‘LIFELONG LOVE’

aving worked with coonhounds and competed in shows since she was 7, Breanne Caudill wasn’t one bit nervous at the nation’s biggest stage.

In mid-February, the 14-year-old Brownstown Central High School student went from small-town Medora to the big lights of New York City for the 139th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden.

Caudill’s partner, Tricia Snedegar, and mentor, Jessica Rentfro, gave her an opportunity of a lifetime to show a coonhound at the invitation-only show. Out of 16 in the category, Caudill and the coonhound, named Rowdy, placed fifth.

She said that opportunity meant “the world.”

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“It was just an everything-at-once kind of moment,” Caudill said. “It wasn’t like anything close (to other shows). There was a ton of people. Even where all the winners were, there were security guards that had to lead the dogs out because it was shoulder to shoulder.”

For Caudill, the biggest difference was showing a dog she had never worked with before. She arrived in New York on a Friday and had to spend the next couple of days working with the dog before Monday.

Snedegar and Rentfro also had given Caudill some homework to do, including rules of the show. Snedegar has won Westminster in the past.

“I took that dog out and made sure it had food and water and everything,” Caudill said. “You bond with your dog before. You spend all hours of the day with it.”

On the day of the show, Caudill woke up at 4:45 a.m. to prepare for the 8:30 a.m. competition. She was third in the line of 16 handlers, and the judge looked at each dog from a diagonal angle to get a full view.

Caudill said she wasn’t nervous because she had competed in other shows against anywhere from 30 to 50 people.

“(Snedegar) said I would be nervous and everything, but once I watched everyone, I paid attention because I needed to know where to go and how to do it,” she said. “I just watched them, and I was like, ‘I can do this, too’ and I just did what I had to do.”

After about 45 minutes, the judge picked the winner, and everyone walked off for the next category to take the stage.

“I felt like I was a better handler,” Caudill said of how she felt after the competition.

Her mother, Aimee Caudill, wasn’t able to make the trip to New York. But she was happy for her daughter’s experience, which was her first time in the Big Apple and included sightseeing at Central Park and Wall Street.

Aimee Caudill said she found out in early November about Breanne possibly getting an opportunity to go to Westminster.

“I screamed,” Aimee Caudill said of when she learned the news. “I didn’t tell (Breanne) until about mid-December. I told her, ‘Keep up the good work and continue to take care of the dogs. There’s no way you can go if you don’t.’ She kept on it, kept up her school work and got to go.”

Breanne has had a lot of success in showing coonhounds, which began seven years ago when her father had her show a dog at a big United Kennel Club event.

“My dad was a coonhunter, and one day, he asked me to show that dog,” she said. “She was a natural. She was perfect. When I showed her, I was like, ‘I really like this.’”

At home, Breanne has hundreds of trophies, ribbons and plaques from shows, her mother said.

Breanne said after so many wins, and if they come in big shows, your name could appear in a magazine.

That’s one way to gain recognition, and there’s also bloodlines where people with coonhounds are able to connect.

“Sometimes, you go to a show and somebody will need a handler, so we handle for them,” Breanne said.

A lot of work goes into preparing dogs for shows.

“You feed them two cups (of food) a day. You water them every day. You wash them so they don’t lose their color. You give them a lot of exercise,” Breanne said.

Aimee Caudill said the dogs have to be around 50 to 70 pounds with a maximum height of 25 inches for females and 27 inches for males.

Judges also look at other characteristics.

“Gaiting is big, how they walk. They are supposed to have a scissor-cut walk is what they call it,” Aimee Caudill said. “And also, ground stacking and bench, their body needs to be proportionate, they need to be healthy and up on their toes. Posture is key. You can’t go to a show and expect flat feet to get you through.”

There are confirmation shows, including West-minster, where the handler walks the dog along the ground, and bench shows, where the dog is placed up on a bench.

During the shows, stacking involves the handler calming the dog down by rubbing its belly, making sure its legs are even with each other, working its tail and keeping its head straight.

Breanne’s parents have always told her to at least spend five minutes a day working with the dogs. She currently has a female named Piggy and males named Raylon and Lonesome.

Aimee Caudill said working with coonhounds has been good for her daughter.

“I’ve always told all three of my kids, ‘It keeps you off the streets, gets you involved in something that’s worthwhile and can grow into something later on in life,’” she said. “We’re extremely proud of her, and we’ll continue to back her up.”

Most weekends from the spring to the beginning of winter, Breanne spends time at shows.

“I just like everything about it. I love it,” she said. “I like the people we’re surrounded by, and I love the dogs.”

Breanne said she plans on continuing to show coonhounds for as long as she can. She wants to take her own dog, Piggy, to next year’s Westminster.

“She’s really a well-built dog, so I don’t think it will take much (preparation),” she said.

She also wants to make dogs a part of her future career.

“I want to go to college to be a pet groomer,” she said. “Before Westminster, you have to groom your dog, and you trim their hair a little bit, and I really like doing that.”

Aimee Caudill is fine with her daughter’s career choice.

“She has always had some kind of animal love. You can see it,” she said. “To see it in person and watch her with the dogs, she’s got a lifelong love and hopefully a job.”

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.