In conversation: Jetting off to the US show scene
Charlotte Druce and Leonberger Patton.
In this week’s In Conversation we speak to 24-year-old Charlotte Druce from Leeds who took a trip over to the American show scene.
HJ/SG: How long have you been handling dogs?
CD: Nine years.
HJ/SG: Why did you decide to go and work in America?
CD: After a YKC handling class at Paignton ch show in 2010 I asked the judge Frank Whyte if he had any advice for how I could improve (turns out I placed last because I didn’t have to handle as my dog was too well trained, she did it all for me). It came up in the conversation that he knew Brian Livingston, one of America’s top professional handlers, who was looking for young handlers to work with him and asked if I would be interested. I gave it some thought after the show, asking people’s advice and got back in touch with Mr Whyte. Seven weeks later I was on my way.
HJ/SG: How long did you stay in the US?
CD: In 2010 I went over from October until December and in 2011 from September until December. Both times included going to the AKC Eukanuba National Championship, the first year in Long Beach California and the second in Orlando, Florida. We drove to both from where I was based just outside Dallas, Texas, in a purpose built 45ft motor coach (known as the Truck).
HJ/SG: What did you achieve while you were out there?
CD: I learnt how to work with a variety of breeds, how to groom and handle them for and in the show ring.
HJ/SG: What breeds did you work with while out there?
CD: The widest variety – we had Pharaoh Hounds, Labradors, Papillions, Boston Terriers, Rough Collies, Pointers, Leonbergers, Vizsla and Australian Shepherds to name only some. Quite a few ranked top of their respective breeds.
HJ/SG: Tell us about your daily routine while out there?
CD: Normal days were full and show days packed, as you will all know dogs do not give you a day off. Days at home would start between 7am and 8am letting the dogs out and exercising them both in the paddocks and on the treadmill and morning feeds and cleaning each of the dogs kennels as I go. Throughout the day I would spend time in the kennel with the dogs, grooming, letting them out and playing. Show days began at 6am. We would be up and out of the truck before the sun even came up to let the dogs out for an hour before the show. We would then be checking the schedule for the day to see which dogs need to be in the building ready to be groomed for the start of the show (most shows starting at 8am). Show days would be busy with up to 50 dogs to be shown a day, some dogs travelled with us and some who met us at the show. You have to plan for the breeds you have coming up, taking into account who needs to be inside and who needs to be out, and how long each takes to groom; obviously a Pharaoh Hound and a Rough Collie take different amounts of times to get ready.
Charlotte Druce at the Eukanuba Nationals in the US.
HJ/SG: How is the showing environment different to the UK?
CD: It’s a very busy environment in America. We had our own set up with a number of grooming tables and crates for the dogs. All the dogs are groomed at the shows, some even bathed everyday as shows have bathing facilities. All the set ups have power so you can use blasters and dryers to groom the dogs right up until the point of them going in the ring making them look the best they can.
HJ/SG: What was your favourite memory/event?
CD: I loved travelling in the truck. The farthest we travelled was the first year to Eukanuba and it took 22 hours with stops to let the dogs out for walks, but I loved being at Eukanuba. It’s just before Christmas and lasts for five days. The rings are decorated with snow-covered Christmas trees decorated with red ribbons. At Eukanuba there is no reserved grooming space, just a massive free for all, everyone queues up from the day before with all their pens, tables and crates. At the time people are allowed in everyone just runs, it’s madness everyone grabbing as much space as they can.
HJ/SG: What are some pros and cons of going out and handling in the US?
CD: The pros are the things you learn and the people you meet. I have made lifelong friends who I have been out and visited since first going to America. I learnt different handling techniques and little grooming tricks that I would never have learnt.
One con is showing in the UK is not as exciting when you get back! Going from showing up to 50 dogs a day back to just my two makes some of the show days drag!
HJ/SG: Would you go again?
CD: I would and I did, two years in a row I spent September to December travelling through 12 states to various shows with the best handler I could have ever have asked to work for.
HJ/SG: What advice would you give to someone who was thinking of going out there to work under a handler?
CD: If you are willing to put in the work, get down and dirty, get up at 7am and not go back to bed until 4am the next day (okay so that was only once, the day before we travelled to Eukanuba) do it! It is the best thing I have ever done. I was 19 the first time I went out, I had never been away from home apart from a school trip for a week. I jumped on a plane just a week after being officially invited to fly 4,500 miles to work with people I had never met, in a country I had never been to.
Okay so I won’t lie; the first day or two was tough, but I arrived on Monday and Wednesday night I was off to my first dog show. We showed in both Texas and Oklahoma that weekend and took home a best in show.
HJ/SG: Anything else you would like to add?
CD: Just because you are working under a professional handler doesn’t mean you will be in the ring every week. While I did show on occasion people pay for the handler to show their dogs, so my main job was to get the dogs ready and to the ring on time.
I loved the work and met the best people who will be friends for life. I have met Mr Whyte only once since that day in Paignton six years ago. I told him then how thankful I was for giving me the time that day and for recommending me to Brian. To this day I remain thankful to him and Brian and the opportunity they gave me.