Over the past few years, a great deal of change has taken place in the dog show world. The National Owner Handler Series has been added to many shows and is growing every day. Covid-19 hit our country causing the cancellation of thousands of events. Following the resumption of shows, we have seen many new protocols put into place such as the wearing of masks, social distancing, a change in ring procedures, judges now not only marking their books but also pulling and handing out their ribbons. The groups being divided into sections to allow for social distancing. The return to various outdoor/indoor undercover venues and due to the reduction in the number of shows a significant entry increase for many of the shows throughout the country.
All of these changes have had a huge impact on the running of shows. Most shows start judging at 8:00 in the morning and in many cases, Best in Show is not being completed until 7:00 to 8:00 at night. Currently, Judges are limited to only 175 dogs per day but with many doing regular and owner-handler groups today's judges may be judging between 200-275 per day. For many judges that can be anywhere from 8 to 11 hours a day standing, bending over, and judging. Those of us that do judge know it is not only a physical but also a mentally demanding day. Calculate it over a three to four-day period and it is truly strenuous. Following the show, the judges barely have time to shower, eat dinner and review their standards for the next day before they grab a few hours of sleep and are back at it the next day.
While exhibitors and handlers have breaks during the day judges are lucky to get 45 minutes for lunch and also must take time during the day to squeeze in photos for the winners. When you factor in such things as cold, hot, windy, or rainy weather or dirt floor venues, muddy grounds and the like Judges are extremely tolerant and hardworking individuals that do their very best to keep things moving and running on time.
The show superintendents try to do a good job with the schedules but following the AKC and social distancing guidelines make our shows run longer and longer. Almost everyone at the shows feels that shows keep running much later than any time in the past.
Since it appears that a complete return to the way it used to be will not happen I would like to share some suggestions for speeding up shows as well as creating a safer healthier procedure for judges.
1. If judges are expected to also judge several groups each day it is time to reduce the number of dogs per day to 150 Max a day. Allowing for the standard 25 dogs per hour expectation and a 45-minute lunch it would mean no groups would need to start any later than 2:45 each day.
2. When judging the group the judge should not have to reexamine any dog that he judges earlier in the day. (exceptions could be made for televised events) After all, I don’t think anyone of us has ever seen a dog lose his teeth, misplace his testicles, go oversize or gain that much weight between the breed and the group.
3. Look at changing the after-lunch judging schedules to one with no breaks. Hopefully by lunch time the judge should have judged about 100 of his/her 150 daily limit. Often because of absentees and the like, a judge might have a 15-20 minute break between segments as they are currently scheduled and then the last segments are full and the judge is pushed to be finished in a hurry to not hold up the groups. With only 50 or so dogs left after lunch no break should be needed.
4. The four to six puppy classes are a wonderful opportunity for new puppies and new exhibitors to gain experience. In most cases, there are only 1-4 exhibits, and each breed with most usually only having one. Why not eliminate the breed competition and bring in all puppies in that particular group and judge them all as one group with 4 placements. You would still have 7 group winners plus miscellaneous but all the puppies would have a great opportunity to be in the ring for a longer period and it would cut down on the time and paperwork under the current system.
5. Rather than having the Owner-Handler groups follow the regular groups Start them earlier before the regular group. The order would not need to be the same and it would avoid delays because of judging conflicts. All too often the Owner-Handler Best follows the regular Best in Show and most people leave and no one is left to cheer on the owner-handler group winners.
6. Many Owner-Handlers feel like second-class citizen's. All clubs should be required to at least provide the same size ribbons and rosettes that are given to the regular group and Best in Show winners.
7. If a club offers Owner-Handler competition they should not also be allowed to offer Best Bred-By Exhibitor groups or veteran groups these take up a great deal of time and can be confusing during the day's judging.
8. The time has come to recognize that using ramps for the judging of many breeds would be a safer and better way for judges to examine numerous breeds. A large towering judge can be a little overwhelming to some of the younger entries in many breeds. It is also a safer and more secure way to examine these breeds.
I believe we will see some reduction in the total number of shows in the future and I also think we will continue to have some shows and circuits where the entry will be larger than we have seen recently.
I also understand the economics of putting on a show and the cost of judges, ribbons, Venues, Stewards, and the many other things that go to putting on a show. However, if managed properly it can be done cost effectively.
We are also obligated to give the exhibitor a judge that is not physically or mentally exhausted because they are judging 250 plus dogs per day under various conditions.
As I mentioned earlier these are just my thoughts. I have been judging since 1985 and have served as a show and cluster chairman on numerous occasions. I have listened to my fellow judges, the exhibitors, and the club members and in my opinion, we all want safe, efficient, high-quality shows that are completed in a timely matter. What do you think?
I don’t know about you but whenever I turn on the TV and watch just about any news channel I am bombarded with examples of absolutely terrible human behavior on display throughout our country.
Riots, protests, looting, murder, and crime are virtually around every corner. As a young child growing up in America during the 1950s, 60s, and 70’s I would not have ever imagined the world as it is today.
We live in a world still filled with an overwhelming majority of decent and law-abiding citizens. However, with the magnification by the media and technology, there is no question there are many people and special interest groups that are out of control.
Fortunately for us within the dog community our sport, although not immune to problems has kept poor behavior somewhat in check.
Our sport still has numerous areas that need improvement. We regularly experience displays of poor sportsmanship, attacks on others through social media, as well as the verbal and written abuse of judges and exhibitors. For the young family visiting the show or the new exhibitor, bad behavior is often the cause why some choose to never return or participate in the sport.
In this column, I would like to address two areas that in my opinion still need major work.
Probably two of the least appreciated and most demanding jobs at a dog show go to the persons in charge of Parking and Grooming. Having been a show and cluster chair for many years I can think of no other areas that create as many problems as these two do at almost every event.
When it comes to Parking each facility may have its own rules as to where parking must be located as well as where and how RV's especially must be parked. For those attending with RV's when hookups are available, they may be limited and located in more than one area. The facility also sets its fees for the electricity as well as water and sewer if available. At most shows, there is a parking charge These fees are usually between $5.00 and $10.00 per day depending upon the facility as well as the arrangement it may have with the show giving club.
Many exhibitors complain when they have to pay parking fees to attend a show. It seems as they feel that the entry fee they paid should be enough. In my humble opinion, these people are very wrong. I know from experience that when most people attend a sporting event, attend a concert, go to an amusement park, a county fair, or any number of other types of events they are also charged a parking fee above and beyond the admission fee they pay or the tickets they buy. In many of these cases, the parking can run from $20 to as high as $50 to just park your car for the day or the event. Think about taking a family of four to a concert or a major sporting event. Tickets can run from $10 up to and exceeding $100 per ticket and then they have to pay the extra fee to park and in many cases walk a good distance to the facility or event. The fee you pay at the dog show is very low in comparison especially when you look at the sizes of many of the vans, box trucks, and other large vehicles that attend dog shows and set up pop-ups, awnings, and ex-pens that take up a lot of room.
Parking attendants at most shows take a lot of abuse and grief from people that for some reason think they deserve the best place or the ability to just park wherever they want once they get past the gate. Some exhibitors often leave vehicles in the unloading zones for extended periods and get irate when told to move so the next exhibitor can get in to unload.
Much of the same behavior can be found in the grooming areas. Grooming space especially at indoor facilities can be extremely limited and having enough space to accommodate everyone can be almost impossible in some situations. We must also remember that Aisles and set-ups are often governed by the local rules set up by the Fire Marshall for your safety.
Several years ago some clubs started to rent out the premium grooming space so people could reserve enough space to handle their entries in advance to be assured of a place when they arrive. This is especially advantageous for handlers and exhibitors with multiple entries that require more space. I will also say that the majority of these people have no problem following the rules and stack their crates and use the space they have reserved wisely.
On the other side of the spectrum, shows are also required to provide an equal area of free space for those exhibitors that choose not to rent space in advance. In most cases, this is where the problems arise. Many exhibitors just do not follow the rules. The premium list usually states when the area will be open for set up and often it is first come first served WITH NO SAVING OF SPACE for others. At almost every show some try to get in early and rope off an area for themselves and their friends, they don’t stack crates and often have numerous chairs spread out taking up space. When the show committee comes around and asks them to tighten up the area many exhibitors have meltdowns and verbally abuse the person in charge or the exhibitor just trying to find a place to set up for their dogs.
In most indoor facilities the abuse of the electrical situation is mind-boggling. Electrical banks and outlets have limits as to how much power they can supply. You will unfortunately always see multiple extension cords being used by numerous people out of one. The abuse of theseoutlets causes multiple circuit overloads which trip the breakers and create issues for the show giving club working with the facility to keep that electricity available.
I have never understood the behavior of many of our exhibitors when it comes to what they seem to feel they are entitled to when it comes to parking and grooming. Show giving clubs prepare in advance and work with the facilities to try their best to make things fair and equal for everyone within the requirements of the venues themselves, yet over and over again poor behavior and a lack of consideration for others is on display in both of these areas.
It would be interesting to know just how many bench show hearings take place every year due to bad behavior. I know from experience I have handled multiple situations in these areas over the years.
There are always some people that never clean up their grooming area after the show. They leave hair, garbage, chalk, and powder dust everywhere. The clean-up falls on the show-giving club. It the same thing when clubs provide bathing stations and other amenities to make life better for the exhibitors. We also know that there are still many people that never clean up after their dogs.
In the RV areas, it also happens with the trash left behind, even when a dumpster is close by. I have seen multiple instances of both grey and even black water tanks emptied in the parking area even when there was a dump station on site.
As exhibitors, if we don’t start paying attention to these rules it may be sooner than later when clubs start to lose their venues because of the total disregard for rules by exhibitors. Just look at the hotel situation we have today.
When I began exhibiting in 1972 it was easy to go to almost any hotel with your dogs. There were no restrictions or extra charges. We knew you cleaned up after your dogs, did not bathe them in the room, or leave them loose to trash it. Now we are lucky to even find a hotel that will allow dogs and most have extra fees or restrictions on the number allowed.
