Teen's Westminster wishes fulfilled, for now
But Henson, a Brookfield resident, hopes to try again next year
The lights were shining brightly on Cameron Henson.
He was on the floor of one of the world's most famous arenas, Madison Square Garden, and in the United States' largest city, New York City, for the 2012 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
At just 15, Henson could have been intimidated.
"I had a lot of fun," he said. "I didn't let it get to my head."
And why should he? The Catholic Memorial High School freshman is an experienced handler.
So when it was his turn to bring out Daisy, his 3-year-old Beagle, the Brookfield resident showed all in attendance and everyone watching on national television last week why he's one of the better dog handlers in the country.
"It was a little different from regular shows, but I told myself that it really wasn't that different of a showing, because there's still my dog and the judge, so I just took it step by step," he said.
A true love of competing
Henson used this approach to advance to the finals and was one of eight preliminary winners out of the original field of 111 fighting for the Junior Showmanship title at the 136th Westminster Dog Show.
"When the judge pointed at me, I thought they were cutting it down," Henson said. "But he pulled me out and told me I was a finalist. I couldn't believe it. I didn't realize it at the time, how big of an accomplishment it was. It didn't strike me at first."
While he didn't take home the top prize, Henson won a $500 scholarship for besting more than 100 of his competitors.
The winner, Ania Gabrielle Kelly, took home $6,000. Second place earned $5,000, while third won $4,000 and fourth $3,000.
What was the key to Henson's success in the Big Apple?
"I think the first thing, like anybody that's great at something, is that he loves doing it," his mother, Lindley, said. "And nothing bothers him. Competing at Westminster was just like competing at West Bend. He goes out there and puts out his best performance no matter what show.
"Judges see the dog, but you don't see what (Cameron's) doing. He wants people to look at the dog, not the handler, and many judges say the best handler is invisible."
Success comes swiftly
His accomplishments have certainly not been invisible - he has a slew of ribbons.
In 2011, he competed in 85 shows and took first in class in 26. In 13 of them he was the best junior handler. He also had the No. 2 beagle and No. 8 hound in Junior Show and was 34th in Junior Show for the all-around category.
In addition to Best Junior wins in five other states, he has won Best Junior at almost every dog show in Wisconsin.
These results throughout the year helped him qualify for Westminster, as participants - ages 9 to 18 - must have won 10 or more firsts at American Kennel Club-licensed shows between Nov. 1, 2010, and Oct. 31, 2011.
Overall, he has accumulated more than $3,000 in scholarship money since he started competing when he was 10.
His recent accolades shouldn't come as a surprise; he has been a natural since day one.
In his first show at the International Kennel Club of Chicago in 2007, he was second in his class. Since then he has signed up for just about every dog competition he could find.
It appears that an affinity for dogs runs in the family.
Henson's grandparents bred Pembroke Welsh Corgis. Henson's mother, who breeds Petit Basset Griffon Vendeens, is the former president of the Waukesha Kennel Club and is the vice president of the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen Club of America.
Hooked on shows
"He's been going to dog shows since before he was born, because I have pictures when I'm pregnant (with him) at the 1996 Waukesha Dog Show," Lindley said.
Her son was at one of her shows five years ago and became hooked on it.
"We were setting up for the Waukesha Kennel Club and one of the handlers asked Cam if he wanted to help him," Lindley recalled. "He did and has been working very hard at it. Five years have gone fast."
Since then, Henson has been working with the Kipp family, who own the Huntwood Kennel in Union Grove. Henson says Susan Kipp has been his coach, and her daughter, Dylan, also has taught him a lot about showing dogs.
"(Dylan's) helped me with everything," Henson said. "We're like one big family."
And that family includes Daisy.
"We're really close," Henson said of the family pet. "She's special. She's a champion."
To win at next year's Westminster Dog Show would take year-round dedication.
"I think I'll be able to accomplish that feat," he said with confidence.
If he does, he'll hope to have a bigger cheering section.
Henson's grandmother was able to see her grandson at the Westminster show, but his mother, couldn't because she is recovering from surgery due to her breast cancer.
Although almost 900 miles separated them, Lindley was watching every step of the way.
"We're so excited," Lindley said. "I had friends texting me pictures the entire time. I could go on and on as the proud mom."
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