By Nora Nieminski
It's surprising for me to reflect on how far I have come from simply wanting a dog in the house four years ago. When I first decided that I wanted a Rhodesian Ridgeback, I never imagined myself participating in dog shows and other competition events. It is cliche to say that a dog will change your life, but my first dog, my Rhodesian Ridgeback, Leo (DC Ridge View's Leo the King of Stars CD RE OA OAJSC CGC VC), has truly changed and improved my life in every way possible. My latest accomplishment thanks to Leo was to have been awarded an AKC Educational Scholarship. Even though this scholarship is an incredible honor, the experiences, lessons, people, and challenges that Leo has introduced me to are what I am truly grateful for.
After wanting a dog since I was little, my parents and I finally made it happen when I was 15 years old. When picking a puppy, I was introduced to the idea of dog showing. I loved working with dogs so much that I immediately decided I wanted to take the challenge. As it turned out, it wasn't much of a challenge with Leo. I finished him incredibly quickly (with four majors by the time Leo was 14 months old) thanks to his looks and the skills I learned from the Junior Showmanship program. I started showing as a junior before showing Leo in Ridgeback classes, and I cannot be more grateful for that today. The AKC Junior Showmanship program offered me a fun, competitive, but unintimidating introduction to the world of dog showing.
Thanks to showing in juniors, instead of being intimidated by showing amongst professional handlers, I now get excited by it. This has been my strongest drive to show Leo myself all the way to his championship and beyond. My passion for showing has immersed me in the purebred dog world, which has become the most fulfilling part of my life. Thanks to Leo and our many adventures and lessons in conformation, agility, obedience, and running events, I have been introduced to people and opportunities that otherwise would have remained hidden to me.
The purebred dog world offered me challenges that keep me advancing. There are always more things to learn and to work on in addition to more events to compete in and more dogs to train. Even though Leo and I are still traveling and competing, I have also started working with many other dog breeds. I always embrace challenges that I face either with different Ridgebacks or with other sighthounds in the ring. Any contact that I have with dogs and their owners is a pleasure and a satisfying reminder of how I was first introduced to and have grown within the dog world.
As far as school goes, I have successfully completed my first year at the University of Utah this year, and am eagerly awaiting another summer of a busy dog schedule. The additional commitment and time required for training and traveling to shows and other events has, if anything helped me with school. Not only has AKC helped me financially by awarding me this scholarship, but it has also taught me to manage my time to achieve the best grades possible in school in addition to making time for Leo and my other sports commitments and competitions.
Everything that has come about thanks to my experiences with AKC events and purebred dogs has changed my life. Now I can't imagine myself doing anything other than training and loving Ridgebacks. I am confident that if I have gained so much love and passion from my first Ridgeback, Leo, that this will only be the beginning. Now I am excitedly awaiting Leo to father his first litter and am ready to begin the loving, training, showing, and performing process once again with more generations to come.
Author is a 2007 AKC Junior Showmanship Scholarship recipient.