The only way our sport can continue is by keeping our venues and learning to respect the rules as well as one another. With the easing of restrictions caused by the pandemic, we have been very good about following protocols involving masks and social distancing. With the pandemic appearing to be under control and things getting somewhat back to normal it is even more important to follow the rules and keep the peace.
So the next time you go to the show think twice before arguing with the parking people. Be extra courteous to your fellow exhibitors and try to help each other in the grooming areas. Most importantly follow the rules and clean up after yourself. Don’t be the one bad egg that spoils it for everyone else.
Remember Matthew 7:12 in everything, then, do others as you would have them do to you. For this is the essence of the Law.
Thinking back on the many events we experienced in 2020 there was one major change that made me think back to my elementary school days. In 2020 we saw a world where "virtual learning" became a catchphrase for our youth. On every level from elementary school, all the way through colleges and universities students were now taking all of their classes online or through virtual teaching via skype or some type of live streaming. I guess in some ways this is a testament to how far technology has progressed over the past half of the century. On the other hand, it may be a reflection on how technology has replaced the hard work and research that many of us born and raised in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s experienced.
Our world today is so focused on immediate results with very little effort on the part of most people. I thought back to my Catholic elementary and high school days. I pretty much had nuns as teachers for most of my education and for those that can relate it was not always pleasant. The dreaded “Sisters” were known to rule with an iron fist or a “hard wooden ruler” if you know what I mean. Our subjects in those days were highlighted by the three “Rs” of the day “Reading, writing, and Arithmetic." We learned our ABC's, how to read and write (cursive and the nuns I had made me write and rewrite until they could read it without any guessing) we had Spelling (no spell check you had to look it up in the dictionary if you needed help) history, geography, civics, math (no calculators just a paper and pencil) algebra, a second language, science, and various other classes many which could be used as a trade if you chose not to attend college.
Catholic school taught me a lot about discipline, hard work, and respect for others especially people in authority. For me, one of the most valuable things I took from those early years was a love for reading. In my elementary years, we had requirements to read a certain number of books throughout the year as well as a "summer reading" requirement. Since we did not have the technology available today we also had to research our work in person at the local library through various sources such as encyclopedias and various other research books and periodicals available. The public library was where you would go to also check out the books you were interested in reading and typically you had about a week to ten days to read and return them. It was through books where one could find a new world to explore and dream about. I always loved history and biographies as they told real stories of people, places, and the events that had shaped the world. Even to this day, I am most content when reading a great mystery or novel and trying to imagine the events in my mind as they unfold.
School also taught me the importance of doing things right the first time. I learned that "short cuts" often would jump out and bite me later. If you were typing your reports you needed to make sure everything was correct or you would get graded down for misspellings, bad punctuation, and so on.
So many of the things I learned in school have prepared me for my professional life as well as my life in the sport of pure-bred dogs.
Starting in dogs I was very fortunate to live in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cleveland public library through the generosity of the Western Reserve Kennel Club has one of the most extensive collections of dog-related books in the world. It housed the AKC studbook as well as the stud books from numerous registries throughout the world. To research a pedigree you could go to the library and trace the lineage of most dogs for many, many, generations. It also housed breed-specific and hundreds and hundreds of canine-related books and magazines. It was a great resource for anyone from a novice to a well-seasoned veteran to learn all there was about dogs from the whelping box to the show or obedience ring, To the field trials, and just about everything ever written about not only the dogs themselves but also the sport of pure-bred dogs.
Since the library housed so many books and periodicals it also had a subscription to the New York Times. Every Thursday and Sunday the late Walter Fletcher had a column in the times that covered the dog show world. Mr. Fletcher's columns carried the most popular events and because of his keen history of our sport, he could take the readers' imagination to the actual show with his high-quality descriptions of the event and what had happened.
Walter Fletcher covered dog shows for more than 60 years and passed away on February 15, 2000, just hours before the 124 th Westminster Kennel Club Best in Show was selected.
In 1979 Walter R. Fletcher wrote on his life in our sport. The resulting book “My Times With Dogs" was first published in 1980 and is still one of my all-time favorite books about our sport. It is a timeless classic that when looking back shows that even though the times have changed there are some things that have stayed the same. The 320 pages cover everything from "What breed for me?", "The first dogs show." "The judging problem", Biographies of judges of the day, Shows, Handicapping shows, breeders and exhibitors, and a plethora of information that any dog lover would appreciate.
I was recently reading my copy again and I thought many of our newer enthusiasts might enjoy a few excerpts from this great look back;
(Note: all highlighted information is from the book; My Times with Dogs by Walter R. Fletcher published by Howell Book House Inc. First, printing-1980.)
“I never ceased to be amazed at the tremendous number of people taking part at the shows. Few sports are as demanding. This is a participation activity for dad, mom and the kids, in which the odds are all against them. Take a show with 3,000 dogs. Only 10 percent are going to do any meaningful winning, whereby they get points toward championships or take the breed to advance to a group. And there is only one best in show. The others get nothing, save a ribbon or two and perhaps a token trophy.
For those fortunate to have a top winner, there are headaches as well as prizes. Skyrocketing motel prices, food, rising gasoline costs, high insurance rates, entry fees, basic veterinarian expenses make it an expensive hobby. Should there be a professional handler, and the owner attend the shows, it runs into big money. Peggy Westphal, whose Ch. Sagamore Toccoa was the top winning Cocker Spaniel in history, told me she never again could afford to campaign a major victor.”
Here we are 40 years later and the above statements still ring true.
Shortly following the previous entry Mr. Fletcher talks about The Judging Problem:
“Meanwhile each year we see more shows which necessitate more judges, and there is an ever-increasing problem of obtaining sites. Fortunately, the AKC in 1978 selected as its president a man acutely aware of the situation. He is William (Bill) Stifel. When I asked him what AKC proposed to do, Bill responded, “Since 1971, entries have increased 36 percent. We are re-evaluating our stand on all-breed clubs holding shows on a common site. There is no problem with specialty clubs, since the AKC can approve up to 20 specialty shows to share one common site.”
When I pointed out how exhibitors are constantly complaining about the judging, he replied, “Approving judges is one of our most important jobs. We are having personal interviews with all applicants. We would like to expand the whole program, with more testing – both oral and written.”
We all know the judging problem still exists and as long as judging is subjective there will always be those exhibitors that complain. The only question is does the current system really work?
One of the more interesting sections in the book deals with short informational biographies of judges at the time, here are just a couple of insights;
The first woman veterinarian graduated from the University of Pennsylvania was Josephine Deubler. She can also be called Doctor-Doctor for she also has her Ph.D. in Pathology. Jo, as she is known to her friends, comes from a family of veterinarians, her father, uncle, brother, and two cousins all holding VMD degrees. Even more remarkable is the fact that since early childhood, Jo has been almost totally deaf and had to learn by reading lips. This courageous and determined woman for many years has been doing research at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. All her life Jo has been with animals, her father's practice having been farm animals. Her first love was horses and the Doctor won any number of ribbons, riding hunters over the jumps. Indeed, her thesis was written on the recurrent ophthalmia in the eyes of the horse.
In the dog world, she long was known for her terriers, particularly Dandie Dinmonts. She also had Irish Terriers, Smooth Fox, and Kerry Blues. In 1956 she imported a Dandie, Salismore Silversand, and Jimmy Butler, her handler, quickly finished him. Silver was best of breed at Westminster and three years in a row took the national specialty. In 1961, Ch. Salismore Playboy was Dandie of the year. The same year, Jimmy persuaded her to start judging, which she did on a very limited scale. When Butler retired in 1966, Jo retired from the show ring and she began to accept more judging assignments. She was chosen to name best of breed at the national specialty that year and in 1967 was invited to do the British specialty at Carlisle.
Now she has no dogs but plays a leading role in club work, being show chairman for Bucks County. Each year Bucks grows larger. Located between the Delaware River and the old ship canal, just south of New Hope, it has become one of the most attractive of the May shows in the East. In 1976 Dr. Duebler received a well-deserved Fido from Gaines Research Center, as the Dog Woman of the Year.”
Another entry written in 1979 refers to a man still very well known in our sport today;
“Then there’s the judge I always called a young man in a hurry. He’s Edd Biven of Fort Worth and he’s on the staff of the dean of students at Texas Christian University. When I retired, Biven was 35 years old but he looked much younger. At the time he already had accomplished more than fanciers much older. He had bred champions, handled a best-in-show dog, been president of a major kennel club and judged at such key fixtures as Westminster, International and Beverly Hills. But he still said to me, “I know very little in comparison to the old timers and there’s a great deal for me to learn. The sport has been so good to me, I feel I owe it much. I’m particularly concerned about the youngsters. I try to encourage them not only to show but to work up breeding programs.”
“People started me in the sport when I was a kid.” He said. “They taught me not only the mechanics but also the ethics. You must give as well as take, ‘they stressed.” So involved is Biven in the sport that before he took the post at TCU he had to be assured he would be permitted to take a number of weekends away from the university so that he could judge.
These are just two examples of Fletcher’s background sketches of the judges in 1979. There are so many more included in the text. Here are just a few mentioned in the book. Percy Roberts, Alva Rosenburg, Billy Kendrick, Michelle Billings, Lina Basquette, Dr. Tom Davies, Lang Skarda, Geraldine Dodge. He also introduces you to some of the husband and wife judges of the day such as the Clarks’, The Stevensons’, Marvins', and Feltons just to mention a few. The chapters are entertaining and full of background information.
There are so many informative and vivid illustrations of the shows and activities through the eyes of the writer. In a section about various popular shows here is an excerpt about Morris and Essex that puts you right there while it is happening.
Mention Morris and Essex to an old timer and it will bring a gleam to his eye. Immediately, he will regale you with stories about the most lavish dog shows ever held in America and about Mrs. Geraldine Rockerfeller Dodge, the mistress of Giralda Farms in Madison, N.J., where the extravaganzas were held.
