Westminster Competitor Alert to Handler's Commands and Health

"Typically at a dog show, the dog is presented on your left side, so you would hold the leash in the left hand," said Miller. "But Ethan doesn't have the fine motor skills to do that, so he has to hold the leash in his right hand."

"Many judges ask him if he could please hold Vala on his left side, and he just says 'no,' and explains why," said Miller. "He takes it stride, and the judges usually apologize."

Miller said that she and her husband were devastated when they learned Ethan had cerebral palsy, and worried about the challenges he'd face in life.

"He never crawled. He couldn't use his weight on his left side to crawl," remembers Chris Miller. "But to watch him, even as a baby, make exceptions for his disability was incredible. He'd scoot on his butt instead."

"Basically from then on we never treated him like he has a disability and never limited him in trying the things he wanted to," she said.

Ethan and Vala One of a Handful of Disabled Duos at Dog Show

There are no age limitations for handlers at the dog show, and David Frei, the spokesman for the competition, said that while there are usually only a few disabled handlers with disabilities who compete, it's not unheard of.

"We have one or two that we know of every year whose dogs are not only their show dogs and their loving family dogs, but also their service dogs," said Frei.

"Madison Square Garden presents special challenges for every handler. You're standing in front of a sold out audience, and it takes some courage," said Frei. "But here's a young man who faces life every day with a great amount of courage and thanks to this dog he's able to deal with that."

"To be able to come to the dog show and participate in an activity with the dog that he loves and who has dedicated her life to him, what better way to compete?" said Frei.

Ethan couldn't agree more. Asked what he's hoping for at the competition, Ethan said he just really wants Vala to win best of breed.

After that, Ethan's ready to enjoy his first trip to New York.

"I'm not necessarily going to be disappointed if we don't win. Going to Westminster is a great accomplishment," said Ethan.

Ethan also offered advice to other children like him, encouraging them to try things they might otherwise not think they're capable of doing.

"It hasn't always been easy for me," he said. "But even if you have a disability, it doesn't mean you just stop and don't try. You keep on trying. I kept going."

A fourth generation dog handler in his family, Ethan was happy to follow in the footsteps of his family and has actually beome quite competitive, said his mother, who often has to show dogs in the same ring as Ethan and Vala. In addition to the competition, Ethan had found comfort in the dog show community.

"The fraternity of dog show people is a wonderful place," said Chris Miller, who has been a breeder and a dog handler for most of her life.

"There are a lot of people who know us and know Ethan's story that when he wins, he's got a cheering section," she said. "They aren't so much cheering for Vala as they are for him."

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