Kasey O'Brien has dog. Will travel.
The 12-year-old and her 2-year-old bull mastiff, Scarlet, have tickets in hand for their first airplane trip ever, to the American Kennel Club Invitational Eukanuba National Championship Dec. 12 and 13 in Long Beach, Calif.
Kasey and Scarlet won the right to compete in the major event after finishing second in the youth division at the annual Florida Classic Cluster Dog Show in January.
Entrants from all over the state traveled to a facility east of Brooksville to strut their stuff at Florida's largest canine competition.
While many competitors were thrilled to carry home a ribbon, the daughter of Dawn and Michael O'Brien had bigger goals in mind.
To qualify for the invitational, Kasey and Scarlet had to place among the winners in five more sanctioned contests by Oct. 6. On that last day, the pair earned first place in the junior breed class, topping nine other contestants, at an event in DeLand.
The duo piled up other qualifying wins at canine shows from West Palm Beach to Atlanta.
Since judges don't give reasons for their decisions, Kasey is in the dark as to why Scarlet is so consistently named a prize winner.
"To me, it seems like (the judges) like her expression the most,'' she said. "Her ears are very forward. Her face is big. Her muzzle is more black than others'. Her eyes are round, brown and excited."
As another qualification to confirm her invitation, Kasey has had to stay on the honor roll as a sixth-grader at West Hernando Middle School. She easily mastered that with A's and B's. Her transcript was sent to invitational qualifying officials.
Kasey expressed no qualms about her first airline flight, but she's antsy about Scarlet's trip, especially since the family must change planes in Texas. Kasey is so worried about a mix-up there, or about Scarlet getting loose, that she's hoping the 150-pounder will be allowed to fly in the passenger cabin with her.
Accompanying the winners to Long Beach will be Kasey's twin sister, Kristin, another dog owner and accomplished handler.
Kristin co-owns an American Staffordshire terrier with Cathy Chaffee of Spring Hill and a Rhodesian Ridgeback with her mother, Dawn. Kristin also handles Scarlet's mother, owned by Chaffee, a golden retriever and some English cocker spaniels owned by Morgan Brooks of Weeki Wachee, and several Ridgebacks owned by Deborah Rocco of Spring Hill.
For showmanship, Kristin explained, the handler must know how to "stack" a dog, meaning how to place its legs squarely under each corner of its upper body, neither too far apart nor too close together.
"It's also how much control you have over your dog, it's focus and expression,'' Kasey said. "You have to smile and have fun."
The team wouldn't be complete without the girls' mother and their grandmother. Grandma Jackie Bressler has bred various breeds of canines all her life and helped get her granddaughters into the pursuit. It was Bressler who discovered the litter of bull mastiffs from which Kasey chose Scarlet.
Said Kasey of the then-tiny pup, "I could see in her eyes she would be a team with me."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.