Luke Johnston, 14, from Houghton-le Spring, handled a Saluki to BOB and G3 at Crufts and Hound Association of Scotland and is quickly becoming one of the most exciting prospects in the dog show world. Itís been nearly six weeks since the biggest show in the world but itís still very much in Lukeís mind, as Marina Scott found out.
MS: How long have you been showing dogs?
LJ: I have been showing for six years and I started when I was eight years old.
MS: How did you get involved?
LJ: I got involved in showing due to my mam owning and showing whippets since the age of 13. I started at the local ringcraft club and itís progressed from there.
MS: What clubs/societies do you belong to as a member?
AJ: I am a member of most Whippet breed clubs and Hound Associations, also a few local open show clubs and ringcraft clubs and I am a committee member and the junior representative of North Eastern Whippet Society. I am also a committee member of Tyne Wear and Tees Hound Association.
MS: Tell us a little bit about your home life?
AJ: I live at home with both of my parents who are both fully behind me in what I want to do in the world of dogs. I also live with one of my brothers who used to show but found football was more important (silly him). My other brother lives in a student house with his friends. Home life revolves around dogs, if the dogs havenít been fed and walked, my mam wont cook for us, dogs are her (and my) priority and quite rightly so! I practice and prepare for dog shows during the week and then try my best and hope all the work pays off when the time comes. Win or lose, I still take the best dog home anyway!
MS: How many dogs live at home?
LJ: We have six Whippets (aged between one and 14 years) but my persuasion plans are fully under way to convince my dad to let me have a Saluki at home. Collooney Silver Shamrock, Falconcrag Rhumour, Danluke Definition Of Love, Collooney Tricky Dicky (one RCC), Danluke Dance of love (two CCs), Danluke Dicky Bird. I also have the pleasure of co-owning Rafi, Ch Jorjenjo Mirzam of Fernlark (three CCs, three RCCs, two BOBs, G2, G3).
MS: You seemed to come to the attention of a lot of people in the dog world last year?
LJ: It was a fantastic year for me. I qualified for the YKC handling at Crufts seven times. My boy Chance gained a RCC and many placings including firsts at championship shows. Our homebred bitch, Rhumba gained her JW and her ShCM. She also took two CCs and many first placings at championship shows. Rafi and I also took two CCs, a BOB and a G2. You have to be in it to win it and itís always great to have lots of friends!
MS: Who has inspired you?
LJ: I think my mam has inspired me and gave me the drive to do well due to me always wanting to do as well as her. She took G1 with her friendís Whippet at Darlington at her very first championship show. Iíve always wanted to beat that, but both me and my mam have agreed, G3 at Crufts does! Also, a lot of professional handlers have inspired me as I want to be like them in the future.
MS: You are well known for handling Whippets and Salukis Ė tell us about your achievements?
AJ: I have achieved a lot with Rafi but I also show Gloria Cookís and Alan Burtenshawís Salukis and have won many first places at championship shows and a best bitch too. Also, numerous group wins at open shows. I have also shown Viv Coulterís and Claire Grahamís Collooney Whippets and Greyhound to firsts at championship shows.
MS: Tell us about how long you have been handling Rafi and how you got involved in his show career.
LJ: Gloria and Alan introduced me to Sheryl Steer and Lorraine and John Fitzgerald, co-owners of Rafi at Bakewell premier open show where I handled him for the first time. We got RBOB and then won the YKC 12-16 handling. From then on I have shown Rafi quite frequently taking turns with his breeder, Tony Quick who had already handled him to two RCCs out of junior, he had also won numerous BPDs, BPIBs and BPISs at Ch shows and open shows. Me and Rafi were winning class after class and the Saluki people were telling me, "It wonít be long until you go a step further than first,Ē and they were right. I travelled with a lady who exhibited Chihuahuas down to East of England, where apparently the judge liked creams so we thought we might be in with a shot. Oh boy we were! I handled Rafi to first in LD, then second in OD with Ch Fernlark Alsace, his father. The nerves built more and more as I waited to go into the dog challenge, it didnít help that a number of people were telling me I had a real big chance for the CC. Once again, the Saluki people were right and we took the DCC and BOB under judge Ian Veal. We celebrated and I rang my mam, who was devastated she wasnít there yet in tears with happiness.
