Let me start by saying that I'm exhausted! Working at a dog show is, if nothing else, somewhat of a marathon. But what a joyous exertion!
The kennel club that I belong to, Timberland Valley Dog Fanciers' Association in Chehalis, Washington, held its annual all-breed dog show this weekend. The show features conformation (where judges assess the extent to which dogs meet "the standard" which describes each breed's ideal form and qualities), obedience, and rally (sometimes referred to as 'obedience lite'). On another weekend in October, we offer an agility trial.
We had a lovely entry of nearly 1,600 dogs - we were fortunate that we did not see a lot of drop-off in our entries. Other clubs are not so fortunate, as costs for entry, travel and hotel are starting to weigh heavily on many exhibitors.
I love dog shows, because I love dogs. I'm in heaven on a weekend when I can hang out with over 100 different breeds of dogs, can socialize and love on puppies, and can learn about breeds' history, function and aptitudes from the breeders and owners who know them best.
Working at a show is very different than attending the show as an exhibitor. For one thing, it's a LOT more exercise. We started the weekend by moving our supplies from the storage unit to the fairground on Thursday afternoon. On Friday, club members and volunteers were on site all day (I snuck in really late because I was swamped in the morning with incoming rescue dogs), setting up the hospitality area, laying out a "rummage sale" of used equipment like crates and fencing and dog beds, and getting signage and rings up and prepared.
Saturday morning, the rings are ready for judging to begin by 8 AM, which means the hospitality and grounds crew gets in about 6 AM, and various others arrive usually about 7 AM. That's when I arrived, and from then until group competition and Best in Show was determined at 6:45 PM, I was on my feet and moving nearly all day. Sunday, we did it again - finally going home about 7 PM.
I'm know I'm beat - but I'm aware that others in the club are probably more tired - the hospitality chair immediately comes to mind, as she was on-site at 6 AM and probably shopping and organizing for a week before the event! A mother/daughter team manage the grooming areas, checking people in, patrolling and making sure the space is cleaned out. They have extremely long days and nights! Family members pitch in - the grandson of one of our members works - and brings friends to work - on parking, restocking supplies, set up and tear down. All in all, it's a huge group effort! And our club has a lot of members who do not, themselves, show their dogs. It's such a gift that they participate for this very long weekend to organize and pull off a show that they don't "benefit" from directly - the partnership and common purpose in the club is really fun!
We offered a "Dog Show Tour" for visitors each day - on Sunday, we had a group of six or so on. It's a lot of fun to offer - and a good reminder that, as in any hobby, much of the language and routines we take for granted are completely foreign to newcomers - and can leave them feeling a bit put off or rebuffed if we don't remember to slow down and explain things that were new to use just a few years ago.... Having a welcoming atmosphere in which folks can ask questions and get them answered is really important. I particularly appreciated exhibitors who were good sports about answering questions about their breeds and what they were doing in the grooming area and ringside!
I think one of the real gifts of working in a dog show is the opportunity to talk with judges about dogs. Conversation between exhibitors and judges is limited normally. In one's own breed, limiting this contact prevents the appearance of undue influence or relationship. And in other breeds, we often just don't know that many people, including judges.
In an all-breed show, it's possible for those working in the show to talk with judges casually in the lunch room, at dinner, and on breaks. Since we're not showing to those judges, it's possible to have real conversations, and listen to what they have to say about their dogs, and their lives in dogs....What a wealth of knowledge they represent! I learned about a "new to the US" breed from Hungary, the Pumi (related to, but different from, the Puli). I heard about the history of Saint Bernards and compared some thoughts on the differences between breeds here and in Europe.
This week, it's back to (my regular) work. And while I admit to being a bit relieved today that it will be another 360 days or so until I need to work that hard again, I know I'm also looking forward to next April, already.
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