Once a year, she threw open the gates of the estate and crowds of up to 50,000 flocked to the polo field, on whose velvety-green turf the dogs vied for ribbons. Barnum and Bailey, Ringling Bros. Circus billed itself as the “Greatest Show on Earth,” but it was dwarfed by the 1939 M&E which drew 4,456 dogs, still the greatest entry in the history of shows in this country at this writing. Whereas the circus in 1939 used 70,000 square feet of canvas for its tenting, the “Greatest Dog Show” had 160,000
It was a kaleidoscope of color, with a bright umbrella over each judge’s table in the 57 rings. Flying from the six huge group tents were pennants, whipped by the breeze. There was no silver shortage when it came to the trophy table, for 383 pieces of sterling were offered outright. Mrs. Dodge arranged with a famous catered to provide 4,600 luncheons for the exhibitors, judges and other officials. Then there was a huge cafeteria, so the visitors would have food. To keep the traffic flowing, 90 officers and special police patrolled the roads and manned the gates. It was estimated that it cost around $70,000 to stage this “Show of Shows.”
I know I wasn’t around in 1939 but that description sure can fill your imagination with what it must have been like. Among my cherished possessions is an actual Morris & Essex hat pin that was passed on to me by a dear friend, exhibitor, and judge from those days.
So many other shows are reflected upon with of course the greatest Westminster among those mentioned.
My Times with dogs is a Howell dog book of distinction and the back cover tells you a little more about what you can find inside.
“For years Walter Fletcher has reported the results of happenings inside the show rings; now he lets loose with the often much more entertaining stories of what transpires outside them. The delightful stories of those on the other end of the leash-the people of the dog game
There’s the famous terrier judge who always takes a shower with his straw hat on (to protect his curls); or the lady who hitched a ride on horseback to retrieve a runaway sled dog team; or the dog judge-airline pilot who was confronted with a dog on the runway during takeoff...and even in the process of averting disaster couldn’t help but note and mentally judge the dog’s conformation.
MY TIME WITH DOGS literally covers the world- everything from why Scotland Yard uses only males to the story of how a new breed was “manufactures” in Czechoslovakia in only 14 years. And though far-reaching in scope., it’s always close to my heart and funny bone.
You’re in for a great time with MY TIMES WITH DOGS.”
For me, there is nothing quite like holding an actual book in my hand and imagining the printed word in my mind.
Today in our society it seems most people get everything off of the internet and even read their books on an I-pad or Kindle. Magazine and newspapers are fast becoming extinct. To many of us senior citizens, it is one of the great travesties of technology.
Walter Fletcher was not the only dog columnist of his time but he was the most prominent one with the highest circulation of the day. Max Riddle wrote for the old Cleveland Press-Scimitar as well as being an author of numerous breed books himself. Louise Pugh was a long time columnist at the Dayton Daily News and would also write about the wins of many of the local exhibitors in the area.
One of the things I always find interesting when reading old books and periodicals is that although our world has changed a great deal through modern technology and innovation the sport of conformation dog shows has remained relatively constant. The same issues discussed 100 years ago are still being debated today. The Judges, The high costs related to the sport, Prejudices, accusations of unethical behavior, and so many other things are still hot topics today.
The biggest difference is the technology that allows for instant results and often comments about the judging of the day. I can’t imagine how refreshing it would be to have another Walter Fletcher using his special talent for prose to give me a harmless expression of the days' events.
If you found this retrospective book report fascinating I hope you can find a copy of the book to read. I believe you will enjoy a refreshing and enjoyable look at our sport and maybe even come to enjoy the sport more.
It is hard to believe that we are late in the first quarter of the twenty-first century and how the world we live in continues to change on an almost daily basis. It has now also been over a year since we all heard the term Covid-19 for the first time. At the time I imagine that most people thought it would be a temporary setback that would be dealt with and all would be back to “normal” by now. But, as we all know that has unfortunately not been the case.
For those of us that are involved in the sport of pure-bred dogs, we have seen many instances of how Covid-19 has changed our ability to not only hold our shows and trials but also the introduction to our events many new protocols to follow to even hold events where they are possible.
Since August of last year when we saw a limited return of our events across the country I have been able to attend events both as an exhibitor or judge shows in Idaho, Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Florida. At each of these shows, all of the exhibitors and judges wore masks and made honest attempts to follow social distancing guidelines. With the assistance and guidance of the AKC and in some cases local health officials numerous clubs proved that safe shows could be successful. What I observed was that most exhibitors followed the rules and behaved professionally and most were just happy to be able to have a show.
At the time of this writing, there are still numerous states and localities where putting on a show is either prohibited or postponed because of ongoing regulations regarding social gatherings. With the vaccines now available only time will tell how rapidly the restrictions will be lifted or modified.
Depending upon their location as well as their available facilities several clubs have been able to hold shows. ( As I understand there are only about 30-35% of scheduled events being held at this time.) While several clubs are doing well and putting on very large and successful shows many others are just struggling to hold their clubs together. Because of local restrictions, many clubs have not been able to meet in any other way except zoom-type communications. Meeting sites for numerous clubs are not available during the pandemic and therefore the in-person sharing of knowledge, ideas, and planning for future events is suffering.
Even in those locations where events are permitted many of the venues will not guarantee a club that the show will not be canceled even up to and including the day of the show. Therefore, many clubs continue not to take the financial risks of having their show canceled at the last minute at a significant financial hit to the club as well as the exhibitors losing their entry fees.
Since the start of cancellations in March of 2020, I have no idea as to the total number of events that have been canceled across our country but also throughout the world. As mentioned the loss of venues, meeting places, and training facilities are hurting many of our local clubs. Clubs are having to adjust to the new rules and regulations within their communities. These adjustments are coming in the change of venues, limits on the number of entries, and in many cases the postponement of all events until some version of normalcy returns. Also, as we have seen, those clubs that have found a way to host a show must adapt to local rules, find judges willing to travel and judge, obtain stewards and volunteers to work the show. This pandemic has created additional burdens on show chairs, club members, superintendents, and many others to deal with.
Most clubs are run by a limited number of members and volunteers that work and plan all year for their events. These are unpaid individuals that themselves may be dealing with the loss of jobs or lowered income due to the pandemic. In some cases, these individuals are having a difficult time caring for their basic needs so it is understandable that the club, the shows, and the like are no longer a large part of their life and some will, unfortunately, leave the club and the sport and possibly will never be involved again. These people are the collateral damage our clubs and our sport will suffer from.
Likewise, as we have seen, many club members, as well as judges, are senior citizens and individuals that may have underlying health conditions. Many of these people will not be taking the risk of exposure that attending shows and meetings provides.
With all that has gone on in the past year, I was in a discussion with a member from another kennel club that was sharing how difficult it was to hold together their already struggling club. During our conversation, I shared with him that although it has been difficult for our club, The Tennessee Valley Kennel Club has not only been holding together but is also still experiencing some growth. Of course, the reply was "What do you feel the reason is for your continuity?"
Knowing that there are many highly successful clubs throughout the country, each has developed its formula for growth and continuity. It is safe to say that not all clubs have the same mission or operate in the same manner. With that in mind, I thought I would take this opportunity to share some of the things that have helped my club the TVKC continue to have some success.
I have served as President for the past twelve years. One thing that I think has contributed to our stability has been that we operate as a true democracy. Each of our members has a voice. We do not rule only from the board. We gather information from our board and our members make recommendations and make all major decisions as a club. We also make sure our board is diversified with both conformation and performance individuals so that all members' interests have representation. We also try very hard to get every member involved. When we assign members to major jobs we try to never give a member more than one of those positions. We do this so they can focus on that job and keep them from being spread too thin. We offer them guidance and support but we try very hard not to micro-manage them and allow them to grow and tackle the task at hand.
We find that it is also important that our members understand our mission and expectations. Like many clubs, we get visitors at most meetings and we always welcome them with open arms. We also encourage them to continue to attend but we ask them "NOT TO JOIN" unless they plan to become involved on a regular and ongoing basis. We explain that all members count toward having a quorum and that we don’t need names on a roster but rather people that are committed to our mission and purpose.
We also have a club that has embraced diversity. Having people involved in as many different aspects of the dog world is a great asset and fertile ground for learning and sharing by members with each other. Our current roster list a total membership of 70 of which 10 are life members. Included in the remaining 60 individuals 49 have joined since 2009 with 13 of those joining since 2019 and we currently have 9 people going through our process to join. Unfortunately, we have lost 5 people to death in the past 5 years but, age-wise our group covers a very broad base. A total of 34 members are primarily involved in conformation while 16 prefer the performance arena. We also have 14 that are equally involved in both conformation and performance and 6 members that are just general dog lovers. Just like our country, clubs can be a melting pot of people with different ideas and skills. Allowing your members to use the unique talents and backgrounds each one brings will help in building a strong group.
One of the main things that keep our members involved may be the fact that we have some type of program at every meeting. In my opinion, the programs are an essential factor in the overall health and interest of the club. Our programs cover a wide range of canine-related topics always given by well-respected individuals and veterinarians. We also on occasion try to have some type of fun educational dog-related game. We have played doggy jeopardy, family feud, and others that get everyone involved. Since there are times when the best of plans fails we will on occasion play BINGO with an assortment of doggy prizes when our planned speaker cancels at the last minute. We do periodic surveys with our membership to see what they like and dislike about the club. Programs and the fact that we include everyone is always high on the list. I would say on average we have an attendance rate of 20-35 individuals at all meetings and have always had a quorum since 2009.
The TVKC covers a vast area of East Tennessee and as you can imagine geographically it is challenging for some of our members to attend every meeting. For several years there would be votes trying to move the meeting locations East or West depending upon those attending that meeting. Several years ago we put an end to that by offering the membership a choice of Eastside or Westside of town or an alternative of a split arrangement. The members voted for the split so now we meet six months out of the year on each end of the city. The sites are about 20 miles apart with the fall and winter months at the local emergency clinic on the Westside and the Spring and Summer months held on the Eastside of town at the University of Tennessee. The split arrangements work well and it helps members on each end of town attend more meetings than in the past.
As with most clubs, the pandemic caused both of our meeting sites to be unavailable. Even though we lost our meeting sites we have only missed two meetings. We moved the meetings to members' back yards and practiced social distancing and when the winter months came we were offered a place at a local training facility that although not heated very well has allowed us to meet and still practice social distancing.
