best things about being an assistant. Traveling around the country, meeting a lot of influential and new people, and just being able to never stop learning about dogs, grooming and business in general.
- There are a lot of moments that I will never forget, sometimes just tiny things that meant the world to me. But probably my most memorable moment in my dog-showing career was when I beat the all-time all-breed Best in Show-winning record for Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers in Europe with my own dog, Pepper, multi-Ch. Never Lasting’s No Limits. I still remember the moment when the judge pointed at us, this being Pepper’s eighth Best in Show. Little did we know we would more than quadruple that record by the end of his career. Being retired at the age of 6 with 29 BIS and more than 30 champion titles, Pepper couldn’t have done any better. Not only is he a great show dog, he is a true and devoted friend that taught me a lot. Without him I wouldn’t be where I am now.
- I try not to let things disappoint me, but as much as I try not to, I always take everything to heart. A big disappointment in general is that so-called friendships break so easily in this sport. People sometimes forget the good health of dogs and other people for money and success.
- Dog shows could be improved if the focus was reestablished on our animals and their merits instead of the constant critique on “adversaries” and their dogs. I wish there would be less drama behind the scenes.
- In my opinion the biggest misconception about professional handlers is that they just go in the ring with a dog for two minutes. They spend hours making dogs look their best, training them, making them happy. It is so much more than people outside of this business see.
- Becoming a professional handler is my dream. If you decide to work as an assistant and becoming a handler one day isn’t your goal, there might be something wrong. I truly believe when you are passionate about something you really want, great things will happen.
From the 2014 Annual issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine.