Growing Up Bernese:
My Path to an AKC Scholarship
When my mom begins to tell stories about me growing up, she always shares the one where we cook together. As she chops away at vegetables on the countertop, she glances over and remarks about how tall I’ve grown. She looks down farther to my feet and notices our Bernese, Abbey, blinking up at her pitifully. I was utilizing Abbey as a stepstool.
Growing up in a show dog home provided me with many experiences my peers have not yet been afforded, and I’m not just talking about accidentally drying off post-shower with the dog towels every now and then. Before the age of ten, the age when I could begin participating in AKC’s Junior Showmanship competition, I traveled to many dog shows with my family. My mother would sit me down at the grooming spot and instruct me to hold down the fort, supervising dogs and making sure no one moved into our space. Soon, the task grew a bit boring and I expressed the need to be more than the grooming space sitter. I began showing my mother’s dogs in the Dakota County 4-H Dog Project. From age six to fifteen, my brother and I participated in conformation, obedience, agility, and dog bowl events. My mother volunteered to teach, coach, drive, bake, everything that dog mothers do.
When I was about six or seven years old, my mother told my brother and me that we could pick out any dog we wanted to own, train, and show. The only stipulations were that the dogs had to be small and low-maintenance and that we were responsible for the care and training of the animal. We had to research our own breeds and talk to exhibitors of those breeds at dog shows. My brother picked out a Border Terrier but I chose a different route, and picked out Lacey, my Papillon. My mother called her the bumblebee on a string. In 4-H, my summers were taken up by practicing conformation, obedience, and agility with Lacey.
My 4-H County Fair projects were also dog related. Responsible dog ownership was one of my favorite causes at the time, and I always found a way to work that into my demonstration. I repeatedly won the veterinary science competition, my favorite project being the one on caesarean sections. I watched my vet do a c-section on one of our bitches and photographed the entire procedure. I was twelve years old and needed a stepstool to see what the veterinarian was doing to the dog on the surgical table. On two or three separate occasions, I took these projects all the way to the Minnesota State Fair and won top honor awards for my contributions in the area of dogs.
At the age of ten, I began participating in AKC Junior Showmanship. I progressed quickly to the Open Class. By this time the Bernese had become my show dog of choice, I had enough of the bumblebee on a string, finding her true calling to be agility. Soon, my mother saw the need I had for a Bernese of my own. When I was growing up my mom and dad affectionately called me “Busy Lizzy” due to my “inquisitive” nature. As fate would have it, Joey arrived at the right time. Early on in her litter box we noticed that Joey had the same “inquisitive” nature that I did. While all the other puppies would sleep for hours each day, Joey would be busy in the box waking up the other puppies to play as well as demanding human attention. She was the first puppy in the litter to bark and climb out of the whelping box. She pushed around all her other littermates. She was an all-around strong-willed female. My mom calls us kindred spirits. I think my mother calls this strong willed, precocious behavior in a puppy. I’ve always preferred “inquisitive.” I finished Joey, Ch. Abbey Road’s Dizzy Miss Lizzy, in six months with four majors. I was only fourteen years old and already co-owning, breeding, raising, and showing my parent’s Bernese.
More recently, my mother let me get my own Border Terrier because I loved showing my brother’s so much. Ch. Abbey Road’s D’Arcy von Tomar finished her AKC Championship title in about seven months. Although I love the terriers, I have found the Bernese have stolen my heart for good.
The world which I was exposed to at such a young age truly shaped who I have become as a young woman. I can remember playing dog show with the neighborhood kids when I was younger, often locking them up into our dog crates and putting leashes on them to play “show dog.” My mom feared that the neighborhood kids wouldn’t be allowed to come over anymore because she would often have to send them home with only one canvas shoe or one sock. (Abbey, our foundation bitch, would eat anything made of cotton—shoes, Barbie clothes, and underwear were her favorites.)
Growing up, I would also go to my mom’s Tuesday Obedience Training Day. After training with my mother’s friends and their kids, we would go out for lunch. To this day, I reference the core women of the group as my own personal Million Mom collection. My aunt, Kristin Conlan, who also bred and showed Bernese and Norwich Terriers, would come to visit from Texas for the summers, and would also train with us. I had more mothers than I knew what to do with. Their respective life stories and experiences were shared with me and shaped me into a worldlier individual. We had an annual summer “Tuesday Girls” pilgrimage to the Canadian shows in Thunder Bay, Ontario. I have had all those mothers watching over me for the last fifteen years and every single one of them had an opinion on how to be a better handler, trainer, exhibitor, dog show fashionista, and most importantly on how to be a good sport and best friend.
Family vacations seemed to be planned around dog shows. I saw the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore thanks to the Rapid City cluster. I enjoyed seeing bears cross the road and miles of barren forest thanks to Dryden, Ontario. Andy and I became excellent readers thanks to the long trips in the minivan to dog shows as well as the long hours waiting for “groups” to begin. We met many wonderful people from all parts of the country. It was especially fun when we were asked to help show dogs for other people.
The many BMDCA specialties I attended provided me an opportunity to travel, see the country, and stay in wonderful resorts and hotels. Most importantly, dog shows have introduced me to wonderful people who have influenced my life in many positive ways. Dogs have shown me the world, in a sense. The people I’ve met at specialties and the many dogs I’ve shown truly opened my eyes to opportunities and learning experiences. These trips have made me realize the diversity of the people who have become my friends.
My accomplishments to date would not have been possible without the vast opportunities provided me because of my family’s interest in dogs. This fall, I will be attending Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. I’m considering a few different majors including political science, English, and premedical studies. After graduation, I’d like to attend graduate school at Harvard University to pursue my Ph.D.
Recently, my mother informed me of a dream she had in which she asked all of my close friends to give her their slept-in t-shirts so that she could send them to me in Massachusetts. She felt their scent would ease my homesickness. I’ve been raised as a puppy for my whole life! The next four years of food without dog hair, towels that don[‘t smell of wet dog, and carpeting that doesn’t accumulate Berner Shag are daunting, so I suppose that this serves as a personal ad of sorts:
WANTED: Berner family close to Wellesley, Massachusetts, that will share their animals. Will work for food and free Berner snuggles.