Joining a Club to Give Back to the Sport

In an all-breed club, we have a common purpose, and that is to promote the sport of purebred dogs in our community and show the general public what is good about purebred dogs.

By Betty-Anne Stenmark | Posted: January 16, 2015 12 p.m. PST

Young Dog Exhibitor
Younger fanciers obviously have the time to exhibit at shows, but they aren't typically seen at club meetings or volunteering at shows. Why is that, and how can we change that?

I enjoy people and the camaraderie of an all-breed club. There isn’t the competition among members that exists in breed clubs. Most members have different breeds of dogs, and that provides an ongoing opportunity to learn about those breeds. In an all-breed club, we have a common purpose, and that is to promote the sport of purebred dogs in our community and show the general public what is good about purebred dogs. And we all join together to put on the very best dog show we can for the enjoyment of others. I have always been someone who enjoys all things d-o-g. They have defined my life, and I have had an endless fascination with dogs and dog shows. Lifelong friendships are made in this dog world, and without a doubt many become treasured members of an extended family.

Do you belong to an all-breed club? I actually belong to a couple of them. Two are all-breed clubs, the other my breed’s Parent Club. This month I’m going to talk about the all-breed club Del Valle.


How it Started and Why I Do It

I was young when I joined Del Valle. My late husband, Roy, and I tried to join two different all-breed clubs where we lived, but one was a closed club and the other a proprietary club. Roy judged an early Del Valle match, and I was his ring steward. We enjoyed ourselves and liked the club members, so when we were asked if we’d join the club, we said yes. Back then it was primarily an obedience club, and they were looking for help in conformation. That was 1977.

Fast-forward to 2014, and I just chaired the 67th and 68th Del Valle shows. Aside from conformation, we offer Agility, Obedience and Rally Trials. It is an enormous amount of work. From January until October, we each do our jobs to get ready for the shows, taking a much-deserved hiatus afterwards through to the new year.

I have given most of my adult life to this club. It was something Roy and I did together, providing endless conversation in our marriage. Even after he became ill, he could still be seen on his cart hooked up to oxygen driving about the showgrounds.

So what is it about people like Roy and me that drive us to volunteer countless hours to put on a show year after year? It isn’t that we had nothing else to do. Roy began judging in 1974, and I began in 1977. Roy owned his own business, and I worked full-time. I bred and showed dogs. I was involved in my Parent Club. I chaired four National Specialties. I co-founded a political organization that successfully fought the first animal rights-inspired anti-breeding legislation. We built a house.

"The "graying” of America has certainly become evident in the dog world ... when was the last time you met a young adult who was a working member of the show-giving club?"

Roy said he enjoyed the creative part of putting on a dog show. He was an engineer and a builder, and that spilled over to the dog show. He surveyed each area of lawn, and there were working drawings showing where the corners were for each ring. They showed the exact measurements of each area, where the trees were located, where to place the ring entrances. In the buildings there were tiny nails in the floors that marked the ring corners. The fairgrounds never knew they were there, and they’re still in place. When it was all set up, the tents in place, he used to marvel at the beauty of the show and bemoan the fact that exhibitors would soon come onto the grounds and ruin the beauty of it all.

Over the winter he’d make signs for the show — placement markers, ring numbers, no dogs beyond this point, no set-ups in this area — beautiful professional signs, many of which we are still using today.

For me I liked the personal challenge, figuring out what would work, learning what didn’t, always refining the details. What was it like to be an exhibitor at our show? How was it to unload, set up, groom and show a dog? And how could we build the entry? At our first licensed show in June 1981, we were limited to 1,000 dogs on a college campus but soon got access to the big showgrounds in the adjacent community when the club that "owned” those grounds folded. Back in those days, all club events had to be held in the club’s fixed territory, no exceptions! We invited breed clubs whose territory was the same as ours to join us, offering fully set-up rings and cooperation on judges. The first indication of success was in March 1983 when our entry mushroomed to 2,300. We were definitely on to something.


Where We Are Today

Times have changed from those heydays of dog shows, which I think crested around the year 2000. Today there are more and more clubs offering shows and fewer and fewer dogs entered at those shows. I think we’ll soon see some clubs going under, disappearing altogether. Venues are often expensive, the cost of doing business is expensive, and with a diminished entry comes diminished income.

Another area of equal concern to me as I fly around the country judging is that I see many shows run by only a handful of elderly people. I often hear the lament, "I don’t know how much longer I can do this,” from those tired members.

The "graying” of America has certainly become evident in the dog world. Look around you. Where are the younger people in the sport? Happily, there are still good-sized entries in Junior Showmanship competitions, and AKC has wisely lowered the age at which a child can compete. Many of the older accomplished Juniors are working for professional handlers part-time on weekends at the shows. I have to ask, what happens with those Juniors who age out? And when was the last time you met a young adult who was a working member of the show-giving club?

Some years ago we asked our Superintendent to pull the mailing list from the zip codes of exhibitors in our geographical area. We then sent an invitation to those exhibitors to come to a Del Valle club meeting, meet us, enjoy some food and drink, and hopefully entice a few of them to join our club. Eight people showed up, three expressed interest, two joined the club, and after a couple of years they were gone. What I thought was a brilliant idea unfortunately wasn’t.

I have grave concerns about the future of our sport. I don’t consider the animal rights movement to be our biggest threat; I think it’s the apathy of the younger generation, who are not willing to get involved past the casual pleasures of exhibiting a dog. Apparently, time can be found to exhibit at a show, but no time can be found to help put on a show.


Thoughts from the Younger Generation

I interviewed a couple of our younger Del Valle members about my concerns. What did they think the reason was that so few of the younger generation were joining an all-breed club and getting involved? And why did they get involved?

