What’s in a name? Their booth has been a familiar sight at Westminster for decades, and most of us have seen exhibitors wearing OHA pins. Despite that, many of us don’t quite know what the organization is all about. The Owner Handler Association of America, Inc., traces its roots to 1967, when a group of fanciers in Suffolk County, N.Y., recognized the need for an organization to represent owner-handlers.
AKC rep and founding member Pattie Proctor was in her late teens at the time. “Most of the founding members, like my father Harry Proctor, Charlie Westfield and Pat Cruz, attended Suffolk Obedience Training Club,” she explains. “At that time, it did not offer breed handling classes, so the group began meeting at a hall in Medford to train their dogs.”
They began offering conformation classes for local exhibitors, taught by experienced owner-handlers. “Charlie Westfield and I taught the classes for the Long Island chapter for a million years,” says Proctor.
Proctor was already working for a handler at that time. “We were all actively showing in conformation, obedience, or both. We knew what we were doing as owner-handlers, and it occurred to us that we should start an organization to represent this major segment of the fancy,” she says.
Proctor admits that a few people got the wrong impression, assuming that they were anti handler. “That wasn’t our intention at all. PHA was out there representing the professionals, and we felt that owner-handlers should also have a voice.”
Past president Rose Robischon joined OHA in the late ’80s. “Basically we are the backbone of the fancy. Without exhibitors, there would be no need for handlers. We don’t insist that OHA members finish their own dogs,” Robischon says.
“Some breeds are easy for owner-handlers to finish. Others really cannot win without professional handlers. And many owners send their dogs to handlers to get their majors. At OHA they can train their dogs, so when the time comes to turn it over to a professional it is well trained and ready to win,” she says.
OHA’s stated objectives are:
To encourage and promote the sport of owner-handling and training of purebred dogs.
To encourage and promote sportsmanship among purebred dog fanciers.
To communicate with and educate purebred dog fanciers.
OHA’s founding members also took the step of consulting AKC about their proposed organization. “We wanted to wear an emblem similar to the PHA pins,” explains Proctor. “So we asked AKC’s permission, and their reaction was very positive.” PHA and OHA pins were the only official emblems exhibitors were permitted to wear in the ring at AKC events at that time.