For the Towells of Virginia, the spring isn’t complete without competing in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show Junior Competition. Several Towell teenagers, all skilled Junior Handlers, usually qualify for the show each year. They’ve had a few bumps along the way, sitting out the 2020 competition because of the COVID-19 pandemic and when they moved states. But they’re back in 2023, with 19-year-old Bevin and 17-year-old Fenric set to compete.
The Towells’ Westminster Journey
It’s Bevin’s last year to qualify for Westminster. In 2022, he was named Best Junior 12 times in 12 weeks. Fenric is nearing his final year of competing in Juniors and has four wins under his belt. As advocates for preservation breeding, the brothers excel at showing rare breeds and regularly participate in AKC Meet the Breeds events.
Their younger brothers, 14-year-old Gideon and 12-year-old Hadrian, have qualified in the past. And the youngest Towell siblings, who range in age from 1 to 10 years old, haven’t yet qualified. “But it’s a family affair, so we won’t be surprised if they join the others,” says mom Alysha Towell.
The family has been participating in Junior Showmanship for less than a decade. “We didn’t know anything about how to qualify when we started in 2016,” Alysha says. Eldest child Annessa, now 25, was the first to compete in Westminster Juniors, followed by Cortlund, now 23. The next year, when Annessa was about to age out, there was an entry problem with her dog. She ended up being one win short of qualifying. “After that, everybody got the bug,” Alysha says.
And their luck turned around when Cortlund qualified for Westminster during his first year of competition. Cortlund borrowed Fenric’s Lakeland Terrier, whom he had only shown three times before. “It was a total fluke, and he ended up making the finals, which was just amazing,” Alysha says.
Meet Fenric and His Lakeland Terrier, Hamilton
First competing in Juniors at the age of 10, Fenric is the youngest qualifier in the family. “He made it a point to qualify when his brother aged out, and I didn’t think it was possible and he proved me wrong,” Alysha says. At the time, Cortlund was the #2 Junior in the country, so Fenric needed to come out on top seven times to surpass him. Since then, Fenric has qualified for Westminster every year he’s competed, showing Lakeland Terriers and Beagles. His first Lakeland was Missy, who did two rounds at Westminster with both Fenric and Cortlund.
Missy’s son, Hamilton, is the first Lakeland that Fenric bred, whelped, raised, and trained himself. “I can see the progress from when he was a baby to when I’m showing him and he’s four years old now,” Fenric says. “Everything I do in the ring, he can read perfectly, because he’s done it so many times.” Alysha agrees that they’re a perfect match, explaining that “Hamilton does not function for anybody but Fenric.”
Unlike some dogs that may be more sensitive, Hamilton can take a lot of constructive criticism. “If you have a dog you can’t say no to, it can be really hard to work with them because it takes so much longer. I prefer a really cocky attitude. I can say no to my dog, knowing that I won’t break it permanently,” Fenric says.
Hamilton’s routine includes a bath and a hot air dryer to make his legs fluffy. Once a week, Fenric grooms Hamilton, pulling out dead hair by hand. When it’s time to show, bathing comes to a halt and brushing becomes a daily ritual. “The coat cannot be washed until the end of the show because it’s the most delicate part of the terrier,” he says. To keep Hamilton’s coat clean and dry, Fenric brushes him daily.
Meet Bevin and His Löwchen, Target
Bevin began showing at 12 years old. He has qualified for Juniors every year since the age of 13, showing Whippets, Papillons, and now his first Löwchen, Target. The family is extremely grateful to Target’s breeder for helping him get to shows when the family wasn’t able to compete. Now, Target is one of the winningest Löwchens and a top stud for this rare breed.
Bevin and Target have competed in many different environments. In 2022, one show took place at an amusement park. At the time, Target hadn’t shown much outdoors, so Bevin didn’t know what to expect. As they entered the ring, Target peed on the gate entrance, but “the judge missed it,” Bevin says. “He peed on the table before I picked him up and the judge missed that, too.” Bevin kept smiling as Target continued to pee throughout the competition. Despite that, being outside worked to their advantage, since other dogs got visibly nervous. Bevin and Target ended up taking home a win.
Target’s grooming routine starts with a bath, and Bevin saturates the hair completely. “You have to pick out all the burrs and everything he picks up because he’s got four Swiffers attached to his feet,” Bevin jokes. The ears need to be cleaned inside and out. Next, Bevin applies shampoo, starting at the spine. He has to massage it down and lift the hair up. “If you scrub the hair, you’ll just mat it up,” he says. He repeats the same steps for the cuffs—the hair around the dog’s hock joint at the ankle, which is left natural and untrimmed—to remove dirt and debris. Bevin lets the shampoo sit for five minutes before rinsing it off.
Then, he repeats the entire process, just using conditioner. “You rinse it lightly because you want to leave some residue to get that silky texture,” he says. “I hairspray his spine so the hair doesn’t stick up when he’s laying down,” he says. Next, he sections off hair for the topknot, combing and applying gel and hair spray to keep it in place. “All in all, it should look like an invisible force is keeping his hair in place. You shouldn’t be able to see any product.” The entire process takes one and a half to two hours.
Getting in the Ring
Fenric doesn’t like any surprises from his dogs. He prefers showing dogs he knows well, and better yet, ones he’s bred himself. Bevin is the opposite, often choosing dogs that act like divas. He’ll show any dog except those who may bite. “They can have a panic attack on the table, poop, or fall asleep. I’m good as long as they don’t bite me,” he says.
Showing rare breeds has its ups and downs. “Everyone knows who you are. If you’re the kid with the Löwchen and have an embarrassing performance, the judges will remember you as the kid who messed up,” Bevin explains. Alysha has witnessed judges’ different reactions to both brothers’ showing styles. She adds, “But you never know which judge you’re going to get, and you’ve got to figure out what they want by the time your turn is over.”
Advice for Newcomers to the Sport
Performing well in a dog show takes a lot of dedication and practice. Plus, dog and handler need to be a good match. “The whole point is to make it look easy, but it takes years,” Alysha says. “Sometimes Bevin and Fenric have won just strictly because the judges go, ‘Wow, this is a fantastic team. You are an excellent match,'” she observes.
Some kids new to the ring might start off by trying to copy their favorite handler. Fenric’s advice is to “find one thing that you do right and keep doing that until you master it.” He advises Junior Handlers to take things one step at a time and keep finding new skills to master. “It’s also a mental game you have to play,” Bevin adds. “A lot of kids go in the ring looking for a ribbon rather than looking to have fun. You have to establish yourself as a presence. If you go in the ring and treat it as a routine, it’s kind of an empty performance.”
The best way to approach the sport is to play to your strengths and make your turn in the ring memorable. “We call the ‘it factor,'” Alysha says. “And you can only learn it in the ring,” Bevin adds.
From May 6 through 9, watch Westminster Kennel Club events on FS1 and FS2, or stream live and on-demand on westminsterkennelclub.org, FOX NOW App, and FOX Sports App.