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John Ashbey

Katurah Hall has always loved dogs, and at age 28, she’s stepped into her own as a conformation handler. The Fairfax, VA, resident spends her weekdays teaching literacy to her first-grade class, but weekends are all about dog shows. Though she didn’t grow up showing dogs, she’s already making strides in the dog show world, and her passion for conformation doesn’t go unnoticed. Hall attends conformation classes and prepares for dog shows whenever she can. She competes with her Standard Poodle “Milan,” and a new addition to the family, an Afghan Hound puppy named “Jessie.”

Hall’s very first time in the ring was a success. Milan won best Standard Poodle puppy at a specialty hosted by the Washington Poodle Club in West Friendship, Maryland. While still fairly new to conformation, she and Milan are already making an impression.

A Childhood Dream in the Making

Hall was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina, and growing up, she wanted to be a veterinarian. Unfortunately, allergies to various dog breeds kept her from pursuing this career path. Since she was 5 years old, Hall has loved dog shows. “I used to beg my mom to watch the shows on TV,” Hall says. “I told her I’m going to be one of those people who’s on the Westminster Dog Show.” And now, she’s not far from it.

She had a Chihuahua, who unfortunately passed away when Hall was 18 years old. She’d intended on getting started in conformation, but her grief put her plans of owning or showing dogs on pause. Only when she agreed to dog-sit her friend’s dog did she begin to warm up to the idea of showing dogs again.

“I had her dog for three months while she was moving,” Hall says. “And I loved that dog. She was a Standard Poodle, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I need one.'”

And she didn’t waste much time. Soon after, Hall welcomed her first Poodle, “Haven,” who is now a year and a half. Haven has completed her Canine Good Citizen test and participates in Fast CAT. It was during agility classes that Hall began talking to other handlers about conformation and decided to give it a try.

Andrea Mercado

Finding a Show-Quality Dog

“Haven is a lovely pet, but she’s not a show dog,” Hall says. “I wondered if a Poodle should be my next dog if I’m going to get a show dog.” That’s when she started researching Poodle and Afghan Hound breeders. She soon found a Poodle breeder who was looking for an owner-handler. Hall brought Milan—registered name Rosebud But Make it Fashion—home at 4 months old, and since then, they’ve been attending conformation classes every Monday.

Just two months later, Milan competed in a specialty where she won the 6 to 9 month puppy class, Best of Breed, and Best of Variety. She also won her puppy class at an all-breed event. “When she won, I thought, now I’m hooked,” Hall says. “I got all these ribbons. This is so fun.”

Around that time, Hall had been on a yearlong waitlist for an Afghan Hound puppy. The breeder thought Hall would be a great handler for Jessie because of how well she was doing with Milan in conformation. The breeder wanted Jessie to start training with Hall as her owner-handler, and they got started right away.

Hall has no plans to breed Milan, nor does she aspire to become a breeder herself. But, if Jessie becomes a Grand Champion, Hall says she may consider working with her breeder to see if she’d be a breeding prospect. “Maybe I’ll contribute to the gene pool of Afghans because there aren’t as many as there are Poodles.”

There’s Always Something New to Learn

Since starting in conformation, Hall has had to learn everything from the basics of conformation handling or figuring out the entry process for a show. “It’s definitely a learning curve,” Hall says. “Everything about a dog show was a complete surprise until I did it the first time.”

Hall didn’t expect how formal the dress code would be until she saw the other handlers in tailored suits and blazers. “That was a shock to me in a neat way,” she says. She recalls feeling underdressed and realizing afterward that she had worn her armband on the wrong side.

Erin Kephart

In addition to the dress code and terminology, grooming a Standard Poodle was a new experience for Hall. “There’s so much thought that goes into grooming the dog,” she says. “It’s an art form to see people groom dogs.”

Her next challenge was learning the basics of stacking a dog and accentuating their features. Different dogs have different features that they’d want shown off based on their breed standard, and every dog is different. “Stacking was the biggest struggle for me,” Hall says. Some dogs don’t mind being stacked and moved around in the way that conformation events require, but it can take some dogs a bit of time to get used to it. “Now I see how far I’ve come with Milan because, with Jessie, it’s like wrangling a cat.”