Like many clubs, we like to recognize the accomplishments of our members and their dogs. Each year we award members that have completed an AKC title on their dogs a plaque recognizing the achievement with the dogs' name and title. We do this at our annual awards picnic where we have also added the tradition of our annual lottery fun match. We ask each member to bring one dog each, it doesn’t matter if it is a show dog or not just one that they own we assign each an armband number and put all the numbers in a hat. We draw two numbers and those two dogs start the competition with the judge for the initial class coming from someone that did not enter a dog. At the end of the class the winner goes on to the next round and the loser is eliminated. However, the person that was just eliminated serves as the judge for the next two dogs competing. This goes on for as many rounds as it takes until one dog stands alone as Best in Match. It has always been a lot of fun and many members remark that they could not believe how hard it was to choose between the two dogs and the two people they knew.
Training classes are also a big part of many clubs and ours is no exception. We offer ongoing weekly conformation classes (currently on hold because of the pandemic) as well as puppy kindergarten several times a year. Our classes are enthusiastically taught by Jan Flaherty our current vice president. Jan’s class has been instrumental in our growth and she has helped so many newcomers find success in the ring. WE also have an arrangement with a local training facility that provides agility and obedience training for our members at a reduced rate.
As mentioned earlier we try to get everyone involved and we encourage people to take on new tasks and this has served us very well. Our Agility trials, Obedience, Rally, and fast Cats are all led by relatively newer members that have risen to the task with the encouragement and support of the membership.
In 2014 we had a new couple come into our club. The couple was very new to the sport and extremely enthusiastic and yearning for knowledge both of these individuals along with their high school at the time daughter jumped right in. With the mentoring of members, the daughter enjoyed a successful run in Junior Handling and the entire family has completed numerous titles in conformation and obedience on their dogs. More importantly, is that both became very involved and now serve on our board and the wife took over our website and made it into a fantastic resource for not only members but also interested guests.
As a club being a part of our community is also important. We sponsor a student at the University of Tennessee school of veterinary medicine with a substantial scholarship annually. We have also supported numerous other charities such as the local Children's hospital, Take the lead, CHF, and many others. A few years ago when before our local cluster broke up we were able to do several things to raise funds for charitable causes but only being able to have a two-show weekend has hurt those efforts.
As President of the TVKC, I am extremely proud of the spirit, cooperation, and level of enthusiasm that the members of our club share. I know from others how difficult it can be to have a happy and cohesive group of people working together.
In closing what I hope you take away from this article is that success even during a pandemic is possible. If your club is struggling maybe you need to open yourselves up to new ideas and new members. There will always be turnover and disagreements but a good attitude and desire to work together to accomplish goals will bring great results. Just because someone is new or has a different perspective does not mean they can’t contribute to the success of your club. These are tough times and we need to be tough enough to accept change and make it work moving forward.
If you have any questions regarding our club and how we do things feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I don’t know about you but I sure am looking forward to getting our shows and events back on and we need your clubs to make it happen.
How About a New Year’s Resolution for Us All
We are on the verge of a new year and, after 2020, I am sure we are looking forward to some type of return to normalcy.
We have just survived a year in which so many things have happened. Debates and bad behavior have become more of the norm than the rare occurrences of the past. We live in a divided country and a world in which people do not seem to respect those who may have different views and ideologies from their own. Lack of respect does not only occur in the world of politics, but also in many other facets of our lives. Recently, our sport (as well as our ability to hold shows and trials) has suffered in too many ways to count.
Everyone in this country is entitled to his or her own opinions; it is one of the great protections of our constitution. Free speech is what makes America so unique and the envy of many other countries in our world. But free speech also has its victims as some people do not consider the harm they may be causing others by their comments, tweets, posts, and the like.
Nowhere in our sport, it seems, does expressing one’s opinion show up more than in the critiquing of the judging community. I always tell new judges that once they start officiating they need to grow a thick skin because, no matter what they do, the critics will be plentiful and not always kind.
This is not about pointing fingers at anyone. Rather, it is about respecting our sport and everyone involved (before we get to the point where we destroy it for any newcomer due to the behavior they see within the sport).
I started my journey in this sport of purebred dogs in 1972. Looking back, I believe it was a time when our sport was in its prime. In those days we had a ton of sanctioned “B” matches, a place where breeders, novice exhibitors—and even the occasional professional—would take their youngsters to practice and hone their skills for the conformation as well as the obedience rings. Living in Northeast Ohio at the time, one could attend a match on most weekends within a drive of two to three hours; they were plentiful and a great place for the novice to learn. Matches were also a place where prospective judges would learn (through true hands-on experience) about the breeds they were considering judging. Since you entered the match in the morning and the judging would follow later in the day with no published schedule, judges and exhibitors had plenty of time to talk, teach, and learn from one another. When you talk today with people who have been around that long, you will find that we all have fond memories of those times. They not only taught us about our breed and our sport, but also about the value of different opinions and outlooks on various things going on in our sport at the time. The decline in these matches is a lost opportunity for newcomers to our sport as they were a great asset in preparing for the
In those days, we had many “colorful people” in the sport as both judges and exhibitors. We did not have access to the Internet, Facebook, cell phones, and the many forms of social media that we have today. Some of our judges in today’s world might be considered mean, gruffly, crooked, and many other adjectives, but one thing was absolute in all of those “old-timers”; they were “true” dog men and women who had devoted a good part of their lives to the sport, which in those days was more about producing and improving breeding stock than the race for the top dogs that we see today.
There is no doubt that we had people with huge egos and a desire to win at all costs, but decency and decorum ruled the day—for the most part. Even though our judges were very qualified, they each had certain tendencies that we all understood, even if we did not agree with them. The numbers of judges back in those days were significantly lower than what we see today. You might have seen certain judges in your area numerous times each year. Some judges would not tolerate bait of any kind in their rings and would even slap it out of your hand if you used it. We had “Tooth Fairies” who, if your dog’s teeth were not sparkling white, would dismiss you to the end of the line no matter how good of an exhibit yours was. Others would dismiss you if your dog soiled the ring. We also had many in those days who believed in a theory of “spreading it around.” For example, say you had numerous dogs entered in a specific breed and you went Winner’s Dog; no matter how good your bitch or special might be, those judges wanted to spread the wealth and would give the wins to other exhibitors. Many of these judges also recognized that there were numerous good specimens of breeds at the Group level. Most of us stayed in our local areas, so we competed regularly with the same dogs and handlers at almost every show. In those days, you might win the Group today under Judge “A” and, a few weeks later, not even place under the same judge because he or she felt it was someone else’s turn to be rewarded. We all had our favorites as well as those we did not like. What we did not have was the public trashing of judges that is seen everywhere you look on social media sites today.
A little while back, a few judges who have been judging for decades were discussing these so-called “Judges Report Cards” on various social media sites with a variety of different names. One of the most common reactions was that it seems exhibitors today do not care if the judges are genuine dog men and women who truly know and understand breed type and quality. They want judges who smile all the time, play nice with the unruly and untrained dog, and do not award the professional handlers regardless of the quality of dogs being exhibited.
Examples: (No names or shows are identified.)
“Report on Mrs. X who judged on (date) at (show). I have no concern over her choices, but her demeanor was very rude. She was curt with exhibitors. After judging, she broke for lunch and an exhibitor asked for a picture, but she said, ‘Not right now.’”
“Judge Mr. XYZ for Breed. Does he like black (substitute any color or pattern)? I am having trouble finding judges who don’t ignore my black dog.”
“I showed my nine-month-old puppy to Mr. X on Saturday at ABC Kennel Club. It was not a great experience for my boy. Mr. X took his face to check the bite and my boy shied away. Mr. X stopped the exam, had us do our down and back, and pretty much ignored us the rest of the ring time. I will not show under
Response on opinions for Judge Z: “A big no. Heavy-handed, terrible with puppies, no patience, rude.” And in the same comments section, “Definitely looks at owner-handler; won a lot under him. He is quiet, and you have to really listen and pay attention. Nice hand on the dogs too.”
“They only use handlers on my do-not-show list.” Another post for the same: “Wonderful, knowledgeable, looks at all the dogs, very fair no matter who is on the end of the lead. One of my all-time favorites.”
I often think of something I was taught as a child. When you are angry and thinking of writing or saying something, write it down, then sleep on it and see how you feel the next day. The written and spoken words can last a long time and damage a relationship over a simple issue that is just silly in hindsight.
Some of these sites even show the person’s name, some with photos and other information that is easily accessible to all. It is OK to have an opinion, but some of these attacks are nothing more than sour grapes because they did not win. You rarely see, “My dog really misbehaved or was out of condition.” Or “Even though I did not win, the winners were deserving.” Or “Yes, the professional handler won, but he/she had a very good dog in great condition and presented properly.”
Most judges try to be kind and considerate. They are on their feet bending over and twisting and turning for, sometimes, 8-12 hours, with over 200 dogs a day when adding Groups. Handlers and exhibitors have a great deal of time to rest and take breaks during the day to recharge, whereas the judges are often worn out after a long day.
In one conversation, some judges wondered what would happen if the judges started some type of “exhibitors report card.” What might we see? Might it look something like this?
“He/she is first-class all the way, accepts wins and losses with grace, never complains or denigrates the competition. Always exhibits dogs in excellent and clean condition.”
“A vile and nasty person, never happy even when they win. Always runs down the competition and thinks he/she deserves to win all the time.”
“A great “user-friendly” person, always respectful. Wish he/she had better dogs.”
“A know-it-all. Been in the breed a year or two and thinks he/she knows everything.”
“Boy, could he/she use a bath, or some deodorant. The smell
“You would think they never heard of soap and water. I wonder what a bath and brush might do to make a difference in
“Do they not understand that all the extra time they take switching dogs and running back to crates takes time away
“Always waiting for them to get in the ring because they are outside shooting the bull with someone when they should be in the ring.”
“Oh, this one’s a COVID-19 baby. That’s why he is being so bad, sorry.” (Translation: I was too lazy to train him when I had the time, so I am doing it in the ring.)
