By Martie Thompson
Zoe Keffer just might be a “dog whisperer” … the 13-year-old already has three years of experience as well as many accolades as a junior handler for the dog show circuit. Born and raised in Mandarin and a rising eighth grader at Mandarin Middle School, Keffer said she and her family have always been “dog people” and she considers her time spent honing her craft as a handler to be her main extracurricular activity. The family has a cat and three dogs in addition to her show dog, which is the family’s first.
Keffer shows her Rottweiler, Lux (also known by her formal name, GCH Amena Pollux Solvieg) as well as occasionally dogs owned by others at dog shows throughout the Southeast United States approximately one or two weekends a month. Keffer feels thankful that many local adult professional handlers have supported her ambitions and even at a young age, she feels like part of a tight knit family of dog show regulars.
At a dog show in July, Keffer and Lux had their best show yet. Lux was awarded Best of Breed in a breed class full of professional adult handlers. Additionally, Keffer personally was judged as a junior handler and was awarded Best in Show for juniors. She qualified for her personal dream, the Westminster Dog Show in 2020, by earning seven Best Junior Handlers in the season. At Westminster, Keffler will be one of approximately 1,000 junior handlers competing. She is not paid as a junior handler, but says she is “paid” by the experience she is accumulating.
Q: How did you decide to show Lux and become a dog handler?
A: We bought Lux to be a family pet from a reputable breeder. Her bite was off, so she wasn’t planned to be a show dog. But as she matured, her bite improved and the breeder recommended we consider showing her since she was already so outstanding in every other attribute. We took her to her first show just to walk around and our breeder introduced us to a professional dog handler. The professional handler showed her for about two years and Lux earned champion and grand champion status.
At the first show, I thought the dog show would be for agility, but actually it is confirmation, where the judges judge the dogs compared against perfection in the breed. I didn’t really understand much of what was going on at first and it took me at least a year to get it, but I liked everything. Then the professional handler and my parents encouraged me to become a junior handler.
Q: What was your first time in the ring showing a dog like?
A: The first time was not planned. I was at a show and had to fill in for someone at the last minute. I was nervous, but I’m always nervous before I go in the ring. It’s important to stay focused when showing the dogs and not think too far ahead.
Q: What is your favorite part about being a junior handler?
A: There’s not just one thing; I like a lot of things about it. You become more mature since you have to talk to people. I like that I get to meet a lot of people from other states. It’s fun being busy… grooming, showing. It also takes courage to go into the ring.
Q: What is the most challenging part?
A: Since I’m smaller and the dogs I’m showing are large, sometimes I have to prove myself — to judges and to owners — that I can handle these dogs. But I like the working group dogs since it’s fun to run with them when I present them. It’s hard to be elegant with a Rottweiler, but I try!
Q: What are your long term goals? Will you become a professional handler (which is a paid position)?
A: I don’t really know yet. I like science in school, so I’ve thought of becoming a veterinarian. A lot of professional handlers tell me, don’t become a professional handler; you won’t have a life and you won’t see your family on holidays. But I know you can make good money at handling if you can become well known by showing good dogs. Right now, going to dog shows is something I enjoy doing with my dad.
Photo courtesy Scott Keffer
Zoe Keffer and Lux.