Young Kennel Club (YKC) member Antonia Leech is believed to be the first British handler in 18 years to be placed in the International Junior Handler Championship finals at the World Dog Show.
Antonia, who is 18 years old and from Milton Keynes, ran with Bella, a five-year-old Pharaoh Hound, at the World Dog Show in Moscow, Russia before claiming second place in the final on the 26th June. Antonia is believed to be the first UK entrant to be placed in the World Dog Show final since Marina Scott, also a YKC member, who won in 1998 whilst representing the UK. Antonia has been mentored by Marina since the age of ten, providing her with feedback and advice over the last eight years.
In March this year, Antonia won the 17-24 years Terrier & Hound handling semi-final at Crufts under Liz Millward, going up against 151 other handlers who were entered over the four days. She then went on to win the title of YKC Handler of the Year the same day. This put her in the running for the final at the International Junior Handler Championship final at the World Dog Show, where she ran with Bella. Bella is owned by breeder Maria Evteeva from the world renowned Russian 'Reedly Road' kennel and was best of breed in the Hound group at Crufts this year.
Under a special initiative, the Kennel Club Educational Trust sponsored Antonia on behalf of the YKC to travel to the World Dog Show in Moscow, as well as help with her entry fees, where she then represented the UK and the YKC.
Antonia said of her accomplishment: “Words can't express just how I feel – I'm still on cloud nine. I felt I couldn't have performed any better and the standard of the other handlers was outstanding. Representing the UK, let alone becoming runner-up World Junior Handling Champion, is a dream that I have been chasing and now it's turned into a reality with so many memories to treasure. I am so grateful to the YKC for giving me this opportunity and sponsorship.”
Antonia, who is currently travelling the world on her gap year after the World Dog Show, has been handling since the age of nine. She has been in the Junior Handling Association (JHA) finals five times, and last year was runner-up JHA Handler of the Year. Two years ago she competed in the daily heats at the World Dog Show in Finland, where over 600 handlers competed throughout the duration of the show, and was shortlisted down to the last 16 but did not go any further. Outside of handling, she has managed to have a successful show career where she has achieved Best of Breed at Crufts and group placings with her Basset Fauve de Bretagnes and Bearded Collies.
After being a member of the YKC for ten years, Antonia was recently awarded the YKC ambassador badge to recognise her dedication to the club by representing the UK at the World Dog Show and for winning YKC Handler of the Year at Crufts. She is planning to go to the University of Surrey in September to study veterinary medicine, continuing her dedication to dogs and other animals.
YKC Chairman, Gerald King, said of Antonia’s achievements: “We are incredibly proud of Antonia for representing the UK and the YKC at the World Dog Show this month, as well as all her hard work at Crufts. She is a credit and inspiration to all of our members and we look forward to witnessing more successes from her in the years to come.
“The YKC is a fantastic start for any young person interested in canine activities such as dog handling or showing, and we hope that Antonia’s fantastic accomplishments inspire other young dog lovers to sign up to see what they could achieve.”