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Facing COVID-19, cancellations, and a torrential rainstorm, two Washington state all-breed clubs more than 200 miles apart worked together to put on a safe, five-day cluster.

In 1995, the Seattle Mariners fashioned an incredible late-season run that catapulted them into the American League playoffs. In the process came the slogan, Refuse to Lose!

On August 24, 1995, the M’s were 11½ games behind the California Angels. But what followed bordered on unbelievable. They won 24 of their final 36 games, tying the Angels in the final standings and then defeated them in a memorable one-game playoff, propelling them on to the playoffs for the first time against the New York Yankees.

They would simply not take no for an answer. Don’t tell them they could not rally in the bottom of the ninth and pull out another win. They would prove you wrong.

Fast forward to 2020 when a group of Pacific Northwest dog fanciers would not accept no, either. We all know what a trying year it has been for the conformation community (and all dog sports) that is eagerly searching for events at which to get back in the ring.

The Initial Postponement

The Olympic Kennel Club’s eagerly awaited August cluster in Enumclaw, Washington, is one of the largest in the country, serving up a potpourri of events from conformation to barn hunt and dock diving. In other words, there’s something for everyone.

But COVID appeared to take the blue ribbon in late July.

Chris Lyden, show chair, wrote on the club’s website July 21:

“I would like to thank all of you for your patience and support in our efforts to host the 2020 show. I think it is important that you understand we held out hope and modified show plans so we potentially could host a fun and SAFE show. Yesterday, on a phone conversation with the (Enumclaw) Expo Center, it became apparent that we had the full support of all the necessary parties of Enumclaw . . .  to move forward hosting the show.

“Everyone felt that OKC and the Expo Center had presented a solid and safe plan to maintain the safety and well-being of our exhibitors, judges, volunteers, club members and staff. The ‘closed’ show with modified procedures and layout plans as well as spacious campsites, were all part of the planning process. All indoor activities were moved to outdoor locations and limited people with proper protocol would have been allowed in show rings and adjacent areas.

“The governor’s guidelines were in place as plans progressed and phases changed. Even with all the safety measures in place and the guidelines followed, there are state agencies that could potentially shut the event down if they felt the show was a health and safety risk. Because of this, it is in the best interest of all involved to postpone our show until 2021.”

Lyden, in his second year as show chair, said the club received messages from “a number of people within the dog-show world and it seemed as though they were going to make this as difficult as possible.”

Show superintendent (BaRay Event Services) Becky Sumner and Olympic Kennel Club show chairman Chris Lyden tour the grounds in Enumclaw, Washington, during the club’s joint cluster with the Walla Walla Kennel Club September 23-27. Photo courtesy Randy Roberts.

Joining Forces

On Monday, August 10 when the set-up would have begun for the cluster, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that in the COVID phase of re-opening the county, outdoor agricultural events (which include dog shows) were allowed under specific guidelines. Those ground rules were nearly identical to the procedures originally penned.

“We were later informed by the COVID-19 task force that his decision was partially swayed by the dog community which was pushing for the shows to be allowed,” adds Lyden.

Later that week Lyden received a phone call from BaRay Event Services, the show superintendent, that a four-day cluster in Southeastern Washington had been canceled because the county was not in the COVID recovery phase allowing such an event.

BaRay’s Sheila Raymond and Becky Sumner suggested Lyden contact professional all-breed handler Luke Baggenstos, of Kent, Washington, as he had seen how handlers stepped to the plate and helped clubs elsewhere resurrect shows this year.

On August 11, en route home from a Midwest cluster, Baggenstos reached out to BaRay about “getting something going. I had seen what other shows had done and knew the Northwest was capable. I was on my phone my whole drive back talking to different clubs, supers, and other handlers to see who would be willing to get us back in the swing of things,” he recalls.

And with flexing tempo and dynamics, things began to pop!

Otterhounds, originally bred to hunt otters in England, are today one of the rarest dog breeds. The number of Otterhounds in the world is lower than that of many endangered species.

200 Miles, Five Days of Shows

With another baseball metaphor, Lyden, Baggenstos, BaRay and Stacey Davis (Tri-Cities Cluster chair) hit a grand slam when it was quickly agreed upon August 11 to host a cluster in Enumclaw September 23-27. Next, Lyden contacted Glenn Lycan, AKC director event operations support, to determine if the Olympic Kennel Club could be granted a third show. And it was.

Another key player who stepped to the plate was Rene Popke, Enumclaw Expo Center general manager, who assisted the clubs in complying with all COVID-19 requirements and interfacing with key city departments. “She was crucial in enabling us to move forward,” says Lyden.

Because of the distance and short time frame, all communication was done via phone, e-mail, and Zoom.

But as anyone who has been involved in hosting a cluster knows, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Challenges aplenty loomed ahead requiring nimble teamwork: establishing an entry deadline, lining up judges, contacting equipment suppliers, printing ribbons, designating handler parking and space assignments, etc.

The two clubs were able to contact judges and pull a panel together for five all-breed shows in 36 hours. AKC immediately approved the panels.

Imagine, putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle within a day. This Herculean feat rivals that.

Stacey Davis, Walla Walla Kennel Club show chairman, left, goes over entries in the catalog with Sumner during the five-day cluster. Photo courtesy Randy Roberts.

Smiling Behind The Mask

And, as luck would have it, the non-spectator, non-vendor show was held in torrential rain/wind storms that blew down tents and challenged everyone’s resolve.

Yet, Lyden concludes, “I only heard thank-yous and appreciations from everyone. People were just needing some way to feel normal. On the final day the sun came out, and even though you couldn’t see anyone’s mouth behind the mask, his/her eyes revealed a smile!”

Liz Swearingen, OKC president, concurs, “It never ceased to amaze me at the number of people who stopped me just to say thank you for the show and all we had done to make it happen. This was a labor of love for all those involved, love for the dogs, and love for the exhibitors and handlers.”

Davis adds, “Pulling this together was an amazing accomplishment in a trying year. It truly took a village.”

And a refreshing Refuse to Lose attitude.

Related article: How Will Dog Shows Change as We Hit the Reset Button?
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