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Nancy Mathews

Bebe Mathews only began showing dogs in 2021, but she’s already solidified her place as a serious competitor. For just two years, she ranked No. 1 Kerry Blue Terrier Junior Handler, and No. 2 Russell Terrier Junior Handler. Mathews didn’t come from a dog show family, but it hasn’t stopped her from getting involved.

When she visited her first dog show, Mathews fell in love with terriers. Soon after, she worked with her parents to find a mentor, and jumped right into the sport. She says she’s proof that you can make your dreams come true. In 2023, the 17-year-old was one of the top Junior Handlers in the country, closing out the year with her dog “Wizard” as the No. 3 Russell Terrier, and her dog “Reilly” as the No. 2 Kerry Blue Terrier.

Trying Something New

While many top junior handlers come from multi-generational dog show families, Mathews was the first person in her family to show dogs. And what brought her to dog shows is different than others’ routes into the sport.

A junior in high school, Mathews has always been a very artistic person. She plays piano, and has been playing classical music since she was 4 years old. In 2019, she became involved with photography, and went on to start her own pet photography business, called Happy Moments Photography. “Through the friends I made from photography, I went to my first show in 2021 just to spectate and take ringsides,” Mathews explains. She says she was hooked on dog sports immediately. At that first show, Mathews was instantly drawn to the sport. “[I] fell in love with the Kerry Blue Terriers,” she recalls. After that show, she got her own Kerry Blue Terrier and began participating in Junior Showmanship.

Achieving High Ranking Status

Nancy Mathews

In 2023, Mathews was the No. 3 Terrier Junior Handler in the country, and in the top 20 overall Junior Handlers, a ranking she describes as meaning “the absolute world” to her. But those successes didn’t happen overnight. Mathews says they’re a result of her commitment and dedication to growing her skills with handling and grooming. She notes she had to work extra hard because she felt like she was making up for getting a later start compared to some other Junior Handlers. “I did not win a ‘Best Junior’ until after a year of showing,” Mathews recalls. As she got started, she says she was barely in the breed rankings for juniors and “never thought I would succeed or make it to where I am now.” But, her hard work has paid off.

Mathews credits her family, friends, and mentors with helping her to gain new skills and succeed as a Junior Handler. She says she’s especially grateful to her mentor, Angela Chase, who got her started in dog shows and gave her “Reilly,” her first show dog. Mathews began going to Chase’s kennel weekly to learn how to groom Reilly for the show ring. “I quickly fell in love with the breed, and we won four Best Juniors together before I got my next junior dog, Wizard,” says Mathews.

Mathews began working for professional handlers Tracy Szaras and Luiz Abreu in 2023, which allowed her to continue to hone her handling and grooming skills. These handlers also helped her to learn to manage a busy show schedule, gain time management skills, and introduced her to other competitors. “They have become a dog show family that will always be grateful for and love,” Mathews explains. She strongly urges any Junior who wants to become serious about showing dogs to find trusted and respected handlers to assist for.

Going Outside Her Comfort Zone

“Entering the dog show world at a young age and the first in my family was nerve-racking and definitely lonely at first,” Mathews recalls. “Everyone in Juniors seemed to have known each other for their whole lives, and I was the new person.” Because of this, Mathews notes that there were times she would go to shows and wanted to quit because she felt so alone. Thankfully, that lonely feeling didn’t last long, and Mathews was able to get involved with the larger show community. “Luckily, I have some incredible friends that made me feel so welcomed and guided me through the ropes of Juniors,” she says.

Mathews is especially proud of having won Best Junior in Cluster at the Greenville Dog Show in July 2023, where she also received a scholarship. “I was not expecting such an amazing win, and somehow Wizard and I pulled it off,” she exclaims. Mathews remembers it as a day filled with great memories and emotions. She says she’ll always remember immediately leaving the ring and hugging Szaras, as they both cried and celebrated together. She credits the support, guidance, and encouragement of her handling mentors helping her to gain the skills to become a serious competitor. “I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for the professional handlers that I have worked for,” says Mathews.

Bryan Mcnabb

An Involved Grooming Routine

Showing terriers requires a lot of grooming. “My Kerry Blue Terrier will get weekly or biweekly baths. Making sure they do not get mats is very important,” Mathews explains. To keep her Kerry Blue looking his best, Mathews also does weekly clipper work, and then grooms his whole body to get the “clean Kerry outline” needed for the show ring.

For her Russell Terrier, Mathews does flatwork weekly, plus carting and rolling his jacket. For baths, “he will get his furnishings washed every few days, and a full-body bath every week to keep his coat white,” she says. Wizard and Reilly might be top show dogs, but they’re also beloved pets. Their care and grooming is all up to Mathews. “They both live with me, and I must keep up with all of their grooming and show training,” she says.”

Making the Most of Her Last Junior Year

As she nears her 18th birthday, Mathews is preparing to age out of Junior Showmanship. Competing at Westminster is at the top of her list of things to do before then. “Wizard and I qualified for Westminster 2024, and I cannot wait,” she explains. “I age out in November, so I want to make my last year worth it.” She’s especially proud of qualifying because she started showing later than many other Junior Handlers. Plus, school is her top priority, so Mathews was mostly only able to find time to show during the summer. “We got all seven wins [to qualify for Westminster] in just three months,” she notes. The final qualifying win came at a show in Greenville, South Carolina, in what Mathews remembers was “a very tough lineup of juniors, and I was overjoyed.” She says she’s looking forward to Westminster 2024 and hopes to qualify again for Westminster 2025. Her goal is close out her Junior Showmanship career among the top 20 Junior Handlers.