Wasilla's Kaitlyn Benedict won a third-place ribbon and a $4,000 scholarship in the Junior Showmanship competition of the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday.
Benedict, a junior at Wasilla High School, was among eight finalists selected from 91 contestants in the category for young dog handlers. Her family said she is the first Alaskan to place as a finalist in the junior competition, though that milestone could not be confirmed by show officials.
On Tuesday night, the 16-year-old strode the famed green carpet at Madison Square Garden in New York City with Ziggy Marley, a black-and-white Landseer Newfoundland.
"It's really sentimental because (Ziggy's) been with us since she was born," Benedict said in a phone interview Wednesday morning. "It means a lot more when you put in all the work."
Benedict's parents are longtime Newfoundland breeders; their kennel in Wasilla is called BeringStrait Newfoundlands.
When Benedict made the cut for the finals, her mother, Kelly Benedict, jumped up and down so hard she hurt her knee.
"I cried and told everybody ringside, 'Milkshakes for everybody!' " a laughing Kelly Benedict said. She said Kaitlyn was surrounded by supporters from the start, including two mentors from Wasilla who taught her handling skills.
To be invited to Westminster's Junior Showmanship competition, a junior handler had to place as "Best Junior Handler" at seven or more American Kennel Club licensed or member shows from November 2012 to October 2013.
Benedict was one of two Alaskans to qualify. Emmylea Herring, 18, of Anchorage, competed with an Afghan hound named Abbs.
Early Tuesday afternoon in New York, Benedict also won a select ribbon in the all-breed show in the Newfoundland ring, where a judge praised Ziggy for her movement and bone substance, Kelly Benedict said. Then, mother and daughter took the VIP bus to Madison Square Garden and set up a grooming area to prep for the final round.
About two hours of the afternoon was spent in a cubicle to show Ziggy to the public and answer questions. It was an "absolute madhouse," with some 60 people surrounding the table at any given moment, Kelly Benedict said.
"There would have been more, but the hallway couldn't fit anyone," Kelly Benedict said. Spectators poured on questions, asking how old Ziggy was, what kind of dog she was, what Kaitlyn did to make it that far.
At last, night fell and the moment came to enter the ring. A proud mom watched as her daughter and her dog walked onto the green carpet.
Kelly Benedict said she cried more yesterday than she has in a long time -- out of happiness.
"It was quite beautiful to see my daughter, who I brought into this world, who I know has worked so hard, and my dog, born into my hands four years ago," she said.
"Both my babies."
Reach Devin Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4314.
By DEVIN KELLY