Fenric Towell guides Lakeland terrier Missy in the ring at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York City. Fenric and his brother Cortlund were among nearly 100 kids hoping to win the Junior Showmanship Competition. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Every Monday, Fenric Towell plucks the long hairs that sprout like weeds on his dog’s neck, ears and bottom. On Wednesdays, he pulls the hairs on her back and sides. Also during the week, he clips Missy’s toenails, bathes her and brushes the Lakeland terrier with coat polish, a conditioner for dogs.

Older brother Cortlund washes his dog, too, and trims her whiskers. His English pointer is allergic to dust, and Icy will break out in hives if she is not thoroughly scrubbed. An itchy dog does not make for a happy pet — or show dog.

Fenric, who is 11, and Cortlund, who turned 18 on Tuesday, are junior dog handlers. The siblings live in Oklahoma City with one sister, five brothers and 10 dogs. When the boys are not grooming and exercising their four-legged pals at home, they are competing in dog shows across the country. Last year, they averaged 15 to 20 days a month on the road.

“I do my homework on the car ride there and back.”

Cortland Towell junior dog handler

“I do my homework on the car ride there and back,” said Cortlund, who is home-schooled and started competing when he was 12. (Five of the Towell children show dogs; 9-year-old Gideon is the youngest.)

Fenric and Cortlund capped off their busy — and successful — season at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. The Super Bowl of canine competitions is held every February in New York City, and only about 100 kids qualify for the Junior Showmanship event.

“It’s a really big thing for me,” said Fenric.


Cortlund Towell and Missy compete at the Montgomery County Kennel Club Dog Show in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, on October 8. Cortland needed seven best junior handler ribbons to earn a spot at Westminster. He won 44. (Tanner Congleton/Tanner Congleton)

To land a spot at Westminster, you have to be 9 to 18 years old and have won the title of best junior handler at least seven times at American Kennel Club shows over a 12-month period. The Towells exceeded that magic number. Fenric took home the ribbon nine times; Cortlund’s tally is a whopping 44.

“I make sure the dog is happy and calm,” Cortlund said of his strategy. “I try not to overthink it.”

“I make sure the dog is happy and calm. I try not to overhink it.”

Last year, Cortlund took fourth place at Westminster, an achievement he dedicated to his sister. In 2015, Annessa competed in New York but did not advance to the Junior Showmanship Finals.

“She didn’t reach the goal she wanted, and she deserved it,” he said. “I felt like I had to go and get something for her.”

At every dog show, Westminster included, the boys follow the same steps.


Fenric and 6-month-old Darby relax at the Beagle Nationals in Aldie, Virginia, in September 2017. (Family photo/Family photo)

First, transform Missy and Icy into beauty queens. At this point in the pups’ careers, the 2-year-olds are used to the salon treatment, including a spritz of hair spray to tamp down flyaway fur.

Second, keep the dogs as still as statues while a judge checks their teeth, by peeling back their lips; muscles, by giving them a squeeze on the shoulder and back side; and coats, by running a hand over their fur like a dust cloth. And finally, take a lap around the ring, without dog or person tripping up.

“My mom gives me a list of things to remember,” Fenric said. “Keep eye contact with the judge and look at the dog to make sure she isn’t doing something bad.”

Fenric knows that Missy can get into mischief. She has confused a Pekingese dog and a women’s fur coat for her squeaky toy. Neither one was interested in playing along.

At Westminster, Fenric competed Monday morning but didn’t make the cut. Cortlund showed the next day and did not advance, either. However, instead of focusing on the loss, he bounced back fast. Within minutes, he was back in the ring for a different event, still trying for a win.

For more information on how to become a junior handler: akc.org/events/junior-showmanship.