Blending Her Teaching With Training

With Hall’s full-time teaching responsibilities, getting ready for a dog show means a lot of planning and coordination. Usually, Hall takes her dogs to weekend shows and the occasional Friday event. “When I’m at work, I think about work,” she says. “When I’m at home, I think about what dog show I’m going to.”

Hall is still learning how to groom a poodle with scissors correctly, so she schedules grooming just before a show and makes sure she has help during shows. Since Milan requires grooming every three weeks, Hall takes time off from work to take her and Haven to the groomer.

“Now all of my coworkers know what I do, and they think it’s the best thing ever,” Hall says. “They think it’s so fun because they don’t know anybody who has done it.”

Her coworkers aren’t the only ones who are excited about Hall’s involvement in the dog show world. Hall says that she cherishes the friendships that she’s made already in conformation and other dog sports. “I have a friend who calls me her ‘show daughter’ and takes me with her to shows,” Hall says. “It’s been really fun to meet a wonderful community of people who see this as fun like I do and how exciting it can be.”

Emily Pindell

Quality Time With Her Dogs

To Hall, winning is the icing on the cake. What she loves most is the quality time she spends with her dogs. “I enjoy it, and my dogs enjoy it,” she says. She also sees how much Milan loves running and jumping and wonders if more dog sports are in their future. “She will launch herself off of anything, which is why agility seems like the best thing for her when she’s old enough to do it.”

Hall describes Milan as very brave, smart, and funny. Milan is curious about people but discerning about who she likes. She loves to have fun and visit new places. “The first thing people say when they meet her is, ‘Oh, she’s so pretty,’ and the next thing they say is, ‘She’s really confident,'” she says.

Conformation handling has boosted Milan’s confidence. Milan didn’t have a problem with new environments, but she was apprehensive about meeting new people or having someone else groom her. “Of course, I would like her to be a Grand Champion,” Hall says. “If that doesn’t happen, I’m perfectly fine with that. She’s my girl — who just happens to be really pretty.”

As for Jessie, Hall would love for her to be a Grand Champion, too, but she’s still very young. “I want to see how far she can go,” she says. “Jessie has the personality for it. We’ll see what happens with both of them, but I want them to have fun.”

Squeezing in Some Downtime

When Hall is not creating lesson plans for her first-graders or taking care of her dogs, she enjoys listening to true-crime podcasts, reading novels and webcomics, spending time on social media, and doing cross-stitch, which she calls a “once-a-month hobby.”

Katurah Hall

All three of Hall’s dogs are different, with their own personalities and interests. She describes Haven as “a big outdoorsy dog.” Since Haven loves to hike, they’ll visit national parks on a 50-foot leash. “She’s free to go, but she’s leashed,” she says. “That’s the best day for Haven.” Milan’s “best day” is any time she can get in the car and go somewhere. “Milan will enthusiastically jump into the car every single time because she knows that she gets to go somewhere fun,” she says.

At 4 months old, the youngest of the bunch, Jessie likes to run around. Hall made her a lure, which she loves to chase. She also enjoys sitting in the window and watching people go by. “She loves to watch, and she’s very observant,” Hall says.

Advice for Newcomers

A good starting place is attending dog shows and talking to experienced breeders and handlers, Hall says. “Research is super important, and people are happy to talk about their dogs and grooming requirements,” she explains. If you’re new to owning a Poodle, make sure to investigate the costs since this breed can be expensive to maintain. Hall recommends purchasing grooming tools before your puppy arrives home.

One of the best pieces of advice she’s gotten is to make the experience fun for your dog. “Of course, winning is fun,” she says. “The winning is exciting, especially when you don’t expect it. It’s like, now I have to do this again. Having fun is number one. Everything else comes after.”

Meeting people who are passionate about their dogs makes her excited about her future with Milan and Jessie. “I just love the environment,” she says. “I love seeing the dogs and how much care and training people have put into these dogs.”