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Jamie McHugh

Step aside Dorothy and Toto — a new girl in ruby red slippers with a Cairn Terrier are taking over. But rather than follow the yellow brick road to Oz, 6-year-old Izzy “Izzy” McHugh and her family’s Cairn Terriers, “Rey” and “Fame,” are making their way into the Conformation ring. Her mother, Jamie McHugh, accompanies Izzy to these events, and it’s now a big part of their relationship.

From Plush Puppy to Showing in Group

As a 2-year-old, Izzy’s parents began to take her to AKC Plush Puppy events near the family’s home in Enumclaw, Washington, where she showed her stuffed animal. From the start, she really enjoyed it, and it inspired her parents to help her improve her handling skills and move up to Pee Wee classes when she was old enough. Pee Wee is a pre-Junior Showmanship program in where parents or guardians can sign up children between the ages of 5 and 9 to compete with their dogs. In this program, handlers enter the ring one at a time, accompanied by an adult.

Before she even turned 5, Izzy’s talents as a handler were becoming clear. When she was 4 years old, she got her first win, unplanned. She led her family’s dog, Rey (Champion Braemar’s Legacy At Scotchbroom) to a Best in Sweepstakes win at the Su-Mac Cairn Terrier Club’s Specialty show in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Ernie Slone

At the beginning of the day, there were no plans for Izzy to handle the dog. “A few hours before ring time, it occurred to me that Izzy was capable of showing Rey, so I asked her what she thought about taking the dog in the ring,” says Jamie. “At first, she hesitated and said she didn’t think she could do it, but ten minutes later, she insisted on going in.”

Pee Wee Practice

The Su-Mac show wasn’t Izzy’s first exposure to competition. Her mom had been interested in dog sports for awhile, so Izzy grew up with them. “My aunt, Nancy Delyea, has been breeding and handling Cairns for a few decades and encouraged me to get involved 20 years ago,” Jamie says. “We took Izzy to her first dog show when she was two months old, and she’s been coming with us ever since.”

Jamie says Izzy’s passion for Cairns developed naturally. “When Nancy and I needed someone to walk a dog up and back, so we could see if we missed any grooming spots, Izzy always volunteered,” Jamie says. She remembers coming out of the ring and handing Izzy the dog’s leash to hold for a minute.

Jamie McHugh

As Delyea performs most of the Cairn grooming tasks, Izzy likes to help groom their harsh, dirt-proof coats. “Nancy gave her a grooming smock, a soft slicker brush, and a comb, showing Izzy how to brush the dog’s coat in even, upward strokes. She’s great at holding the hair dryer, too,” explains Jamie. “I don’t like picking up poop, but I do it,” Izzy adds.

Competing Pre-Junior Showmanship

To compete in AKC Junior Showmanship, handlers need to be between 9 and 18 years old. Izzy will be old enough to participate in Junior Showmanship in three years, but until then, she’s getting some practice exhibiting Cairn Terriers alongside adult handlers in the breed ring.

Izzy’s handling skills are extending beyond her family’s dogs. Recently, Izzy handled 11-year-old Cairn Terrier, Fame (Champion Cairnstone’s Fame), owned by Jack and Karen Smith, at the Cairn Terrier Club of America Roving National Specialty in San Diego, California. The duo won Best Veteran in the Sweepstakes and Best Veteran in the regular Veterans Class.

The regular class win earned Izzy and Fame, owned by Karen Smith, a spot in the Best of Breed competition. Of 20 champion Cairns competing, Izzy and Fame took home the second Award of Merit prize behind professional handler Bill McFadden.

Small, shaggy Cairns are happy and alert dogs. Fame, who weighs about 20 pounds and stands about 10 inches high is a little on the hefty side for Izzy to lift onto the table for the judge’s examination. Still, she manages the task with determination and a ready smile.

Jamie McHugh

In a lineup with adults in the show ring, a little girl in a tutu and ruby red slippers with a trained and well-groomed Cairn always turns heads. “After the show, a woman walked up to me and said, ‘We had to stop our Airedale competition in the next ring because everyone was watching your daughter,'” Jamie says.

Intuitively, Izzy listens to and follows the judge’s instructions. “She pays attention to her dog the whole time she’s in the ring and doesn’t mess around like the rest of us,” laughs Jamie.

A Bright Future Ahead

Where Izzy is cool and collected in the ring, it’s Jamie who usually feels the nerves for her daughter. Jamie says she’s excited by how much her daughter has learned and how much she loves the dogs. “Even at that young age, Izzy didn’t need me to help her in the ring, but I stood inside anyway,” Jamie says. “I never had to encourage or push her to show a dog. She couldn’t wait to enter the ring.”

Serious with a competitive streak, Izzy’s goal in dog shows isn’t taking home trophies but, summed up in one simple sentence, “Winning with my dog!”

“I think she likes receiving win ribbons and when people clap for her,” Jamie says. Her daughter often shows her empathetic side as well. When a friend or fellow Pee Wee is sad or hurt, Izzy is the first to reach out, take their hand, and ask what’s wrong.

Ernie Slone

What does the 6-year-old dream about? “I want to be in the big person’s group,” she says, and by the looks of things, that’ll be happening for her soon.