The time came to go in the group which I was extremely nervous about as it was my first time. Rafi performed superb and I was thrilled to bits to be pulled out into the shortlist. The judge, Denise Courtney, stood the dogs back up and took her final look, she placed Jilly, the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen G1. She then scanned the rest of the dogs with her knowledgeable eyes and headed towards me, excitement built up in me until eventually she raised her hand and picked me as second, I didnít know what to do, from what I can remember, I just hugged the judge. Me and Rafi soon won his second CC under Robin Searle at Darlington.
At the last show of the year, LKA, Rafi and I took our third RCC, yet again without my mam being there. Crufts was fast approaching and I can genuinely say, I was expecting to do nothing with Rafi as the judge did not place him very high as a youngster, it just shows how much dogs can change. Rafi and I entered the ring and I raced to the front of the class as I love to take advantage of a big ring and show Rafiís fabulous movement off. We won our class which I was totally amazed at, I had only ever been shortlisted in a class of Whippets at Crufts before so this was just unreal. It wasnít long before the challenge and my heart raced, the judge, Marie Bryce-Smith, moved us up and down and around to the end. After everybody took their turn, I stood Rafi up and tried my best to make him look amazing, I used treats to arch his neck and keep his head up, it must have paid off as we took the CC!
Straight after, I ran to the Whippet ring and surprised my mam by saying, "Guess whoís got a new champion?Ē, she looked at me and burst into tears, followed by myself and my great aunty. We soon realised that if I didnít hurry I would miss my handling class, we had to sprint to the YKC ring where I was late but Rafi and I calmed down and then, once again Rafi put in an outstanding performance and didnít put a foot wrong for me, we were placed first which was my first ever first in the handling at Crufts. I then had a little bit of time to relax before the BOB challenge but the time soon came and once again I made sure I was at the front. The judge didnít mess around; she moved us around once and then stood us back up. She headed forwards towards me, raising up that red and white card and pointed to me. I could hear cheers from all over the ring and I jumped in the air before squeezing the judge.
Once again, the Saluki ring clashed with my YKC ring and I just got there in time for the Handler of the Year challenge, I did not win yet I was quite pleased to see that the judge, Leila Tarabad, said in my critique, "It was a real shame he missed the challenge as he was a definite contender for the title.Ē The chaos didnít stop there as I had to rush back and get Nola, my young Whippet for the YKC stakes in which we were placed second out of 18.
After everything was finished and we only had the group left, Rafi was extremely tired. Five times in the ring, running from hall to hall with very little break in between. So he was put on a bench and left to rest but it didnít stop for me, I was still running from three different halls trying to round everybody up to buy tickets for the group. The time came and soon we were making our firsts steps into the main arena at Crufts. Our dreams came true as Rafi and I took G3!
MS: What sort of reaction do you get from your school friends about dog showing?
LJ: Most people havenít got a clue what Iím going on about and usually reply with, "Is that where you make your dog jump over things?Ē.
MS: What did they think of you being seen on TV at Crufts?
LJ: I got a major reaction at school, not being able to walk down a corridor without people pointing or saying "He was on the TVĒ or "He was in the Sunderland EchoĒ, it was great. I got a round of applause in History and I was took out of a class to go and talk to my year manager about it. Every day I came in from school to find numerous cards from people of all different breeds.
MS: What are you plans for 2012, I understand you may be going to Italy?
LJ: Yes, I am planning to go Italy, the ferry and hotels are all booked. I am going in June to handle Rafi, Dafnia, William and a veteran Stanley, all owned by Sheryl Steer.
MS: Now that you have made up a champion, what else would you like to achieve in the world of dog shows?
LJ: Now that Iíve made up a champion in Salukis, I would like to gain my third CC with Rhumba and make up a champion in Whippets. I know this is a very big aspiration but you have to go up, I want to win a G1 with Rafi and gain a lot more CCs. Also, I handle a cream bitch Saluki Dafnia, Kirman Dafnia, who is of high quality in my opinion. I would love to gain at least one CC with her.
MS: Is there anything else you would like to add?
LJ: I would like to thank anybody who has given me advice, support or congratulations. I appreciate it so much, itís great to have so many good friends in the hobby I love. A massive thank you to Gloria Cook, Alan Burtenshaw, Lorraine and John Fitzgerald and Sheryl Steer for introducing and guiding me to the world of Salukis. Also, thank you to my mam for taking me all over the country, and our close friend, Marcia Dillon for taking me if my mam is unable, itís appreciated.