I am sure that if there were such a site there would be hundreds of far more colorful posts.
The point here is simple: We are all human beings sharing a common interest; our dogs. It does not cost anything to be nice to each other, but it also does not mean that just because you don’t like someone or the results at a show you need to run down or attack that person. Ask yourself, “How would I feel if they said or wrote that about me?”
We have enough negativity and rudeness in the world. Our shows should be a place filled with friendships and camaraderie. We should all try to make our New Year’s resolution to be nice to one another.
Happy New Year to everyone!
To Honor the Great Bird Dog
In the southwest corner of Tennessee, about an hour’s drive east of Memphis, sits the small city of Grand Junction. Founded in 1858, this small town with a population of about 300 residents is known around the sport of field trialers as the “Bird Dog Capital of the World.”
Grand Junction, Tennessee, is home to the National Bird Dog Museum, Field Trial Hall of Fame and Wildlife Heritage Center, as well as Ames Plantation, home of the National Field Trial Championships.
To those enthusiasts who are bird dog lovers, the National Championship for bird dogs is the premier field trial event worldwide. The National Championship was first organized and run near West Point, Mississippi, in 1896. Later, the competitions were moved to field trial grounds south of Grand Junction near Rogers Springs, Tennessee, before finding its permanent home north of Grand Junction at the Ames Plantation, the early 20th century home of Hobart Ames, a wealthy Massachusetts factory owner. Each year since 1915, the running of the Championship has been on the “hallowed” field trial grounds set in place by the late Mr. Ames. The gentleman’s bird dogs participated in the trials three times before Ames himself became a longtime President and Judge of the National Championship. There are numerous books available that chronicle and detail the great history of this prestigious event.
The National Bird Dog Championship is held under the guidance of “The American Field.” The American Field has followed the field trial sport since 1874 and the “Field Dog Stud Book” is the oldest purebred dog registry in the United States.
If you love bird dogs and field trials (especially Pointers and Setters), you need to make plans to witness this fantastic event. The running of this event takes place on a 6,000 plus acre area of Ames Plantation and is an annual event that begins on the second or third Monday in February. The average entry consists of about 36 English Pointers and/or English Setters. However, as late as 2016, there have been nearly 50 competitors. The qualifiers are winners or placers at over 80 qualifying trials held throughout the United States and Canada.
It is an event that—to be ideally executed—requires a good population of bobwhite quail in an all-age field trial habitat. Thousands of field trial enthusiasts from all over the world come to Grand Junction to attend the trials every year.
Following the drawing of the braces, the trials host two braces each day to travel one of the two separate courses. The dogs range over about 6,000 acres searching for some 300 coveys of quail. There are two separate courses, one for the morning and one for the afternoon. Each course is an 11.5 mile (linear length) course in which the dogs will run 22 to 26 miles over three hours. The judges follow the “Amesian Standard” when judging the trials and look for dogs with almost as much enthusiasm at the end of the three hours as they had when they started the course. Unless there are call-backs required, the trial will take up two-to-three weeks until all the braces have been completed and a Champion is named.
For many years, the trials were held on consecutive days. The gallery of riders following the dogs on horseback would, at times, exceed 1,000 horses and riders. As you can imagine with that many people on horseback, occasional incidents and injuries befell some in the gallery. So, at some point in the 1980s, it was decided to run the trials only on weekdays to help discourage those folks who came out on the weekends to use the trial as an excuse for a trail ride. Even after the cancellation of the weekend running, the galleries still average 300 to 500 people on horseback following each brace.
The braces run daily regardless of weather—and February weather in west Tennessee can run the gamut of warm, hot, sunny, overcast, rain, and even snow. But as the saying goes, “the Trial must go on.” So, the draw of your brace does have an element of luck as to the conditions.
Through the years, I have had the pleasure to ride in the gallery for numerous braces and, on occasion, I have ridden behind every brace for the duration of the trial. I can tell you, six hours a day in the saddle for a couple of weeks will take a toll on your body.
I find it kind of ironic that the National Championship for bird dogs coincides with the annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York. Both events have long and storied histories dating back over 125 years. Westminster is held in the city that never sleeps under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden and [is broadcast on] millions of television sets around the world, whereas the other is held in the quaint, small town of Grand Junction with little fanfare except for the thousands who attend and the reporting that is done in the American Field following the event.
Although all of you reading this are familiar with the great tradition and history of Westminster, I would guess there are very few who are aware of the Bird Dog Championships.
Westminster and our dog shows are judged, as we all know, against the standard for each breed represented. The National Bird Dog Championship is judged by what is known as the “Amesian Standard” which is described below:
"The dog under consideration must have and display great bird sense. He must show perfect work on both coveys and singles. He must be able to quickly determine between foot and body scent. He must use his brain, eyes, and nose to the fullest advantage and hunt the likely places on the course. He must possess speed, range, style, character, courage, and stamina—and good manners, always. He must hunt the birds and not the handler hunt the dog. No line or path runner is acceptable. He must be well broken, and the better his manners, the more clearly he proves his sound training. Should he lose a little in class, as expressed in speed and range, he can make up for this, under fair judgment, in a single piece of superior bird work, or in sustained demonstration of general behavior. He must be bold, snappy, and spirited. His range must be to the front or to either side, but never behind. He must be regularly and habitually pleasing governable and must know when to turn and keep his handler’s course in view, and at all times keep uppermost in his mind the finding and pointing of birds for his handler."
Wow, what an amazing standard to live up to. First, we must remember that these dogs run for a full three hours in all types of conditions across all types of terrain. This alone requires a very special physical specimen with the proper conformation of not only the running gear, but also of the body for heart and lung capacity, good bone, correct feet, and a sound mind and body. When I think of the many Sporting breeds that have been bred to hunt, I often wonder how many could regularly meet these challenges.
When you attend this trial and witness these dogs
enthusiastically doing what they were bred for, you gain a better understanding of why some standards were written as they were.
There are many books available about the National Bird Dog Championships and each will give you a greater insight into this amazing field trial event.
The home of the National Bird Dog Championship is the historic Ames Plantation. The site is an 18,657 acre plantation owned and operated by the Trustees of the Hobart Ames Foundation under provisions of the will of Julia C. Ames. The site also serves as an agricultural experiment station within the University of Tennessee system. The property contains over two hundred 19th-century historic sites. In 1901, Hobart Ames purchased the plantation, one of the region’s largest, and turned it into his own private rural retreat. The manor house itself is furnished with early 20th century furnishings that appear much as they did when the Ames family departed in 1950.
The plantation is also home to a replica mid-19th century family farmstead, typical of those that once dotted the antebellum landscape. It is home to the third oldest herd of Angus cattle in the United States and boasts many other areas of historical significance. A little research on your part will give you a ton of information on this historic and unique piece of American folklore.
As I mentioned earlier, Grand Junction is not only home to the National Championship; it is also home to the Bird Dog Foundation and the National Bird Dog Museum. The foundation and museum can be traced back to the 1970s and Dunn’s Sporting Goods Store in Grand Junction on Hwy 57. Wilson Dunn, owner of the store located within five miles of the center of Ames Plantation, had devoted the back rooms of the store to an impressive collection of photos, memorabilia, and history of the National Field Trial Championships at the nearby Ames Plantation. He referred to his collection as the Field Trial Museum. The store and the rooms in the back received many visitors throughout the years.
In the late 1970s, Gary Lockee arrived in Grand Junction to compete in the National Championship and would later become a Field Trial Hall of Fame inductee. Lockee visited Dunn’s Sporting Goods where Wilson Dunn shared his collection with Lockee. The two men began a friendship and often discussed a need to establish a museum to better recognize and honor all Sporting dogs, with the capability to educate visitors about the history of field trials.
In the past, previous attempts to build a Field Trial Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, had failed. So, following many discussions with fellow enthusiasts and friends, a group decided that Dunn’s collection should be expanded and used as the basis for a museum that could then be added to for generations to come.
Dunn, Lockee, and other bird dog enthusiasts traveled to
Chicago, home of the American Field, to talk with Bernie Matthys, Managing Editor of the American Field at that time. They encouraged Matthys to help them in publicizing information about
their plans to create a non-profit organization, The Bird Dog
Foundation. The foundation would raise funds for a National Bird Dog Museum.
Wilson Dunn, Gary Lockee, Bernie Matthys, and John O’Neall Jr. started a tireless effort to achieve their dream. A charter for the proposed non-profit organization was prepared and approved on May 25, 1988. The subsequent by-laws were approved on October 24, 1988 and the Bird Dog Foundation, Inc. was officially established on May 15, 1989.
The foundation set its goals for the museum and chose a location in Grand Junction because the area had been the site of the National Field Trial Championship since the early 1900s. Lockee and Dunn personally bought 4.5 acres of land in Grand Junction for the future site of the museum and donated it to the Bird Dog Foundation. Shortly thereafter, more than 4,000 bird dog enthusiasts nationwide, as well as more than 35 corporations and businesses, helped to sponsor the proposed museum.
By 1990, the individual and corporate sponsorship had generated the funds to begin construction and, before completion, the entire cost of the museum had been fully funded. My wife, Carol, and I were present on February 16, 1991, when the National Bird Dog Museum was dedicated and opened its doors to the public. The National Bird Dog Museum is a part of the Bird Dog Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization with revenue generated solely through donations from supporters.
Since its opening in 1991, the museum continues to expand, and several additions have been built to house the growing collection. The Retriever Hall of Fame was opened to the public in 2004 and, in 2012, the Sporting Dog Wing was added.
The museum also houses the Wildlife Heritage Center consisting of a large collection of taxidermy showcasing the wildlife of North America as well as the William F. Brown Memorial Library. The Library has an extensive collection of bird dog and game bird literature, a collection of stud books dating back to the 1910s, and various periodicals, including the American Field and other material about wildlife conservation and resource management.
The museum is closed on Mondays, but opens from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM on Saturday, and 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM on Sunday. The museum is closed on New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
If you love bird dogs or any type of Sporting dog, a trip to the small town of Grand Junction, Tennessee, is the place to go. And if you truly want to see a bird dog work its magic, find a way to attend the National Championship in February. There is only one Westminster and there is only one National Bird Dog Championship, both known throughout the world for being the best at what they do.
