LIMA — For Lima resident and longtime dog handler Nina Fetter, working with dogs is in her blood.
“My parents are judges, and I went since I was a kid. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy the dogs and the unconditional love they give back.”
For Fetter, that work will take her to New York City Monday and Tuesday for the 139th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City. Fetter will handle seven dogs at the show, including some with very impressive résumés.
“My Pyrenean shepherd just won the first Best in Show for a Pyrenean shepherd,” she said. “They’re a new breed, only about 4 years old. My Chinese shar-pei just broke the Best in Show record, with 21 Best in Shows, the most for a shar-pei.”
Along with meeting the proper criteria set in place for each breed, winning show dogs have another key element, according to Fetter.
“You want personality,” she said. “Tinsel [the shar-pei] wins a lot because she stands there and wags her tail. Sunny Bear, the Pyrenean shepherd, wins because if you get food out, he jumps really high and people like that.”
While many dog show enthusiasts only see the end result of dog shows, there is a great deal of work that handlers have to put in long before the dogs see the judges.
“It’s a 24/7 job, and a lot of people don’t realize that,” Fetter said. “You don’t get vacations and you don’t get time off because you can’t find people capable of taking care of the dogs. If you leave and something happens, you’re liable because they’re not your dogs.”
Even after putting in all that work, luck can still play a factor in showing dogs.
“You could have a bad day or your dog could have a bad day,” Fetter said.
There are also many sad times for a handler when they have to return dogs to their owners, dogs with whom they can become very attached.
“It will be sad because for Tinsel, the shar-pei, this will be her last show and then she’ll have to go home and have babies,” Fetter said. “That will be sad because I’ve had her for the past two years.”
Even with the massive workload and the emotional strain the job can bring with it, the end result is still worth it for Fetter.
“It’s gratifying,” she said. “It’s an accomplishment when you take a dog, even a problem child dog and make into something, moulding it into a show dog.”