Lenore Hedemark, a 14-year-old from North Carolina, is the number-one American Hairless Terrier Junior Handler for the past two years.
As an up-and-coming show photographer and active competitor, Lenore began showing dogs at 11 years old. She stepped into the ring for the first time with her aunt’s ex-racing Greyhound registered with a Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) number and has never looked back. “After my first show, I was hooked and continued to compete for years,” Lenore explains. “I got Piggy, my dog, a year or two after starting shows.” She now primarily handles American Hairless Terriers (AHT), but also co-owns Schnauzers and Rat Terriers.
Lenore’s favorite part of showing dogs is the time that she gets to spend with Piggy. “I love the quality time of traveling and training for shows,” she says. “He always has so much fun traveling and meeting new people and I love being there to do that with him.” Lenore didn’t grow up in a show family and has worked hard to get involved in the sport. She credits much of her success to the mentorship she’s received from others involved in the dog world. “I found amazing mentors who helped me learn the sport before I eventually got my AHT, who is now two.”
Dog shows have also helped Lenore understand herself better. “I’m homeschooled and have never been the most social person,” she says. “Dog shows have brought me out of my shell and introduced me to so many amazing people.” Getting involved with shows has been a dream come true, she adds. “When I was six, I used to watch dog shows like Westminster and the National Dog Show on TV. I used to say ‘they need a whole channel for these so I can watch them every day’ but I had no clue that I could actually show at them!”
In addition to actively showing Piggy, Lenore is building a name for herself as a skilled dog photographer. “It started as just taking pictures of my pet bulldog, but dog shows are really what made me take it much more seriously,” she says. “I started doing some of my first paid sessions and really challenging myself. Show dog portrait sessions are very difficult but very rewarding when you’re successful.”
Lenore photographs at shows and has a variety of canine sport photos, from dock diving to disc dog, in her portfolio. “To help support fellow juniors, I also offer free portrait sessions to junior handlers at every dog show I attend,” she says. Lenore’s photographs have already been published in different dog and horse magazines.
Although dog shows have been able to continue or return in some areas of the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted Lenore’s ability to train and compete. “Because I have a high-risk family, I haven’t done any shows since the beginning of the pandemic,” she says. Although she misses showing, Lenore and Piggy have been keeping busy at home. “We’ve been using this time to train and practice for when we can attend another show.”
Advice for Kids
Before getting started showing dogs, Lenore remembers being nervous about what the experience would be like. “The thought of being judged scared me, but the experiences I’ve had in the ring are way different than what I expected,” she says. “Most judges are very understanding and kind.” Lenore is particularly passionate about supporting other juniors, especially those who are new to the sport and don’t come from multi-generational show families.
To kids and teens interested in getting involved, Lenore has the following advice: “Don’t be afraid, take a risk and just do it! I promise it will be a ton of fun. Not only will you build a stronger bond with your dog, but you will also meet so many helpful and kind people.” She recommends watching some dog shows on AKC.tv to learn ring patterns and how a show works, and adds that most junior handlers are happy to help newcomers if they reach out looking for help.
Lenore is looking forward to it being safe to return to dog shows. In addition to conformation, she has also been an active competitor with Tricks, having earned the Performer level title with Piggy. She also intends to start getting involved with Rally and Agility after the pandemic quarantine is over.
“I’d love to branch out into other sports,” Lenore adds. “Barnhunt and Rally have been a large interest of mine recently and I plan to sign Piggy up for some classes after the pandemic. I’d also love to finish his CH and qualify for Westminster someday. A hairless dog strutting around NYC would be pretty cool.”
As soon as she’s able, Lenore intends to get back in the ring and wants to stay there as much as she can. “Shows have made me realize that whatever I do for a living needs to either involve dogs, or give me enough free time for dogs,” she says. “I’d love to work for a professional handler when I can through college. Dog shows will always be a part of my life.”
Getting Started in AKC Juniors
Teens and children under 18 have the chance to learn about good sportsmanship, dogs, and dog shows, and develop their handling skills with the AKC Juniors Program.
Juniors are eligible to compete in Showmanship, Obedience, Agility, Rally, Tracking, Hunt Tests, Herding, Field Trials, Earthdog, Lure Coursing, Coursing Ability, and Coonhound Events. There is no minimum age requirement for sports other than Showmanship (where you must be nine).
If your child is interested in becoming a junior, they should first watch a show and sign up for a class. Juniors under 18 years old can sign up for a Junior Handler number here. This number will let them to both take classes and compete.
Junior participation in AKC sports will be recognized through the AKC Junior Recognition Program and at the end of the year, AKC will award the Junior Versatility Awards and Scholarships. You can go to this link to learn more about the AKC Junior Recognition Program.
For more information, email your questions to Juniors@akc.org.