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Why you need to know Vickie Venzen, Westminster Dog Show owner-handler

For Harford Magazine
Meet the owner of one of Harford County's most decorated canines.

Vickie Venzen is an environmental protection specialist at Aberdeen Proving Ground and the mother of three children, including twins. She and her dog, Face, a cane corso breed, competed in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York in February. We talk to her about what makes Face special and how she got into show business — dog show business, that is.

Let’s start with the basics. Face is just a nickname, right? What’s your dog’s real name?

His full name is GCH CH Apex’s Time to Face the Truth CGC. GCH stands for Grand Champion and CH for champion — they reflect titles he’s won in competitions. CGC stands for Canine Good Citizen. And Apex is part of his name because he’s the puppy of Apex’s Tuff, who was a supreme grand champion.

How did you decide to start showing Face in competitions?

We got Face as a pet, and we have two other dogs, too. But Face was special. Everywhere I went, people would compliment me on him — his looks, his behavior. I thought to myself, “He might just have what it takes.” So I took a handling class with a couple who also judge shows. They were tough, but they were good trainers. Face participated in his first show when he was 19 months old. He got two majors [wins worth three or more points] and a Best of Winners award.

How did the competition go and what was the biggest challenge?

Face didn’t win or place, but he did really well for such a young dog. He’s only 2 years old. It really was an honor just to be there.

Owner-handlers are pretty rare. Why did you choose that role?

I was the only nonprofessional handler in Face’s category at Westminster. Most of the dogs there are being shown by professional handlers. In fact, some of the handlers have as many as 10 dogs in one show. I don’t want to take anything away from what they do, because I’ve made some good friends among them, but I felt like hiring a professional handler would interfere with my relationship with my dog. This way, we win together. You can’t put a dollar value on that.

How do you fit in training Face while also working full time?

I get up early and spend about a half-hour with him in the morning. Then we work together for another half-hour to an hour in the evenings. You really start losing the dog’s attention if you try to spend longer than that on it.

You have quite a menagerie. Do your other dogs resent all the attention Face gets?

No, not at all. They all get along great. We have Face, plus our Doberman and a Maltese-Yorkie mix called a “morkie.” That’s my daughter’s dog, but she’s away at college. We also have a cat, plus fish and crabs, too. It all meshes well. I wanted to be a vet, but that didn’t work out. Now I have a job I enjoy, and my hobby revolves around what I love. I feel blessed.

What’s next for Face?

We’ll do some other shows this year. I’m hoping we’ll be able to do the Eukanuba National Championship [in December]. They have a category specifically for owner-handlers, so I think that will be a good fit for us. Also, it’s in Florida in winter, so my kids are hoping they get to come along, too. 

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