Ryan Horvath, age 35, grew up in the sport thanks to his mother and her love of breeding and showing Longhaired Dachshunds. At 15, Ryan stewarded at a local all-breed show. At 20, Ryan was Show Chairman and Secretary of his local Dachshund Club Specialty, doing all the AKC paperwork, putting together the Judge’s Book, and producing a premium list, judging program and catalog. When Ryan moved from the Midwest to San Francisco, he joined Skyline Dog Fanciers. Within a couple of years he was the Corresponding Secretary and soon was chairing the all-breed show. He has stepped back a bit now that he has a full-time job and a second job developing his own private practice. Still, he finds time to serve on the Board and work at the shows.

Ryan thinks that, in this busy world we live in, there are competing demands on young people and the rewards for hard work are perhaps more theoretical and long-term, which doesn’t appeal to the new or younger person looking for instant gratification.

Ryan also makes an important point we seniors in the dog world should think about. He says that there are plenty of people in dog clubs who have been doing the same job for a very long time and have formed their identity around their position. It is hard for some people to give up control, or when they do, they micromanage the task. He observes that the dog world is not an inviting space.

"I don't consider the animal rights movement to be our biggest threat; I think it's the apathy of the younger generation."

Recently on Facebook, there was a spirited conversation about this very point. Over and over again I heard from younger people who had joined an all-breed club and found they were not made welcome. Turf was jealously guarded, suggestions ignored, and there seemed little future for the newcomer. I urged those people to hang in there, stick with it, but if it was intolerable to look to a different club to join.

I think we all must be cognizant that when suggestions are made, we should welcome the input. And just because you’ve always done something a certain way does not mean there might not be a better way to handle a situation. Times change, and sometimes the new way might work better! And to the new members who presume they will be a Show Chairman in two or three years, I caution them that it’s best to learn all the jobs before looking for the top one. None of those jobs is easy. It’s all real work with no glamour, and we all pick up poop, so to speak. The reward is to know you are helping put on a quality event, and you can be proud to be a part of it.

Ryan goes on to say, "The amount of volunteer work that has to be put into a show, along with the limited support, makes putting on a show more of a social experiment on how far one can push a volunteer rather than a fun experience.” Most people are spending valuable vacation days to do this, and believe me, this is not anyone’s idea of a relaxing vacation.

I also spoke to Del Valle’s newest member, Remy Smith-Lewis, age 25. Remy surprised me when he told me that he hadn’t missed a Del Valle in 15 years, his first being in 1999. Last year in 2014 was his first year as a Del Valle club member. Remy has worked for local professional handlers while completing college, and he recently showed his own Portuguese Water Dog to Best of Winners at the 2014 National Specialty.

Remy told me that by joining Del Valle, it gave him an opportunity to give back to the sport of dogs for all that it has given to him. He believes that despite his own views on membership, most young people don’t share this sense of responsibility; they would much rather refine their skills as a handler and show dogs.

Remy also says that there is more to the sport than simply exhibiting. He is concerned about how few young people are becoming breeders. He hopes his peers soon realize that we need club members to hold the shows that we attend, and we also need breeders to breed the dogs we want to show. Remy believes there are many ways to give back to the sport, and working for a club is just one of them. He says, "We should ask ourselves where we can contribute rather than being selfish and just take from this amazing sport we all love and hold so dear to our hearts. We need to give back so that there is something for the next generation.” Wise words.

In recent years, Del Valle has joined forces with Skyline Dog Fanciers, and between the two clubs, we now have a willing crew of working members, and this year we got most of our work done in record time. It was uplifting; we had a lot of laughs, and while we were tired, it was a good tired. Both Del Valle and Skyline are open clubs and welcome all newcomers.

So if you don’t already belong to an all-breed dog club but attend dog shows weekend after weekend, it’s time you took stock of yourself and your place in this sport.


From the January 2015 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.


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Dawn   Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

2/5/2015 5:19:24 AM

When I was a Junior (*many years ago) the same all breed club I still belong to had enough juniors to have an affiliated "junior club" as well. Today, my 17 year old daughter is the only junior in the membership. Belonging to and working for the club has been a family experience starting with my parents and today there are 3 generations involved in the club. My daughter has served as chief ring steward for the past 2 years and has stewarded for 4 years. There are very few juniors involved in clubs these days. I would also agree to the fact that sometimes clubs become closed to new ideas and new people. At 46 years old, I am still a "young" person and many of the suggestions regarding doing things differently have been ignored despite the fact that we are the most active within the world of showing dogs and attending various shows throughout the country. I have coordinated a national specialty but, am still looked upon as "too young to know how to do things". It is difficult to encourage my children to be active and give back when there are so few people becoming active.

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KeKe   Sarsota, Florida

1/27/2015 5:12:49 PM

Fabulous article that is very accurate and , unfortunately, on the mark. As one of the ageing population I heartily agree and worry about the sport's future. Working every job there is for a show I know how difficult it can be. Been there--Done that. However, there seem to be less and less younger folks who have that kind of interest and dedication. Betty-Anne we are in a different world today and everyone wants instant gratification. No way are they going to work as you did and I really really compliment you on your success and accomplishments at Del Valle and dog legislation.( Also dear Roy).

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Tom   Swedesboro, New Jersey

1/27/2015 10:21:12 AM

I agree totally with Betty-Anne. Nearly two years ago, I had written to the AKC with my concern of the aging population and suggested that both Professional Handlers and Juniors should be required to be working members of an all-breed club in order to maintain their status. I never received a reply or even an acknowledgement that my suggest might be considered. Where will they earn their income (both the AKC and the Handlers) when the few working club members are gone? I recently heard that a club in Virginia would not be holding their 2015 show because of the age of their members, but hope to be back in 2016.

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