isabell ruffoni diesel pug westminster dog show
Isabella Ruffoni holds her pug, Diesel. The Gilroy High School sophomore and her dog have qualified for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York in May. Photo: Erik Chalhoub
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Isabella Ruffoni loves everything about pugs.

“They’re squishy, they’re cute,” she said, as she hugged her dog Diesel to demonstrate. “They are the most friendly and awesome house pets. Grooming is minimal, and they’re very portable. They’re great around children.”

But if there was one negative thing she had to say about the small dogs, it’s that they snore. A lot.

The 16-year-old Gilroy High School sophomore’s affinity for pugs has given her national recognition.

Ruffoni has qualified to show Diesel at the 147th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York in early May, often referred to as the most prestigious dog show in the country. In addition to her Junior Showmanship qualification, she will also be handling another dog in the best of breed category. 

“I’m so excited and nervous,” she said. “I’m honored to have the opportunity of going to New York.”

Ruffoni comes from a line of dog handlers in her family. Diesel, it turns out, was originally meant to be her mother Kelley’s show dog. But the dog instead bonded with Ruffoni, and the pair have been competing since 2021.

isabell ruffoni diesel pug westminster dog show
Isabella Ruffoni competes in a recent event with Diesel. Contributed photo

Ruffoni qualified for Westminster thanks to her top showings at American Kennel Club competitions and others, of which there are many annually in various locations.

The sport is a year-round commitment, Ruffoni noted. In addition to the constant training, Diesel, whose name was chosen by Ruffoni’s father Kevin, must be kept in good condition, washed and groomed frequently, and perhaps just as important, he must be entertained.

“As long as he’s having fun and I’m having fun, that’s all I care about,” she said.

Ruffoni has also been mentored by Hailey Webb, a Gilroyan who at the age of 10 qualified with her pug for the Westminster dog show in 2009.

Kelley said participating in the competitions has been a great bonding experience for her and her daughter.

“She is incredibly talented at what she does,” she said, adding that Isabella also belongs to the Gavilan Kennel Club and Northern California Pug Club, where she helps educate potential junior members on the benefits of showing their dogs. “She’s made quite an impression on the dog show community. She’s incredibly respected and sought after by the handlers.”

Ruffoni also contributes to the community in various other ways, volunteering at the St. Mary’s food distribution and serving as a counselor at the Bright Ranch Summer Camp. She and her twin brother Braden are both active in sports, with Isabella playing for the Gilroy High School field hockey team.

But academics always come first, Kelley said, noting that Isabella has earned a 4.2 GPA.

“We’re very proud of her,” she said. “We’re super excited about her journey.”

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


  1. So excited for Bella. Watched her grow up to be a confident and strong individual thanks to great parents and grandparents. Proud to know them all.

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