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AKC Gazette breed column, Vizslas: It’s thanks to the people who step up and volunteer their time that we’re able to participate in dog events and enjoy the many other benefits that clubs provide.

Do you and your dogs enjoy shows, field trials, hunt tests, obedience trials, rally trials, agility trials, versatility tests, or other canine events? Do you participate in club activities such as training days, educational programs, or banquets? Or maybe you have a beloved rescued dog who came into your life with the help of a breed club. If any of these apply, you have benefited from the efforts of club volunteers and committees.

Events and other activities don’t run themselves. Club members who volunteer their time are the ones who make it happen, and they deserve to hear words of appreciation and support a lot more often than they do.

Some volunteer roles are more demanding than others. A few involve restrictions on competing, and in many other cases the necessary time commitment may interfere with training and competing. We shouldn’t expect anyone to make this kind of sacrifice all the time. If you regularly participate in events, taking your turn in a volunteer role is an important part of the sport. If you don’t help out at some point, are you being fair to those who do?

In addition to events, other club activities also require volunteer efforts. Rescue committees put in countless hours (not to mention the commitment of heart and soul) to match dogs with the right owners and to address issues of health and behavior. Education, fundraising, breeder referral, and other club functions also need people to step up and say, “Yes, I’ll do that.”

Having committees to address specific projects or areas of focus is usually the key to getting things done. Under most clubs’ bylaws, committees report to the board of directors, and this relationship is critically important. Committees must function with transparency and good communication, and this is a two-way street; without mutual respect between the committee and the board, things can go wrong in all kinds of ways. A committee’s responsibilities may involve considerable sums of money, compliance with rules and regulations, and attention to significant safety issues. A solid relationship of trust and clear communication helps ensure that problems are solved and successes continue. Maintaining good communication with the board is one of the most important duties of a committee chair. When a club’s board is supportive of the efforts of club committees, members are more likely to volunteer for these tasks.

Occasionally a situation arises where there is a disagreement between a committee and the board. In an atmosphere of mutual support, problems and disagreements can be resolved in an open and respectful way. On the other hand, if the board asks a committee to do a job and then criticizes or overturns the committee’s work, it’s a pretty sure way to stop people from volunteering in that role. It’s a lot like calling a dog to you and then punishing him: Both the dog and the person are likely to think twice before getting into that situation again.

Volunteers are human, and things don’t always go perfectly. If something goes wrong, instead of whining we should be asking, “What can I do to help?” If you think an event could be run better, that’s a good reason for you to sign up for that committee for the future.

And always, always … we should all remember to say a sincere thank-you to those who step up to take on the responsibilities and get the work done.

Beth Nash,

Further information about Vizslas can be found here and here.

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