Dogged handler heads to nationals

An Oak Harbor teenager will soon compete to be the top junior dog handler in the country.

An Oak Harbor teenager will soon compete to be the top junior dog handler in the country.

Maryah Love, a 16-year-old sophomore at Oak Harbor High School, has qualified as the United Kennel Club’s number six junior handler in her age group and will be attending an invitation-only top 10 event, the Premier Nationals, in Kalamazoo, Mich. this June. There, Love will compete to be the No. 1 junior handler in the United States.

“It would be equivalent to the American Kennel Club Westminster Dog Show that we see on Thanksgiving, but for the United Kennel Club,” said Mary Edwards, Maryah Love’s mother.

The competition will take place June 15-19.

“A lot of these kids haven’t ever met,” said Edwards. “They haven’t seen each other because they’re all showing in different states but they qualify by points. So every time you take first place, you get 10 points. Every time you get the best junior handler in the whole show you get 25 points.”

Love is in the top 10 for the open senior category and has been showing dogs since she was about 7 years old. Edwards has been in the dog show world her entire life and grooms dogs for a living.

“Two years ago she showed interest in the junior handling program so we started that venture,” Edwards said. “During that first year, she’d go to a show here and there. … This last year she campaigned. We did the whole Washington and Oregon circuit for the United Kennel Club and we hit every single show.”

Love is now a handler for four different dogs, including a Portuguese water dog for a breeder who lives in Oregon.

“This last year she’s been really busy,” Edwards said.

Handlers have to teach their dogs to run next to them at a trot, show their bite and stand still for the judge. Handlers also have to answer a multitude of questions about the breed and be familiar with its physical and personality characteristics. Love mainly shows an American bully named Kilo.

Edwards is mentor to Samantha Lapp, a middle schooler from Coupeville, who was a top qualifier in the novice junior category. Edwards will be driving the two girls and their dogs to Michigan this summer.

They have a fundraiser on Facebook to help cover costs and have also been selling hypoallergenic treats and soap for dogs. If you are interested in purchasing from them, email

Maryah Love winning a title. (Photo by Mary Edwards)