PALMETTO -- In the past decade, students enrolled in local FFA programs have shown myriad different animals at the Manatee County Fair. But never a dog.
But that streak was broken at the Manatee County Fairgrounds on Sunday -- the fourth day of the 11-day fair.
Danielle Zeris, 16, a Braden River High School junior, became the first person in 10 years other than a member of the local K-9 Kids 4-H Club to show a dog at the fair when she and her golden retriever, Angel, competed Sunday.
Although she didn’t win Best in Show for Showmanship, she made history, said a pleased Patty Martin, coordinator of K-9 Kids.
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“She broke ground,” Martin said of Danielle.
That Danielle would go against the tide and try something none of her FFA friends is doing does not surprise her parents, Sharon and Steve of Creekwood.
“She is not afraid to step out of her comfort zone and try new things,” Steve Zeris said of his daughter, who, like the rest of the family, is of Greek ancestry. “She has a great sense of self-assurance.”
Danielle said she heard that as a member of FFA, she could show a dog at the fair.
“A few FFA kids were going to show dogs, but then they dropped out,” Danielle said. “I decided to try it.”
Perhaps typical of her self-confidence, Danielle praised the winner of the Showmanship Best in Show competition.
Alexis Mitchell, a 17-year-old homeschooler and K-9 Club member who had competed in this event for six years and never had won, captured the 2011 Showmanship “Best in Show” with her German shepherd, Ava, on Sunday.
“I learned a lot watching Alexis,” said Danielle, who vows to compete again next year. “She was able to keep her dog’s head up by giving her treats while Angel was jittery and looking around a lot.”
The Best in Show round included Isabella LaVassuar and her dog, Redford; Abigel Hendrickson-Boyd and her dog, Sage; Allysa Chapman and her dog, Bailey; Alexis’ sister, Peyton Mitchell, and her dog, Bella; along with Alexis and Danielle.
“I was actually surprised I won,” said Alexis, who works 10 hours a week with Ava besides working at the Lippizaner Stallion Ranch in Myakka City. “It feels great.”
“Alexis had a beautiful dog and excellent handling skills,” judge Bobbi Law said after the competition.
“I think she stays focused,” Alexis’ boyfriend, David Bembry, said of Alexis after the victory. “She’s also very dedicated.”
Although she didn’t get the top prize in the dog ring, Danielle won Grand Champion in Reserve with her coral plants and she is showing Ruthie, a beef heifer, in the heifer show Friday.
“We’re very proud of her,” Danielle’s mom, Sharon said. “Taking care of her animals has made her a very responsible person and given her all kind of self-confidence.”
The K-9 4-H Club, which has 30 members, is the only dog 4-H Club in the county. Club membership is free. Students are shown how to teach their dogs showmanship, obedience, agility and obstacle competition.
Members also keep records on their dogs and often give speeches about them. The club meets once a month and includes mixed and pure bred dogs. Information: (941) 722-7800.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411.