In the dog showing world, it just doesn’t get any bigger than the Westminster Dog Show.
The annual event, staged at Madison Square Garden in New York City, is for the best of the best. This year, in the junior handler division, that will include a Greenville teen.
Ariella Harris, 16, will be showing her Doberman Pinscher Ruska in the 144th show at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11. They’ll be trying to take a bite out of the Big Apple as they represent Greenville and Hunt County.
“This will be my second time to go to Westminster. After attending last year and seeing the amazing city of New York, I am thrilled to be qualified and have the opportunity to attend this prestigious event again,” Harris said.
She knows this show is just for the top dogs and handlers.
She is ranked as the No. 3 Doberman junior handler in the United States for 2019 in the American Kennel Club ratings.
Last year, she competed in the 2019 show in junior showmanship but did not advance out of the preliminaries. Only the top eight handlers made the finals and get to perform on the big stage.
She qualified for the event at the national contest in Florida this year. In that event, she won the Best Junior handler in the Doberman Pinscher Club of America in the regional specialty show.
“There were 159 juniors competing that day, Ruska and I made the final 12, it was an amazing day,” Harris added.
She has been working and training dogs half her life, starting at age 8 in the Lone Oak 4-H. She advanced to showing for the American Kennel Club. For the AKC, she instructs her dog in drills for obedience, rally, conformation and junior showmanship.
Getting her dog ready for a show takes specialized training. It can be rigorous, competing in NYC won’t be a walk in the park.
“The dogs are very smart and can get bored easily, so I usually work my dogs out for 15 minutes, three times a week,” she added.
The show in New York opened in 1877. Since 1934, they have awarded a title for the Best Young Handler.
The young handers are 9-18 years of age and represent a variety of states around the union.
The top eight receive scholarships, which is a reward for their long hours spent training, grooming teaching techniques to the canines.
Ruska, a 2-year-old, is going to be competing in the junior showmanship.
The Westminster show is a huge leap from when Ariella started working with a beagle as she learned how to train animals. The teen soon became a big fan of the Doberman Pincher breed and worked with her first dog in Lone Oak in a show led by LeRena Philips.
“She’s so good because she’s willing to learn. She started at an early age with a mixed-breed dog and has now advanced with her doberman,” Phillips said. “She’s had great people work and assist her along the way. It’s really a rags-to-riches story; she’s progressed very quickly through the ranks.
“She connects well with her dog, that’s a talent a lot of people don’t have. She handles Ruska well, she has a good feel for animals. You can tell she loves what she does.”
Phillips said Ariella is the perfect example of the 4-H motto used at Lone Oak, which is “make the best, better.”
“She has a great dog now and she’s stepped up. She’s not a quitter, but a very hard worker. She’s developed good technique after working with other dogs. For her to compete in Westminster is a well-deserved honor. It’s good to see, I have known her since she was a little girl. We are all very proud of her.”
Ariella has been with Ruska since purchasing the dog in 2017. Together the pair has traveled more than 30,000-plus miles, her mother Amanda Harris said. She has competed in nine different states.
“She got Ruska from an AKC breeder and she instantly fell in love. She could sense a bond and something special about Ruska,” Amy Harris said. “It’s an honor to compete at Westminster. She will be going up against the top handlers and dogs in the nation.”
“This dog can make my dreams a reality. I’m focusing on my dog shows due to the amount of time, resources and travel it takes,” Ariella said.
She is home-schooled and takes many courses online. But like most 16-year-olds, looks forward to graduation and college.
Ariella has also received up to $3,000 in scholarships competing in Junior AKC Showmanship action.
“I plan to continue showing my dogs after I graduate from high school,” Ariella said. “It is more of a hobby for me than a career as I plan to attend college. I hope to make a difference in the Doberman Pinscher breed and help to preserve these smart, loving and loyal dogs by being a preservation breeder.”