Stepping onto Leslie Batchelder's Kasilof property is kind of like walking into a petting zoo.
Signs at the driveway entrance warn of horses and dogs. In the yard, a half dozen small dogs spring around the yard, yapping at visitors.
At the front door, a waist-high Doberman pinscher sniffs at unfamiliar people. Rorschach is intimidating, though Batchelder insists he's well-trained, friendly and just a puppy at 1 year old.
Inside, a bird squawks for attention from a cage in the dining room, and a lazy white cat preens on a towel on the leather sofa.
Batchelder opens the back door and lets the troop of dachshunds in the house. They tumble over one another, black, brown and white fur mixing in a ball of excitement.
"I never have to worry about empty nest syndrome," Batchelder laughed. "I can't imagine how quiet it would be without dogs."
At present, Batchelder's land is home to two Dobermans, one Rottweiler, seven dachshunds, one cat, one bird and three horses. Most belong to her, though a few of the dogs are on vacation from the owners for training and showing.
Batchelder, who runs Tarma Grooming in Soldotna, is a professional dog handler. When she's not busy at her shop, she is training dogs, showing dogs in competitions around the country or just hanging out with dogs.
"I have been into dogs all my life," she said. "My whole life is wrapped around them and I can't help but to like them."
Batchelder grew up with sled dogs and, at age 11, started taking some of the animals to obedience classes. At 14, she began working for a groomer.
Later, as an adult, she raised Irish setters.
"I loved them," she said. "People say they're stupid, but they're not. They are extremely busy and need someone making them think all the time."
She also raised white toy poodles for years but wanted something a little more protective.
She said her cousin, one of the top Doberman breeders in the United States, recommended she get one. But the mother of four was initially reluctant to mix a famous watchdog breed with her small children.
Finally, in 1980, she said she relented.
"I loved it," she said. "They are very protective, but not nasty."
Just how she managed to bring dachshunds into the mix is another story.
While Batchelder likes big dogs, she said her husband, Jim, prefers smaller breeds, so she decided to get him a miniature dachshund for Christmas one year.
"As soon as it stepped out of the crate at 9 weeks old, I fell in love," she recalled, adding that the puppy would have nothing to do with her husband.
She said she did eventually find Jim a dog for himself, as well.
But these dogs are more than pets -- they are champions.
Batchelder shows dogs -- both hers and others -- for conformation. What many people think of as a dog beauty pageant is actually an analysis of each animal's ranking in terms of its breed.
Batchelder explained that written breed standards describe how each breed should look and act based on what they were built to do. The dogs are then judged on how closely they meet the standard.
For example, Dobermans are meant to be protectors or watchdogs. Their legs should be long, their shoulders laid back and their hair, ears and tail short, so they can chase someone and a person could not get a hold of loose skin or hair.
Dachshunds, on the other hand, were bred to be badger hunters. Their short legs, long backs and aggressive temper make them fit to climb down into tunnels and attack rodents.
Leslie Batchelder runs her Doberman pincer Rookie through an obstacle course in her backyard while training for dog obedience events.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
Batchelder's job is to train the dogs to behave properly for the contests and to pose them in a way that accentuates their assets and hides their flaws.
"I know how to show to the best of a dog's ability, to make it look as good as it can to the judges," she said.
She also shows her dogs in obedience competition, though she said that can be difficult with show dogs who often are trained differently than other animals.
For example, show dogs are taught to stand still rather than sit, and to "bait" -- basically begging, she said.
"If I have a cookie, they go into show stance. But that also applies if I'm holding a sandwich or a stick," she said. "They are smart enough to definitely learn the difference."
But that doesn't always mean they refrain from begging.
Batchelder's dogs also stay active, competing in agility contests -- essentially doggy obstacle courses -- and her dachshunds have just started Earthdog trials, where they go down in tunnels searching out caged rats.
She insists the rats are not harmed, but the dogs get practice doing what they were bred to do. They enter man-made tunnels and seek the "nests," then bark for a certain length of time. The courses range in difficulty from a straight 10-foot tunnel with one nest to a 30-foot tunnel full of twists, turns and fake nests.
"It's a real kick to watch the dogs do what they're bred to do," she said.
Batchelder has traveled all over the country to show her dogs. She attends the yearly competition in Portland, Ore., and tries to visit the national Doberman show, which rotates from East Coast to West Coast, each year. And, though she has been hesitant to take her dogs to foreign countries, she hopes to someday venture to shows in Bermuda.
The dog contests give her a sense of pride in her work, offering an opportunity to test her knowledge of dogs against those of the judges and to show off her breeding judgment.
"There's a certain amount of an ego trip," she said. "I'm very competitive."
But, she said, it's also an opportunity to offer the dogs some fun and to spend time with her animal companions.
And there's the chance to interact with other dog lovers.
Batchelder is the vice president of the Kenai Kennel Club, an area organization that offers classes in dog obedience, conformation and socialization. The club will sponsor the 74th, 75th and 76th Kenai Kennel Club Dog Shows and Obedience Trials and the 6th, 7th and 8th Agility Trials at Skyview High School next weekend.
In the past, Batchelder has helped organize the competitions, but this year it's all about her dogs. She will show about 10 dogs for conformation over the three days.
"I get a lot of glory, because I'm the handler in the ring. But the other people work so hard grooming, coordinating and getting me to the right place," she said, praising her fellow kennel club members and the organizers of this year's weekend of competitions.
The shows -- one per day Friday, Saturday and Sunday -- will feature the full range of trials and offer the opportunity for dogs to earn champion titles. More than 600 dogs are expected to compete in the trials, many in several different events.
"That takes courage," Batchelder said. "I've done two at a time, but not all three with the same dog yet."
The show and trials, held on the high school soccer field, will be judged by professionals from all over the Lower 48.
The competitions will start at 9 a.m. each morning and are open to the public. It's a great opportunity for people to see dogs they like and some they may have never heard of.
"Everybody's interests will be covered," Batchelder said, "whether you're looking for dogs that mind, are beautiful or are quick and agile."
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