When Chantel was a toddler, she and her family moved to Hawaii. Because her father worked nights, he was able to take Chantel to the Honolulu Zoo every day to visit the animals. It was just the beginning!
The first family dog which Chantel can clearly remember was an Old English Sheepdog named Andrew. Later on an over-sized Miniature Poodle called Cocoa joined the clan and he lived to be 16 years old. When Chantel was 10 years old she got her first Great Dane. Omik was a harlequin female and she started Chantel’s love affair with the breed.
In the late 60’s the Pelletier family left Hawaii and moved back to Connecticut. They went to the town of Southbury where they lived in an apartment above the famous Grayarlin Kennels. Grayarlin was owned and operated by the then most popular duo in dog handling, Bob & Jane Forsyth. Here was Chantel’s first taste of the world of show dogs. Though she was very young, she knew there was something special about it all. She was surrounded by dogs of many breeds day and night. Her mother worked in the kennel every day while her father worked in Hartford. On weekends the whole family spent time in the kennel looking after the dogs which stayed home from the shows. Jane had given Chantel a life-sized plastic hound which the budding young handler spent hours “stacking” and attempting to gait!
Skipping ahead to Chantel’s pre-teen years the family moved to Bellingham, Massachusetts where her father opened up a combination hair salon and dog grooming parlor in their home. It was during these years that Chantel began competing in dog shows with her harlequin Dane Omik. She began by excelling in 4-H Junior Handling and Obedience. She then moved on the AKC Junior Showmanship and Conformation. Her first AKC show was in Providence, Rhode Island in 1975.
In 1978 Chantel got her second Great Dane, a fawn male named Mercury. He had wonderful old Dinro, Kolyer, Airways and Murlo bloodlines. Chantel & Mercury won several Best Junior Handler awards at all-breed AKC dog shows. He was also the first dog she ever pointed. Now Chantel was really hooked!
Throughout grade, junior high and high school Chantel showed her fawn Dane as much as her family’s limited income would allow. She went to about one or two local shows a month. Then at age 14 she had her first paying handling client, a Rottweiler special. This dog’s owner took Chantel and her Dane and the Rotties to several shows. She continued to do well in Junior’s with her Dane and won Best of Breed on quite a few occasions with the Rottie special, beating some big name handlers, including Bob Forsyth! Chantel also won her first major with her client’s Rottweiler bitch.
During her youth Chantel worked at various horse farms after school. She earned riding lessons and was able to show a little bit, too. Through the 4-H Club (Woofs – N – Whinnies) she was allowed to keep her club leader’s pony at home. In addition to working at the stables she had a weekend job at a vet hospital when she wasn’t at a dog or horse show. Quite a busy kid!
Like many young women at that time Chantel’s dream was to become a veterinarian. After high school she attended two years of college but was lured away by the offer to manage a Thoroughbred breeding farm. While living on the breeding farm she was also able to handle a few dogs on her rare weekend off. She successfully showed some Pembroke Welsh Corgis as well as handling a group winning black Dane special for Anita Langevin of the incomparable Reann’s Great Danes. Chantel also continued to put in time working for a veterinarian. Oh, to be young and so full of energy! Horses, dogs and vet work continued for several years.
In the early 80’s, while still working for the Thoroughbred farm, Chantel purchased a Great Dane puppy from Linda & David Slezak’s Quaker Hill Danes. It was about this time when the Slezaks offered Chantel the live-in position of exclusive handler and kennel manager for their dogs. She took this opportunity and did very well in the ring with the lovely Quaker Hill Danes. Together with the Slezaks Chantel had the chance to co-breed and show several champions. It was a superb experience.
During the years which Chantel worked with Quaker Hill she still continued to work with horses and for her vet. She also took on a handful of outside dog handling clients of her own. In addition, Chantel worked half days for over a year in the show kennel of professional handler Joy Brewster. This was a fantastic place to study!
From the time she was a child, Chantel spent many hours observing professional handlers in the ring trying to learn every thing she could about the fine presentation of show dogs. Over the years many top-notch handlers personally gave her tips to help improve her handling skills. Chantel feels very grateful to those people.
In 1995 Chantel left New England and moved to Florida where her family now resides. She took the job of animal keeper at a zoo in the Sunshine State. Chantel had only one dog at this time, a fawn male Dane, Leo. Dog handling had taken a back burner during Chantel’s Florida zookeeping years. But she did manage to point out Leo by only going to a few local shows.
While working at the Florida zoo Chantel met her now husband, Stacey Johnson. Stacey was also a dog lover, having had Golden Retrievers most of his life, but he never dreamed of showing dogs! He had been in the zoo industry for many years and was the Curator of the facility in which he and Chantel met.
Chantel & Stacey married in 1998 and were soon both offered job positions with a very well-known zoo in Fort Worth, Texas. With a Dane, a Golden, a pair of macaws, a snake and gecko and various other small critters in tow, the Johnsons moved to the Lone Star State! Stacey is now a curator at the zoo and Chantel was an animal keeper.
Since coming to Texas Chantel had been a full-time animal keeper at the zoo as well as handling a few Danes on the side. Working weekends at the zoo severely limited the amount of dog shows she could go to. However, she did finish her dog Leo as well as another fawn dog she bought, Miles. Chantel also obedience titled Miles. In addition she finished a beautiful harlequin bitch, put several points on a now finished brindle male and pointed a few others. It was clear that even though Chantel loved working with the exotic creatures at the zoo…….dog handling was in her blood.
In October 2005 Chantel retired from over 10 years in the zoo field. She is now returning full-time to her true passion……professionally presenting show dogs. She looks forward to the bright future ahead.
As a side note, Chantel’s husband Stacey has trained his Golden Retriever Jack to a Utility Dog obedience title. They are currently finishing up on the last Rally obedience title. And, Stacey handled their young black Great Dane Tiger to his first Rally obedience leg at the 2005 National Specialty! Not bad for a guy who never dreamed of showing dogs!