I recently participated in my local all-breed kennel club’s annual show weekend. As always, it was a friendly, laid-back event, less than 1,000 dogs — although the entry was up by 150 this year — and the shows drew some nationally ranked Top 10 canines from many far-flung states. I made myself useful stewarding each afternoon for the seven groups, Best in Show, and National Owner-Handled Series Best in Show. I also did some TV interviews for the local news media, explaining the purpose of a dog show and why it is a great place for dog lovers to spend the day and find the right breed for themselves.
Because the club’s membership includes many sighthound enthusiasts, lure coursing and Coursing Ability Tests (CAT) are offered, in addition to conformation, which gives the public an opportunity to see how versatile our purebreds are. It also allows them to see a less formal side of the purebred world, as some of our most successful breeder-exhibitors trade in their neckties and power suits for jeans and T-shirts to course their talented hounds.
Over the years, this club, like many others around the country, has been approached to partner in a cluster. It would, no doubt, substantially increase the entry, attract more professional handlers, and probably raise the club’s national profile. Yet, for a variety of reasons, many smaller clubs decline the offer, seeing great value in putting on a successful event that serves the community at the grassroots level — attracting busloads of schoolchildren, dog lovers from neighboring towns, and the local media. Staying small also offers many opportunities for dog show enthusiasts.
Opportunities for Members
Many prestigious kennel clubs around the country maintain a rather elitist attitude as to who may or may not join their organization. It’s a case of “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” It also appears to have become fashionable for some clubs to invite VIPs from around the country to join as honorary members, presumably to ramp up the glam factor. Chic catered dinners are held, and the obligatory party pictures taken and posted on social media and in the glossy dog press. Unfortunately, it means that many breeder-exhibitors in those communities — potential workers and volunteers — must go farther afield to find a more welcoming kennel club that will have them. Smart, smaller clubs will always roll out the red carpet for new members and happily give them a job to do. Whether it’s selling catalogs, cooking breakfast, or chauffeuring judges to and from the airport, volunteers are appreciated and made to feel wanted.
Opportunities for Stewards
More experienced members who might wish to try stewarding are not always given the opportunity at big, “important” shows. Because entries in the thousands demand hour-by-hour precision in scheduling, it can feel daunting to new stewards, so these clubs tend to hire a stewards’ association. Again, some clubs enjoy the prestige of having judges serve as their stewards; they get efficiency, plus bragging rights. Smaller clubs may need to spend their modest budgets elsewhere, so members with a desire to steward are encouraged. Often, a stewarding workshop is held in the weeks prior to the show to educate newbies.
Opportunities for Judges
While most exhibitors welcome the fresh eye that permit judges bring to their breeds, the big clubs often have their judging panels locked down several years in advance, with little flexibility built in. Smaller clubs typically put together their panels from year-to-year, and happily make use of permit judges who will accept an assignment for $4-a-dog, lunch, parking, and perhaps one night’s hotel stay. It’s definitely a win-win situation for all.
Well-meaning judges and handlers who suggest to the show chairman of a smaller club that their entries would surely double if they joined forces with two other clubs to build a cluster, should remember that many clubs have already given the matter much thought, before ultimately deciding that keeping their show small and local works best for them. Not every dog show needs to be a weeklong, televised extravaganza, complete with live-streaming on Facebook. In the movie industry, there are “Star Wars”-type blockbusters, as well as beautifully crafted little indie films. There is an audience for both, and a lot of moviegoers don’t want a steady diet of one or the other. In the dog show world, we have our blockbusters, too, but also our highly valued smaller, quality shows that serve their communities well.
Allan Reznik has been an Afghan Hound fancier since the early 1970s and also owns and exhibits Tibetan Spaniels. He is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster, who has served as editor-in-chief of several national dog publications. He appears regularly on radio and TV discussing all aspects of responsible animal ownership. Allan is an AKC permit judge of Afghan Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Tibetan Spaniels.