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J456 Cassidy Hayes, Pug

Cassidy Hayes first stepped into the ring as a toddler—and this year she’ll be competing at Westminster for the second time.

While she still might be considered young, this 16-year-old from Indiana is already deeply committed both to the sports of purebred dogs and to making dog shows welcoming for newcomers.

Family Fun

“My parents met a pet Basset Hound and fell in love, which led them to search for an addition to the family,” says Cassidy, about how it all began. “They were not ‘show people,’ but they searched for a purebred breeder, and got our first Basset when I was a year old.”

Her parents quickly got involved with showing as a way to travel the country and spend quality time together. Cassidy first stepped into the ring with the family’s Basset Hound when she was just three years old and she credits these early experiences with shaping her success today “I got to really understand shows and how they work, and ring procedure, which has helped me become a lot more confident as an older handler now.”

Overcoming Challenges

Cassidy says it wasn’t always easy when she got started “It was definitely weird being the youngest one in the ring, competing against adults, but it helped me learn too. I always had so many knowledgeable people I could ask if I ever had questions about anything, and they’d always have great answers.”

Although Cassidy loved showing dogs in Juniors, she sometimes found Basset Hounds to be challenging as a breed to show. “It’s often difficult to be recognized in competitive and very talented juniors groups with an ‘awkward’ and less flashy breed,” she says. But Cassidy never let these challenges get her down. Success in dogs requires a lot of commitment and dedication, which she exemplifies. “Juniors has definitely taught me that one loss doesn’t have to knock you down,” she says. “It’s okay to be a little upset, but it’s important to pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and try again. This is a good life perspective too—that one failure can’t make you completely give up.”

cassidy hayes basset hound ribbon

Her Own Dog

When Cassidy turned 12, her parents let her pick a new breed and get her own puppy. “I had never even shown a Pug before deciding that was the breed I wanted,” she says. “It was a breed I’d always thought was cute and loving.”

Cassidy got her puppy—GCH Lowrie’s Always Stay Humble and Kind “Ozzie”—and right away knew she’d made the right decision, falling in love with the breed’s “sweet, clown-like personalities.” She notes that, of all of her show successes to date, finishing Ozzie’s championship and grand championship when she was only 13 years old—and before he was 18 months old—is the thing that she is most proud of. And she’s especially proud of the fact that she is the only person to show Ozzie, so the wins were all about their teamwork.

Another standout moment in her juniors show career was when she and Ozzie won Best Junior in Cluster in Grayslake, Illinois, for a big college scholarship. “That was my first ‘big’ win, and I was so proud,” she says. “It was even better when I looked over and saw my mom crying, which made me cry.”

Cassidy is thrilled that she and Ozzie will be competing at Westminster for the second time this year, noting that the big show is always a special experience. “It’s such an honor to even be there that it’s hard to keep your nerves under control,” she says. “Getting to visit with friends from across the country, see all kinds of beautiful dogs, and to be in the heart of the busiest city in America is truly a unique experience!”

J456 Cassidy Hayes, Pug

Advice for Getting Started

Although Cassidy grew up at dog shows, she didn’t come from a multi-generational dog show family. She uses this experience to inspire other kids and families to get involved with dog sports. “As someone whose family started as total ‘newbies,’ and who has learned entirely by trial and error, you don’t need to have a background in shows, or to be a third-generation dog person, to be successful!”

When asked what advice she would give to anyone interested in getting involved in juniors, Cassidy says the best thing to do is to jump in. “Go to a show and get out there,” she says. “Ask older juniors questions—we’re willing to help you and we won’t bite.” She also says it’s helpful to spend as much time at shows as you can. “Always stay and watch the open classes and Best Junior after you finish. So many novices leave after their class wraps up, but you can pick up on so many little things just by watching the more experienced juniors compete.”

Supporting Juniors

Cassidy adds that one of the best things adults can do if they want to see the sport continue with the next generation is to “take a chance on a junior and give them a good dog.” She finds it especially disappointing to see breeders give juniors pet-quality puppies and to see those kids get frustrated trying to show their dog in the breed and consistently lose. “If I hadn’t ever had success in the breed ring with Ozzie, I would never have gained the confidence I did for the juniors ring.”

For adults who aren’t breeders but are looking to support kids and teens getting involved, Cassidy encourages them to go out of their way to make sure juniors feel welcome at club events and shows. “Offer extra competitions like a Best Junior in Cluster, or special prizes for the winners,” she suggests. “We love those!”

What’s Next?

Cassidy is currently a junior in high school and is focused on making the most of the time she has left competing in juniors. “I have about a year and a half left of juniors before I age out,” she says. “I want to compete as much as I can until then.” She also has plans to have her first litter of pugs on the ground before she graduates from high school.

After high school, Cassidy plans to study nursing to become a nurse practitioner. But even with these career goals, she doesn’t plan to step away from showing dogs. “I’ll always be involved in shows somehow and plan on continuing to show my dogs with my parents through college as well.”

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