An outgoing, easily excitable Shawnee resident who loves attention and weighs about 40 pounds isn’t quite able to put into words how it feels to be a winner.
Journey, a 3-year-old Keeshond dog who has been participating in dog shows since he was 6 months old, has other ways of expressing himself, owner Kelli Denton said.
“He definitely lights up,” said Kelli, a senior at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School. “And when there’s applause, he just gets so excited. And when he wins, he jumps up and tries to grab the ribbon from me.”
Together, Journey and Kelli have won a number of awards during Journey’s time as a show dog, but this month they took home their most prestigious award to date: a Best of Breed win at the 136th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York. Though they didn’t make it all the way to the Best in Show portion of the competition, which determines the top dogs in the country, their win earned them an opportunity to compete in the groups portion, which is televised each year on cable channels such as USA Network.
That was the first Westminster win for both Journey and Kelli, who has been to Westminster three times, twice showing Journey. She said no show comes close to the Westminster experience.
“It’s a little breathtaking to be around so many people,” said Kelli, who has been showing dogs since she was 9 years old. “It’s absolutely packed full of spectators and exhibitors ... the atmosphere is kind of crazy. It’s probably a lot more stressful than a normal show just because it’s more prestigious and more honorable to win there compared to just a regular show.”
Despite the crazy atmosphere, Kelli said Journey took it all in stride as usual — this wasn’t his first time around a dog show ring, after all. As a member of the American Kennel Club — a requirement to participate in Westminster — Journey, whose AKC-registered name is Grand Champion Baronwood Infinity and Beyond, has garnered more than 100 Best of Breed wins. One of those wins included the 2011 AKC/Eukanuba National Championship, which is on a par with Westminster as one of the most prestigious shows in the country. He was named the No. 4 Keeshond in the country last year, and in May he will be inducted into the Keeshond Hall of Fame.
“You can think of this like the Baseball Hall of Fame,” Kelli said. “There are criteria to be met, and it takes several years to accomplish.”
Kelli’s interest in dog shows originally came, she said, from going to shows with her family as a child. After receiving a retired show dog — another Keeshond named Justice — for her ninth birthday, Kelli was hooked. She began showing Justice through the Johnson County 4-H dog club. When she was 10, she started showing at AKC competitions. Since then, she has earned quite a bit of recognition for herself, including being named the No. 1 Keeshond junior handler in the country for the past eight years.
“I like interacting and having that bond with your dog,” she said of why she likes showing dogs. The thrill of the competition, as well as getting a chance to meet other people proficient in the field, doesn’t hurt either, she said.
Kelli’s parents, Mark and Becky Denton, are proud and supportive of their daughter’s passion for showing dogs, which can rack up quite a bill from year to year in travel and expenses.
“To be very honest, I’ve not added it up. I probably don’t want to know the total,” Becky said with a laugh.
At least one parent usually accompanies Kelli on any trip, Becky said, adding that if Kelli’s priorities weren’t already on track, there wouldn’t be any traveling to begin with.
“We have told her all along that her grades always came first in school, and we always told her that if her grades started dropping, the traveling would stop,” Becky said. “And we haven’t had any trouble with her grades. ... It has taken a lot of dedication and time on her part, and she was motivated enough to put what it took, the work into it, to accomplish this, and we feel very fortunate.”
Next up for Kelli and Journey are more dog shows — about two or three per month — at least until Kelli goes off to college next year, when she said she’ll be ready to take a short break.
“I definitely think it’s a lifelong hobby,” said Kelli, who plans to major in international business, though she doesn’t yet know which college she will attend.
Meanwhile, Journey is loving the excitement and attention he receives as a frontrunner on the dog show scene. He doesn’t mind the near-constant grooming from Kelli, who said she brushes his trademark thick coat of black and gray fur several times a week.
“He’s just pampered,” she said.