Malachi Landrum stands about a head taller than Storm the Doberman.
The 5-year-old from Columbus wore a bright blue button down shirt under his dark vest and pants Sunday afternoon as he and his dog pranced around the ring of an exhibit hall of the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter. He’s been showing dogs since he was 2, said his mom, Emily Landrum, who is a licensed veterinary tech.
“I think he enjoys the attention. He goes in with a big smile on his face. He’s never been scared,” she said. “I think it teaches him to be out in front of people and not be afraid.”
Malachi’s ribbons have piled up over the years. When he won the top handler for his age group, the ribbon was nearly bigger than he is.
The Muoio family of Warner Robins was hunting their first prize for 12-year-old Madison at the Canine Society International 2014 Peach State Summer Grand Prix over the weekend.
She was competing for the first time as a junior handler with Odetta from Blue Note’s Aussies.
Madison is washing dishes and doing laundry in hopes of saving enough money to buy her own dog. After a lot of research, Australian shepherd seems to be her top pick.
“I just like their temperament,” she said. “I wanted a loyal, high-protection dog.”
Across the hall, white American Eskimoes, Kai and Kailani, were perched on fabric folding chairs, taking a break.
They had traveled from Birmingham to compete with 10-year-old Haylee Gibson.
“They’re really sweet and cute and I love animals, all of them,” said Haylee, who had her strawberry blonde hair pulled into a ponytail.
The dogs watched intently as Haylee nibbled on a Chick-fil-A nugget. She shared the last teeny bite, but the dogs had their own pack of grilled chicken bits as incentive to perform.
“They love them,” Haylee’s mother said.
As the judges called for the Junior Showmanship contestants, the children and their dogs preceded to a roped off corner of the hall.
They listened carefully to the judges’ instructions and guided the animals to and fro.
Each contestant heard some pointers from the pros.
Grooming the children to take interest in preserving the sport also will help perpetuate breeds, Judge Terry Berrios said.
“It’s good for the young folks to get involved. They’re the future of the breed,” Berrios said. “People need to spend time with the juniors in order to get them started.”
Retired Northside and Houston County High biology teacher Phyllis Pierce has been helping Madison by allowing the girl to cut her teeth with Odette, her triple grand champion.
Pierce has been breeding and showing the Aussies for years.
“They’re so loyal and loving and smart. This is my passion. I just love them. They’re like humans,” Pierce said. “I have to put locks on my gates because they can open them and they know how to turn on the bathtub.”
Making sure the dog puts its best foot forward is a large part of the competition.
“Always have your dog groomed to perfection,” judge JoAnne Schullier told the children. “You want to say, ‘Look how I take care of my dog.’’’
Madison trotted around the ring with Odette, who seemed perfectly comfortable taking the lead.
So was Hollywood, the Schnauzer, who traveled all the way from Matton, Illinois with 11-year-old Hannah Schrock.
Hollywood edged out Odette to win.
Madison thought the experience was great, even though she lost out to Hannah, who has been competing a year.
“You could tell she went in there a lot,” Madison said. “That was my first time.”
But judging by the look on her face, it won’t be the last.
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.