A Class Act – Showing Young Prospects
It does not matter if you are a long-time breeder, exhibitor, or just a first-time owner—watching your young hopefuls mature is an exciting time. You feed, care, train, and nurture the young prospects with visions of success as they develop in preparation for their ring debut.
When the time approaches that you feel the prospect is ready to hit the ring, you have many choices to make in your effort to make the debut a great experience for both you and your youngster. You will review the premium list for upcoming shows to evaluate the site (determine if the show is indoors or outdoors), the judge, and all the other factors to consider for that premier event.
Once you have decided on the show or circuit, it is time to fill out the entry and start the process.
When you sit down to enter the show, you must decide in which class you will participate. Depending upon the breed, there can be numerous options based upon age, size, color, the experience of the exhibitor, and a multitude of options for you to consider.
First, it should be pointed out that Winners Dog or Winner Bitch can come out of any class. The AKC only requires clubs to offer the American-Bred and the Open Classes at all shows. However, in almost all cases, there are seven regular classes at a conformation dog show—with a few variations.
Most youngsters are initially entered into the Puppy Classes.
The Puppy Class is for dogs at least six months of age and under 12 months of age. These classes may or may not be further divided by age into two classes: 6-9 Months and 9-12 Months.
There may also be 12 months to 18 months of age class offered. This class may also be further divided (just as the Puppy Class) into 12-15 Months or 15-18 Months.
One note of caution is to be sure when entering the Puppy Class or the 12-18 Months Class that you have the birth date and proper class. There have been numerous occasions when the exhibit won the points only to lose them because they were declared ineligible for that class. In most cases, they may have been a day or two older or younger than the class in which they were entered.
The Novice Class is for those dogs that have not previously won three first places in the Novice Class, first place in Amateur-Owner-Handler, Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-Bred or the Open Class, as well as those that have not earned one or more points toward
Amateur-Owner-Handler is a class in which the dog is being handled by the registered owner of the dog who has not, at any point, been an AKC-approved conformation judge, a professional dog handler or employed as an assistant to a professional handler.
In the world of dog shows, there is probably no single class that carries the significance of the Bred-by-Exhibitor Class. Many may wonder why someone would say that “Bred-By” is more important or significant than the Best of Breed or Group and Best in Show awards of any dog show.
When I think about the Bred-By class, the first thing that comes to mind is that the exhibitor has bred this dog and is very proud of it. It signifies the hard work and planning that, hopefully, went into producing the exhibit. Anyone who has been breeding for any length of time knows all about the work, research, and dedication that go into planning and producing high-quality animals; working toward perfection of the breed standard. Being a well-respected breeder is not achieved without a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Anyone can simply mate a male and female, produce a litter, and call themselves a “breeder.” However, the true breeder has dedicated him or herself toward the improvement of the breed not only in their quest for perfection, but also for perfection in health
When we enter the results of our efforts in the Bred-By class we are telling the judge—and everyone else—that we are excited and proud to present this representative of our breed. The Bred-by-Exhibitor Class should NEVER be used as a filler class for any entry. In theory, it should always be one of the strongest classes at any show.
The American Kennel Club awards a special Bred-By Exhibitor Medallion to those exhibitors who complete all points required for their conformation championship title by advancing to the winners’ competition from the Bred-by-Exhibitor Class. Also, those breeders who finish numerous dogs from this class can be awarded silver or gold medallions as special recognition for their dedication to
As a judge, breeder, and exhibitor, I know how proud most breeders are to receive the Bred-By Medallion for finishing their dogs from the Bred-By class. This can be made more difficult when the younger dogs under the age of 18 months compete in the class against older, more mature competitors. I know when judging this class, I often ask my steward for the date of birth of any exhibit that I am considering, but [also] wondering what age it is.
If you follow the Board Meeting Minutes and Secretary’s Page of the AKC, you may have noticed that there is a proposal to add “Bred-by-Exhibitor Puppy” classes for clubs to offer. This, in my opinion, is a fantastic idea and one that I look forward to seeing in the ring soon. By offering these classes, I believe many more exhibitors will work toward earning their championships via the “Bred-By” class.
The American-Bred Class is for those dogs whose sire and dam were mated in America, and the dog was born in the US. This is one of the two classes that are required to be offered by
Last, but not least, is the Open Class. This is also one of the two classes required to be offered at all shows. This class may be entered by any registered eligible dog and is also the only regular class in which champions are eligible to compete.
It should also be mentioned that, in some breeds, the above classes may be further divided by color, coat, size or weight.
As you can see, as an exhibitor, you have many options when it comes to entering your class animals in a competition. Some exhibitors want to finish their youngsters from the Puppy Classes, and many breeders want to earn the prestigious Bred-by-Exhibitor Medallion. In any case, all exhibitors are proud of their dogs and covet that title “Champion.” For those who achieve that goal, some will proceed with a career, looking for a higher ranking within the Breed or Group. Others will seek the title of “Grand Champion” and the various levels that can be achieved under that program.
Showing our dogs is a testament to our great breeders and our goals toward achieving perfection in our breeds. No matter which class—or which path—you choose to achieve your personal goals for that young and promising hopeful, remember first and foremost that no matter the outcome you will still go home with the unconditional love of one of man’s best friends.
Is the AKC missing out on a tremendous opportunity?
Covid–19 has created a great deal of social and economic disruption throughout most of the world. There has been a great loss of life and when looking to the media for any accurate news, what we get is fear and various forms of good and bad information. There is no doubt, however, that the virus has caused the elimination of most dog shows and trials here in the United States.
Many clubs and their volunteers have tried valiantly to find a way to put on their shows. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly evident that state and local governments have made the situation almost impossible for most clubs to hold their shows.
My question is a very simple one: Where has the AKC been in trying to solve this problem?
Just think about it, the AKC has provided us with their idea for best practices in holding events, but have they been there to assist the clubs in dealing with the current situations? After all, these are the events that also generate income for the AKC. With the disruption of these events, AKC has had to furlough numerous AKC employees. Guy Fisher in the Club Development Department has been working hard to try to assist clubs with as much info as possible. The problem is that the Club Development Department is not there to assist with government and facility assistance.
Everyone within the fancy knows that the “hold” on most events is due to guidelines and social distancing regulations put in place by the various government officials and facilities throughout our country. Also, it appears the future is still very much in doubt with an expected wave coming in the fall and winter months that could cause an indefinite delay in the “return to normal” scenario.
When watching all of the mass gatherings, protests and violence in our country, we must wonder why is it so difficult to hold a dog show?
The AKC website has a department listing for Government Relations. The primary mission of this department is focused on various forms of legislation.
Fighting for our rights as dog breeders, exhibitors, and owners is very important and we are fortunate that this department works hard to help with these issues as they arise.
In my opinion, the AKC is missing out on an opportunity to not only help its clubs and constituents but also to establish or enhance its existing relationships with various government officials throughout the country. I believe that now is the time for the AKC to expand this department and have it reach out to all state and local governments and facilities in those locations where events are held to help everyone work out safe and responsible ways for us to start up our shows again.
By utilizing information gathering from various areas into one contact group, the AKC could go a long way in assisting clubs to get back to shows and trials soon. With one central body with a background of working with the government by discussing issues, they would learn what does and does not work. They could best help these governments and facilities better understand what shows mean to their communities (not only economically, but also about responsible pet ownership, and their dog-loving constituents).
Having a central department would give clubs a well–informed information source to reach out to whenever they face various issues—now and in the future. Also, should a situation like this arise again, we would all be one step ahead.
It helps to remember that clubs are made up of volunteers, not salaried employees. In many cases, these individuals have no experience with these areas of concern. By having the Government Relations Department available to them it would save a great deal of time and money, with professionals available to assist them and help them avoid mistakes.
The local clubs are the backbone of our sport. Many clubs have spent many hours, dollars, and resources to return us to our sport.
Maybe it is time for the AKC to step up to the plate and help even more?
WE ARE THE WORLD
By the time you read this most of you will have experienced at least five to six months of life without attending a dog show or trial. For most of us, our experiences in dealing with the Covid–19 pandemic will differ greatly. One thing we can all count on is that the situation has indeed impacted our world of dog shows, field trials, agility, obedience, and rally, as well as all things associated with the sport.
Show and trial chairs throughout the United States as well as the rest of the world are being faced with extremely tough decisions regarding the resumption of events in a safe and workable environment for all members of the fancy. Different states—as well as facilities—have new restrictions and rules that have an impact on when and how clubs will be able to return to venues sensibly and practically.
For some of these clubs, the rules and restrictions will create more cancellations of events until that time when a vaccine or some other medical breakthrough will get us back to normal. However, for those clubs that are trying to continue to put on events, there is no question that major changes are in the works.
Anyone with a computer and a Facebook (or other type of social networking) account has already seen the multiple reactions within the fancy in regards to proposed changes for upcoming shows and trials. The suggested or mandated changes are already creating divisiveness within the ranks. At some venues, there will be no indoor grooming, or limited grooming, with absolutely no use of hairdryers, powders, chalk, or anything that might easily be spread around the facility. Practicing social distancing in the grooming areas as well as around the rings will be interesting to observe. Judges and exhibitors wearing masks and practicing other safety measures will also add time to an already long day for many. Ring stewards as well as judges will encounter masses of people during a show. While we hope many will practice safe and healthy practices, it is foolish to believe that everyone will follow the rules. >
There are already people posting that those with RV’s and private generators will have an unfair advantage because they will be able to groom and blow dry, etc. at their respective vehicles. Some have been around for many years and remember when electricity and other perks of today’s show sites were not available and the sport did well and enjoyed great growth. In those days of yore, shows were one day events with exhibitors moving from show to show every day with no drop-off in entries. Many sites were outdoors and at fairgrounds or other venues with tenting, porta-potties and no hookups, often with just a field to park in.
