Popularity of dog shows skyrocketed in 2000 when the comedy film Best in Show was released, but nine-year-old Panagiota Rounis was exposed to the sport through her family. Plus, she wasn’t even born when the movie came out.
Panagiota’s mother Siona also grew up handling and showing dogs, which was a big factor in the young girl’s recent success at a national competition in Chilliwack, BC. Competing against professional handlers, Panagiota won best overall handler one day of the event and an award of merit for regionals another day, as well as winning the junior novice class.
“I’m very proud,” said Siona. “It’s incredibly intimidating being in that ring with professionals because that’s what they do for a living. For Panagiota to be able to go in there and hold her own and get some winning done at nine, I’m very impressed.”
The girl became interested in showing dogs at the age of six and was given her own Havanese show dog, Effie, a year later.
“It’s really fun and I like doing it,” said Panagiota, “and I feel really happy because it’s my dog on the end of the leash.”
Just one month after Panagiota was given Effie, she was showing the dog. Siona said she distinctly remembers when her daughter first entered the dog-show ring.
“I was probably more emotional than I thought I was going to be, but it was lots of fun,” said Siona. “My mom and I watched her the first time and I was in tears.”
Siona also showed dogs while growing up and is happy to return to the sport with her daughter after leaving it for 20 years.
“I was super excited when Panagiota wanted to do it, and even more when she was able to do it,” said Siona.
The family moved to Powell River last September from Nanaimo when the father, Bill, took a job as principal of Kelly Creek Community School. Panagiota’s younger sister Anastacia, four, has also recently taken an interest in the sport.
Panagiota, currently in grade three at James Thomson Elementary School, shows incredible promise as a professional handler, according to Ladysmith-based dog-show judge Doug Savory.
“If she wants to continue on and be a professional handler, she has an excellent opportunity to do that,” said Savory, a dog breeder who is in the long process of obtaining dog-show judging certification. “There are people who are using Panagiota now to handle their dogs and she’s getting group placements on those dogs. There are a lot of people who can show dogs their whole life and never get a group placement.”
One of the major benefits of competing in dog shows, according to Siona, is lessons learned in responsibility, time management and working as a team; important skills for any nine year old, and ones that Panagiota has excelled at.
“It’s taught her to be a lot more responsible at a younger age,” said Siona. “She’s in charge of this little animal and it depends on her to know everything is okay.”
In her most recent win, Panagiota beat out adult handlers with many more years experience. There are two reasons for this, said Savory.
“Her confidence and her ability to listen,” he said. “When she listens to what the judges tell her, she goes and practices what she’s been told, which is huge. But her confidence in the ring at her age is just amazing. She’s one of the best handlers of that age I’ve ever seen.”
As for Effie the Havanese, Panagiota said her dog can sometimes get pretty excited, as most dogs do, before the shows.
“Effie is kind of funny because she will jump up on you and her tail will be going back and forth, and then she’ll be licking you and constantly jumping on you,” said Panagiota, adding that once the two enter actual competition, the dog quickly settles down. “She just knows that when she’s in the ring she has to be good.”