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Meet Jessica Braatz

2022 recipient of the Misty Mondok Myers Memorial Academic Scholarship.

Nine years ago I grasped a leather lead in my hand for the first time. Young and eager, I took a few steps, surprised when the dog to my left easily trotted beside. I beamed and giggled, thrilled with the connection I was establishing with this marvelous creature. Growing up, I was always hesitant and distanced from dogs. I spent my time buried in my classwork, Tae Kwon Do, and tennis.

When I was nine, however, my whole world changed when a new neighbor moved in, a pack of Chesapeake Bay and Labrador Retrievers in tow. She asked me one day to help her move a dog, and I have never looked back. Since then, I have dived head first into dog sports. I bred my first litter of Chessies in 2015 and fell in love with the breed.

In 2019, I got my English Setter as I was determined to learn how to trim. While there are always opportunities to learn to maintain coat at a dog show, there is no experience like doing it yourself. I have always been determined to grasp the most I can from every opportunity which has led to me working for some amazing handlers throughout the years. I have now worked with dogs from every group and been a part of some amazing and successful teams including, most recently, Phil and Amy Booth of BlueRose Kennels.

With my English Setter, “Norman,” I was lucky enough to have been ranked the #1 Sporting Junior Handler in both 2019 and 2020. In 2020 I won Reserve Best Junior at the AKC National Championship Preshow, and in 2021 I was awarded 4th place in Westminster Kennel Club Junior Showmanship Finals. Apart from our successes, Norman has become my best friend throughout our three years together. He has taught me so much about training, grooming, and relationships with dogs. I cannot imagine my life without an English Setter now.

While I was busy competing at shows, I have also been working diligently to complete my Associate’s degree while still in highschool. After my freshman year, I switched to online school in order to have more flexibility with my shows. I was traveling full time and absolutely loved it. Still, school was my main priority, and I worked to not only complete my degree, but maintain straight A’s and make the Dean’s list in college.

When COVID hit, however, everything changed drastically and I had an abundance of time to consider my future. Losing a year of juniors was very difficult as Norman and I were just coming together as a team. Being sixteen at the time, I was not awarded the extension which made me realize how much I have to treasure every moment remaining. This time away from dog shows put into perspective how much of an opportunity each day is and how lucky I am to be awarded it. Some of the best in our sport have taken chances on me whether it was through advice or apprenticeships, and for this, I am forever grateful.

While I will be stepping away from fulltime dog shows during college, I will always have at least one foot in the door. I cannot imagine ever leaving the sport and community who have become my friends and family fully. My involvement in dog sports completely shaped me into who I am today. It taught me the values of hard work, determination, and how to win and lose with grace. In the future, I hope to achieve my juniors judging license, breed Chessies and English Setters, and cherish every left-hand circle I make.