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Karri Meyers

At just over a year old, English Toy Spaniel “Bam Bam” (Barri Please Klear the Ice Favorite Dog) has already assumed the persona of a show-stopper.

The well-traveled dog, imported from war-torn Ukraine by Karri Meyers of Spring Lake, New Jersey, has wasted no time making himself right at home while shifting gears in the conformation show world. In a sport time, he’s already gone from competing with his novice owner-handler, Meyers, to the guidance of a professional handler. Bam Bam’s most recent big stage was the 2023 National Dog Show in Philadelphia, broadcast on Thanksgiving. Despite already reaching such heights, Meyers and Bam Bam have no plans on slowing down.

Bam Bam’s Journey to the U.S.

Last spring, Meyers spotted a social media post from Anjela Lebenkova, a longtime and highly respected Ukrainian breeder. “Anjela made a video to one of my favorite songs with her puppy in it,” Meyers said. “I friended her and several of her breeder friends on Facebook. They had beautiful dogs with heartbreaking stories tied to the war with Russia.”

Meyers recalls seeing that many breeders had to move quickly from their homes, faced with lack of money and little support for their dogs. “There simply is not a market for purebred dogs in Ukraine right now. Some breeders are forced to even give their dogs away [for] free to overseas owners.”

Meyers, who is a longtime figure-skating judge with international connections, continued correspondence with Lebenkova for several weeks. She viewed photos of the puppy, who was a singleton in a litter. “I liked his looks in photos and videos she sent, but I could not tell how good his movement was. There was something, however, about him that I loved,” she explains, and says that Lebenkova felt it too. The next step: getting the dog to the United States.

Luckily, Meyers was able to lean on the skating community for help. Two of her friends, Clover Zatzman and Sylvia Barton, were close to Warsaw, Poland, a four-hour drive from Lebenkova. Lebenkova drove to the Warsaw airport with Bam Bam from her home in Vinnytsya, Ukraine. There, she met with Zatzman who accompanied her on the over nine hour flight to New York.

Within 24 hours after he landed, Bam Bam was registered with the AKC. “It really showed AKC’s commitment to doing what was in the dog’s best interest,” Meyers says.

Karri Meyers

Building a Connection Through Language Barriers

When Meyers got Bam Bam, she already owned another English Toy Spaniel, “Killian.” She wanted another dog to keep him company, and particularly loved Bam Bam’s black and tan coat.

But there were still some challenges once they finally united, the main one being that Bam Bam had only ever been exposed to the Ukrainian language. Luckily, Zatzman speaks Ukrainian, and offered to help, but ended up not needing to. Within weeks of arriving in the U.S., Bam Bam was already picking up cues from Killian and following suit. In the process, Meyers says she used a lot of treats to teach him commands in English.

Diet was another eye-opener for Meyers. “Because it is a luxury, they don’t feed chicken to their dogs in Ukraine,” Meyers says. “I roasted a chicken, and he would not touch it,” she says. “He loves lamb, however, and will eat beef.”

And, yes, there is a backstory to his call name. Lebenkova had called him “Barri,” but he didn’t respond to it. She and trainer Pat Foley of Princeton Dog Training in North Brunswick, New Jersey, went to groom him with an electric nail file, and what normally took 10 minutes, took 90. As soon as they put him down, he ran to his bed, peed on it, then ran out the back door, trying to escape over the wooden fence. Meyers ran after him, mumbling “damn, damn,” which finally got his attention. “Suddenly, he looked at me and came running back. I felt it was not socially appropriate to say those two words,” Meyers says. “A few seconds later, I uttered ‘Bam Bam,’ and he responded. The rest is history.”

A Star in the Making

Meyers and Bam Bam have already established a tight relationship, and it extends to conformation. “He has a special glow and magnetism as he walks around the ring,” she says. “He is joyful, eager to please, and his tail is wagging nonstop.”

Since arriving in the U.S. last May, Bam Bam’s training with Meyers has included two to three weekly handling classes under Foley, as well as Carol Shields of Upfront Dog in Allentown, New Jersey.

While showing Killian on Memorial Day Weekend, Meyers talked to professional handlers Per Rismyhr and Ernesto Lara, admitting she had little knowledge of dog shows and training and needed help. She walked Bam Bam to show Ernesto, and he agreed to help her. “My skill set was about a four, and even at that point, Bam Bam cried for professional help,” Meyers says. “Ernesto accepted the challenge.”

Andrey Ignatyev Used with Permission

Gaining Recognition at Shows

Two months after he came to the United States, Bam Bam’s AKC show career began at the English Toy Spaniel Club of New England. Rismyhr stepped in as his handler, where together, they collected Multiple Winners Dog and Best Puppy ribbons.

What followed was a string of summer shows and plenty of rave reviews for the young dog. “At the Putnam Kennel Club show in Carmel, New York, Ernesto gave me grooming and handling lessons for Bam Bam. All the judges were smitten with him,” Meyers says. “In fact, one of show committee members came over to me and said I was the talk of the hospitality room, importing a puppy and putting in an incredible effort to learn this sport at the same time.”

But not everyone felt that he should already be showing. A few months later at a show during Labor Day weekend, another breeder told Meyers she should keep her puppy home. “She said it was great to see a bold puppy, but people don’t want to see puppies until they grow up,” she explains. “I did not understand how you could get a good show dog without practicing and making him think this is his normal thing to do. I sat at many group finals with him in my lap, so he would become accustomed to people clapping.”

Just the Beginning for Bam Bam

These kinds of comments don’t thwart Meyer’s drive to show Bam Bam. Mid-October found the team back in Augusta, New Jersey, where he received two Group One puppy wins, along with National Owner Handler Series Group Three and Four awards. “One judge laughed and couldn’t figure out what I was mumbling during one of those competitions in August. And then I realized I was speaking Ukrainian to Bam Bam. It has been quite the adventure,” she says.

Andrey Ignatyev Used with Permission

Meyers says that male English Toy Spaniels are slower to mature, and don’t look their best until they’re around age 3. Bam Bam’s own drive in the ring is what the trio think will make him continuously successful. “[Killian] shows because he wants to please you,” Rismyhr says, speaking to Meyers. “Bam Bam shows because he loves it and wants to win.”

Lara has a similar sentiment when it comes to the puppy. “Bam Bam has a great personality and is very sure of himself, yet inquisitive about his surroundings and the people he meets,” he adds. “He possesses a great expression, his is a typical head piece, which is hard to find. Add that he has plenty of charisma.” In addition to the wins he’s already taken home, Meyers feels that she, Lara, and Rishmyhr have only scratched the surface of Bam Bam’s potential.