Over time, we have experienced many changes in our sport and we are now facing another change that is being forced upon us by an outside influence we have no control over. Our task is [to determine] how we attack the changes and learn to work together to make it work for the greater good and not just a
While sitting home on the weekends, I have watched more TV than normal. I happened to watch the season finale of the American Idol competition. During the finale, Lionel Ritchie and a group of current performers sang “We Are The World” for the first time in over 35 years. The song was written by the late Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie. It is a song that resonates with people trying to make our world a better place. The words tell a practical story;
WE ARE THE WORLD
– MICHAEL JACKSON/LIONEL RITCHIE
There comes a time when we heed a certain call
When the world must come together as one
There are people dying
And it’s time to lend a hand to life
The greatest gift of all
We can’t go on pretending day by day
That someone somehow will soon make a change
We are all a part Gods great big family
And the truth, you know
Love is all we need
We are the world, we are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So lets start giving
There’s a choice we’re making
We’re saving our own lives
It’s true we’ll make a better day
Just you and me
Send them your heart
So they’ll know that someone cares
And their lives will be stronger and free
As God has shown us by turning stones to bread
So we all must lend a helping hand
When you’re down and out
There seems no hope at all
But if you just believe there’s no way we can fall
Let us realize that a change can only come
When we stand together as one
As we move toward the future, are you willing to sacrifice and stand together as one? Will you be a happy and productive part of a successful solution? We need to bond and learn to love and respect each other in a time that will test many. Our future as a sport depends upon every person doing their part. We are the Dog Show World and we can make it happen.
FOR THE LOVE OF CHILDREN AND MAN'S BEST FRIEND
A few months ago, I shared with you an article I had written on volunteers and my opinion that they are indeed the backbone of our sport. I received a few very positive responses from that message and one of them suggested that I should share my story to show that it was not just talking. My story illustrates that when you think outside the box and explore that seemingly impossible thought with other forward-thinking people you can make a difference.
This is a true story about one man’s idea of sharing his love of dogs and a desire to do something to help the Children of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. It shows how that idea—with the help of a great group of people —developed into a special event that left a small footprint on a city and a love for man’s best friend.
The St. Jude Story
This story started after I became involved in a volunteer effort for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. For those of you who may not know much about St. Jude’s, it all began with its founding by the entertainer Danny Thomas. It was founded on the premise that “no child should die in the dawn of life.” The idea for the hospital was from a promise that Mr. Thomas had made to a saint many years before its founding. At the time Thomas was a struggling Catholic comedian trying to get a break in his career and living from paycheck to paycheck. When his first child was about to be born, he attended Mass in Detroit and put his last $7.00 in the offering plate. He prayed to St. Jude Thaddeus (the Catholic patron saint for lost causes) for a means to provide for his growing family. About a week later he obtained a gig that paid ten times what he placed in the offering plate. Following that Thomas believed in the power of prayer. He promised St. Jude Thaddeus that if the saint made him successful, he would one day build him a shrine. Years later, Thomas became an extremely successful TV star and comedian and built St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as a shrine to honor his promise to St. Jude Thaddeus.
In 1957, Danny Thomas—who was a Lebanese American—founded ALSAC (American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities) the organization that would help him realize his dream. ALSAC became the fund-raising arm of the future hospital.
The City of Memphis, Tennessee was chosen as the location for the project at the suggestion of Roman Catholic Cardinal Samuel Stritch, a Tennessee native who had been a spiritual advisor to Mr. Thomas ever since presiding at Mr. Thomas’s confirmation in Danny’s boyhood home of Toledo, Ohio.
It should also be noted that although it was named in honor of Mr. Thomas’s patron saint, the hospital is not a Catholic hospital. Rather, it is a secular institution not affiliated with any religious organization.
Five years after the founding of ALSAC, Danny Thomas’s dream was realized when St. Jude opened in 1962. Since that opening, many discoveries at St. Jude have made possible numerous changes in the way that Doctors treat childhood cancer and other catastrophic diseases. The survival rates for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (the most common of all childhood cancers) has grown from four percent in 1962 to 94% today. Since St. Jude opened, the survival rate from all childhood cancers has risen from 20% to 80%.
It is not hard to see what a wonderful tribute grew from that humble promise of a struggling young father-to-be. But I guess I need to get back to my story.
What can one person do?
After personally witnessing the daily miracles at St. Jude, I asked myself what could I do to help make a difference? As I thought about it, I considered my experience with the sport of dogs and wondered if that could be a source for a fund-raising event. My thoughts at the time were that our dogs are known as Man’s best friend, and I saw St. Jude as the best friend of a child in need and thought it could be a combination that might work.
Having been involved in dog shows since the early 1970s, I was curious as to why shows only held conformation and obedience together when there were so many other things that could be done with our dogs. I contemplated, “If there was an event that included the many diverse aspects of competition available to dog lovers, would the public come to learn, observe and participate in our wonderful world of dogs?”
With the support and encouragement of my wife and best friend Carol, I started putting together a plan of action and possibilities.
I had started my judging career in 1985 and had founded the Mid-South judges’ group. We were one of the earlier judges’ groups in the country at the time and met monthly to learn about the various breeds presented by knowledgeable breed mentors. Our members came from West Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Southwest Kentucky. At one of our monthly get-togethers, I mentioned my idea and asked for thoughts and feedback. Many thought it was a good idea, but thought it had a very small chance to succeed. One member, Sherry Webster, thought it was a great idea and agreed to team up with Carol and me to pursue the idea further.
The spring of 1994 the project starts
By the spring of 1994, Carol, Sherry and I had given the idea a great deal of thought. We considered what types of events, demonstrations, educational, and entertainment events to include (what all might be involved), and was it truly a realistic concept? At the time the AKC was still basically a Conformation, Obedience, and Field Trial club and we had this vision of so many other opportunities outside of AKC events in which dog owners could do so much more with their dogs. So, in May of 1994, we sent out a letter to a list of possible participants in our project to gauge interest in our concept.
On June 15th of that year, thirteen individuals representing several of our concept groups attended that first planning meeting. In that meeting our agenda addressed:
It was understood from day one that we were all volunteers and that no one would be compensated for their time and talents.
You win with people
One of my favorite books is my wife’s autographed copy of the late Woody Hayes book, You Win With People. Hayes, the former head coach of my beloved Ohio State Buckeyes, devoted the book to the team concept of how every single member of any successful organization plays an important part in the eventual outcome of any endeavor.
What I learned most through the process of putting this event on was that Woody had it right. I needed to develop a leadership style that was open-minded—not judgmental—and appreciative of every single volunteer for it to succeed.
Sherry and I agree that we could not succeed by micro-managing, and we had to let each group and individual event contribute and staff as needed. We, as leaders, would be there to assist and coordinate with them to make it all work as one event with each group as a sub-event.
Sherry was a very valuable assistant chairman who served the event well for several years before family health matters would force her to move over to the sidelines. The contributions she made to the project, especially in the beginning, were tremendous.
Getting the word out
The committee wanted to put some type of name to the event and the title “St. Jude Wonderful World of Dogs” was selected, and Sherry created a wonderful logo of a child and dog to represent the project. Ironically just a few weeks before the event, we would learn the “wonderful world of dogs” had been copyrighted and we were in violation of copyright law putting our event in jeopardy. Fortunately, an agreement was reached along with a donation from the copyright holder and we could proceed, but the following year we would change our name to the St. Jude Showcase of Dogs.
Also, we needed a way to share our event with potential groups and sponsors. I created a script for a video and Sherry (with the cooperation of ALSCA and the AKC) secured video material that Pro-Video in Memphis built into a four-minute promotional video on our project.
After the creation of the video, Sherry and I started to attend meetings with many kennel clubs and groups in the general area. Our goal was to generate a diverse group with an interest in the project. We also sent the video out to every major dog food brand at the time looking for a title sponsor with some sort of financial support.
The general public
Everyone on the committee felt that not only getting the general public to attend was essential, but we needed to get them excited about it. We decided to allow the public to bring their dogs with them to the event so they could participate in some activities as well as learn about their breeds and their dogs from breeders and veterinarians and trainers that were participating.
Finding a site and a date
Securing a suitable site and date was next on our agenda. We researched available dates with little or no competition from other shows, knowing that this large undertaking would take a special site to accommodate it. We also researched the weather from the data available over the past 50 years.
The Agricenter International in suburban Germantown, Tennessee was selected as the site and the weekend of October 7 and 8 was selected for the date, as history had shown it had only rained twice in 50 years on that weekend. The Agricenter was also adjacent to the Duck’s Unlimited headquarters and some aspects of that property would fit with our project.
We still did not have a sponsor, but I signed the contracts to secure the site and I was now “all in” for sure as I did not want to lose everything if we failed.
The Agricenter was a unique property. The indoor set-up was difficult to utilize efficiently, but the outside had 300 full RV hook-ups, a wonderful pond and numerous large and small grassy areas where many events could be staged.
Title Sponsor named
In January of 1995, Kal-Kan Pedigree dog food company stepped up and agreed to become the first sponsor of our event. It was a big relief to all of us and a sign that we were on our way toward success.
A true dog community project
In our meetings and outreach, various groups started to come on board. One of particular significance was the Memphis and Shelby County Veterinary Association. This group, with no less than 50 local veterinarians and their clinics, committed to designing and staffing a “Noah’s Ark” exhibit in which they created a mini-hospital to share with the public information and demonstrations on various veterinary practices regarding surgery, dentistry, ultrasound, physical exams, laboratory practices, preventive medicine radiology/X-rays and all things veterinary related. The Ark would become a great success as the general public had a real opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at the veterinary profession and how they treat their dogs.
The Memphis Obedience Club under the direction of AKC judge Howard Gladstein stepped up and agreed to sponsor the obedience side of the project. They would host a limited obedience trial as well as do numerous demonstrations to introduce Obedience to the spectators.
The Greater Shelby Kennel Club—of which Carol, Sherry and I were charter members—was hesitant to join on as a sponsor and move their show to the event, but they did agree to hold sanctioned matches on the weekend to present the conformation side of the sport.
The American Kennel Club, The American Field, The Bird Dog Museum and the National Field Trial Championship all agreed to participate. They would not only have a booth, they would do bird dog demonstrations on the adjacent Duck’s Unlimited properties.
