Girl Scout Alum Runs Westminster Kennel Club Agility Trials
When Bonnie Ovnicek first took her cocker spaniel to an agility class to learn how to calm him down, she never imagined the experience would lead her to a successful second career. For weeks, she took her dog every Saturday until he finally started coming out of his shell. Then the instructor said, “If you’re not going to compete [in dog shows], don’t waste my time.” So Bonnie signed up for an agility trial—a competition in which a handler guides a dog through an obstacle course in a race for time and accuracy. After he won his novice class, both Bonnie and her dog were hooked.
Many more dogs, and a ton of success later, Bonnie received a call in 2013 explaining that the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which takes place each year in New York City and is the second-oldest sporting event in the country, was starting an Agility Trial Championship—would she like to run it? Although Bonnie already had a busy day job with a brokerage firm, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Every year since, she has managed the program, recruiting and hiring workers, maintaining the budget, and coordinating volunteer outfits and shifts. She sets up ten people per course, including bar setters, leash runners, and time recorders.
This year, the 143rd show, breed competitions will air live on TV Monday, February 11–12. The agility trials take place Saturday, February 9, and the winner is announced on Monday night after the breed judging. In addition to running the rings, Bonnie has a cocker spaniel named Misha who will be competing.
Managing the trials is intense, and comes with long hours, but it’s an experience Bonnie looks forward to every year.
“A lot of [my responsibility] is to motivate volunteers and to organize people who are my peers—which may sound easy, but it really isn’t,” she explains.
In a lot of ways, it reminds her of her decade in Girl Scouts, growing up in Long Island, New York. “You’ve got to be able to work with people who are your equals and not make them feel like they’re being told what to do. It’s a balancing act,” she says. “It’s like a Girl Scout troop—you’re all working on the same goal.”
“I think it’s a similar experience with working as a team towards a common goal. And, also in that same team, sometimes you’re a member and sometimes you’re a leader, and you have to be able to go back and forth comfortably between the two. And that’s where Girl Scouts gave me experience in doing that.”
Bonnie comes from a Girl Scout family; her sister Donna has remained involved in Girl Scouts in different roles for 60 years and currently serves in key volunteer positions at both Girl Scouts of the USA and with Girl Scouts of Western Washington. Bonnie’s childhood experience still resonates today.
“What you find out [as you grow up] is that the skills you learn in Girl Scouts are transferrable out in the world,” she says. “Whatever you’re doing, you’re interacting with people in ways that you don’t in a school situation. In Girl Scouts, you’re encouraged to participate and be involved. The girls are charged with getting it done, and it’s the group synergy that makes it happen.”