Agility and Lure coursing were not yet AKC events, but they were being held by other sanctioned organizations and they agreed to hold a full trial at the event.
Numerous groups agreed to do demonstrations during the event some of them were, Pointing dogs, Retrievers, search and rescue, Schutzhund, herding, Guide Dogs for the Blind, therapy, freestyle and dancing dogs, drug and law enforcement dogs, fox hunting, Beagle field trials, coon hounds and go to ground.
Many of those that attended the event can remember our herding demonstration person using his Border Collies to herd a group of sheep throughout the grounds during the event.
The stars came out
One member of our committee worked hard with a trainer in Hollywood to bring Gus, the white Siberian Husky from the film Iron Will, The St. Bernard from the film Beethoven and the Golden Retriever, Shadow, from the film The Incredible Journey to Memphis. She created a show using the dogs that was presented on stage several times a day to entertain the public. >
In conjunction with the film dogs, we began annual visits to the hospital itself to do the show for the children on the day before the event. At first, the dogs were not permitted inside the hospital because at that time the medical profession worried about possible infections and other risks to the patients, but over the years there were many visits by canine celebrities like “Air Bud” and other TV and film dogs. This would eventually lead to a canine therapy group being allowed into the hospital as well as Ronald McDonald and Target house to soothe and comfort the children. I am happy to say I think our visits were instrumental in the eventual acceptance of therapy dogs, not only at St. Jude, but also in many hospitals throughout the country.
One year the Golden Retriever, Buddy, from the Air Bud film performed and he had a very special impact on everyone as Bud himself was also undergoing cancer treatment at the time. Many patients that year were especially moved by their interaction with this very special canine.
We annually invited several elementary schools to participate in a St. Jude Showcase of Dogs art contest and these kids did a fantastic job with their art. The winning art used on the annual event T-Shirts. Also, all the submitted art was put on display for everyone to enjoy.
There was another special event we had that was open to all including the public. We called it “Super Dog” and it was a fun competition judged by local celebrities and others. At the first event, Jim Deringer from the AKC served as one of the judges. Super Dog was made up of events such as “Bag Your Dog”, a contest to see which dog would sit still the longest with a paper shopping bag on its head; “Get In the Car”, that determined which dog had the fastest time from the starting line to get in the adjacent car; “Call Your Dog”, where two owners would hide behind a structure and bet on who the dog would come in the fastest time; “The Maze”, where dogs were released into a maze and encouraged through it with the fastest time; “Dress Your Dog”, a race to a pile of human clothes where you would put a shirt and pants on your dog and run back to the finish line; “The Obstacle Course” for both people and their dogs—fastest time wins. There were other events as well. Each competitor earned points and the eventual winner was crowned “Super Dog.”
Kiddie fun zone
Since our event was about the children, we wanted to have an area where the kids could kick back and have fun. We talked about fair-type rides, but found the financial commitments and liabilities were highhigh. We decided instead on a kiddie fun zone where we had kids’ games and various inflatables along with a small-scale rideable train to entertain and amuse children with their parents.
Breed Booths and Seminars
I am not aware of any really large scale Meet the Breeds type of events in 1994, but we decided that we would invite every AKC parent club in the country to participate. We provided them with a free 10×10 pipe and draped booth to present their breed to the general public, and to also offer them the opportunity to present their breed to judges and exhibitors in the form of breed seminars that would be provided free of charge to potential judges considering judging their breed. This was at a time when there were very few seminars available in one place and way before the AKC institutes we have today.
That first event would feature over 60 individual breed seminars. AKC judges Gary Doerge and Carol Sommerfelt, as well as other members of the Mid-South judges group, served as the hosts for the seminars. Over the years, many of the icons of various breeds would come to Memphis to present their breed at seminars where, in most years, between 75-100 judges would attend
In that first year, we also had 59 individual breed booths and 24 all-breed and other organization groups participate in getting their information out to the general public.
Adopting a policy
There was no question that we were going outside the box when we decided to allow the general public to bring their dogs. This created many difficult issues with the AKC rules, but we felt it was important to let the public bring their dogs. We had a very strict policy that during the event no dogs could be sold, placed, adopted or traded. It was emphasized to all the breeds and other groups that if people were interested, they could follow up with them after the event was over.
Probably no single event or demonstration over the years was as popular as flyball. In the first year, we invited a group from Houston, Texas to come and do demonstrations and share their sport with the public. The general public fell in love with the sport. Starting in year two of the event it became an annual tournament and when our event ended its run in 2009, the largest flyball tournament in North America was being held at the Showcase.
When putting on an event of this size there are so many small details that require attention and hard work. We had to find food vendors, and we needed to find a variety of regular vendors to buy space. This gave us a chance to succeed and pay our bills. We also needed people in print advertising, TV, and radio to assist in the promotion of the event. We needed people to handle parking, ticket sales, set up and tear down, a convention supply company to provide pipe and drape for booths, AV equipment, tables, chairs, and many other items. We had to find catering companies to provide lunch for the workers and volunteers as well as security for the general public.
By May of 1995, we were only five months away from seeing our project on display. In May of that year, the Mayor of Memphis, The Shelby County Mayor, Executives from Pedigree and myself gathered on the steps of St. Jude Children’s research hospital for a press conference to announce the inaugural event to the general public. This was an important landmark in our success as it became an alliance between the dog people, the local government and St. Jude to present our sport of purebred dogs to the public. Over the following 15 years, that proved to be a great alliance as no dog legislation was put into effect in the city or the county.
There is no way an event like this takes place without volunteers. I estimate that annually we would have over 300 individuals volunteer in some way to make this show work. Many of our volunteers were not dog people, but rather people who volunteered to further the mission of St. Jude.
Many people volunteered for that first event who would continue to volunteer every year throughout our successful run. These people were so vital to our continuity and success and I will always be grateful for their contributions.
Starting from year one, Traci Mathews built a connection with a group of non-violent offenders to do their community service hours. Many of these individuals would often be the labor that helped us put up tents, cut grass, park cars, keep the area clean, staff numerous areas and do a lot to assist us. Jerry Pittman and I would start on the Monday before the event getting things set up and would be there on Monday after to put the Agricenter back the way it was.
Even after Carol and I relocated to Knoxville about 375 miles away in 2003, I would travel back for meetings as well as to spend the week of the event—from the Monday before to the Monday after—getting things done.
In the following years, the Greater Shelby Kennel Club would become the host club and started to hold their point show in conjunction with the event. Later, the Tupelo Kennel Club of Mississippi would also partner with us to make it a four-day weekend event. When hiring their judging panels both clubs allowed for many of the newer judges to participate by offering them the opportunity to judge their provisional breeds.
Tim James and the Onofrio organization became a vital partner for the shows and the event in general. Especially in helping us to deal with difficult moments in dealing with AKC rules and regulations. Because of the rules, any area hosting an AKC event had to be roped off with signage stating no unentered dogs were allowed past those signs into the areas where AKC designated events were being held. I can tell you from personal experience that most of the AKC people were understanding and helpful with the difficulties we faced. I will always be grateful to the late Dr. Robert Berndt, a special friend and the AKC Chairman of the board at the time, as well as the late Bill Bergum, also an AKC board member, for their support and guidance not only for the event, but in dealing with AKC aspects and conflicts as they arose. While most of the folks at the AKC were supportive and understanding, there were also a couple of individuals within the organization that at times made it very, very difficult to put on the event.
The Pay Off
From being told by many it could not be done, a tremendous group of volunteers and organizations worked together to make the initial show a success. Attendance that first year was estimated at over 25,000 people and, after all the bills were paid, the event was able to purchase a very special transport vehicle for The Children of St. Jude with a cost above $37,000. The publicity from the event was extremely positive and all involved decided to make it an annual event.
Over the years the event would add and subtract events and adjust to changes within the sport.
The event would also hold galas in conjunction with the event and would offer individuals in some cases an opportunity to visit the hospital. After visiting St. Jude some of those people were so moved that they made future bequests to the mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in their wills.
By the time our run ended in 2009, we had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for St. Jude. We had entertained several hundred thousand visitors to the event, contained anti-canine legislation while also introducing many new people to our sport and making a positive impact in
Did we make a difference?
From 1995 until 2009, we put on a very special show. It was an event that I truly believe made a positive difference in our world of dogs. Since that first show, AKC has added agility, herding, rally, and recognizes so many titles that were not available in 1995. We’ve seen the AKC build the AKC Championship Show in Orlando into an event that has incorporated a lot of what we did way back in 1995. We now see “Meet the Breeds” being held not only by AKC in New York and other areas, but that many local clubs are now incorporating it into their weekends.
We have all seen an increase in acknowledging our dogs as a vital part of society. There were two members of our Showcase committee that were in New York after 9/11 with their search and rescue group following the twin towers disaster. The Memphis area has created several therapy groups, some of the Kennel Clubs have added herding and other events by recruiting people that had been involved in the event.
Ending of an ERA
We all know that over time the dynamics within clubs and groups experience change. After my relocation to Knoxville, I started to see a change within some of the organizations that were a part of the event. Eventually, some people within the various organizations felt that the event was a burden to their group and started to have a very negative effect on the overall mission of the event. What followed was a very difficult time in the treatment of many of the volunteers that had contributed so much over the years.
All things in society eventually experience change. So, for a variety of reasons, the St. Jude Showcase of Dogs ended its run in 2009. I imagine if the time and effort I had put into the event through those years had been put into advancing my judging career I could be an all-breed judge today. Rather, I chose to pursue an idea. With the great help of so many people through the years, I believe we accomplished what we set out to do. That was to raise money for the kids at St. Jude and show the world the sport of dogs does indeed have a lot to offer.
All of us know, eventually, there is a beginning and an end to most things in life. The Showcase of Dogs taught me a great deal about myself, about other people, and most importantly, the value of volunteers and the ability to enjoy the experience of people working together outside of any personal agendas in order to achieve something for the greater good.
I would suggest that if you want to think outside the box—if you have an idea that you think has benefits—go for it.
I know I did, and I am a better man for it.