This week: Pine Bluff. Next week: Westminster.
So reads the itinerary of some of the top dogs in the nation as they put their best paws forward this weekend during the Southeast Arkansas Kennel Club Dog Show at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
“We’ve got people here from Texas, Illinois, Louisiana, California,” said Claire Peacock, a Southeast Arkansas Kennel Club Board member and one of the dog show’s coordinators. “You get points on how you’re ranked nationally, and there are a lot of these dogs here that want to go into Westminster [at Madison Square Garden in New York City] with a recent win in Best in Show or Best in Class to their name.”
The two-day Southeast Arkansas dog show began Saturday and will continue at 9 a.m. Sunday, wrapping up with the Best in Show competition at about 4 p.m., or possibly earlier, depending on how quickly the earlier competitions go. Events are open to the public. Entry is $5 for adults.
In addition to the conformation competitions, there are also obedience trials and many vendors selling all kinds of dog products and other goodies.
More than 800 dogs are registered to participate, a number Peacock said was down slightly from the draw the event used to have before the recession. However, the event is still drawing larger crowds than some elsewhere in the country, and Peacock attributed part of that to the facilities.
Many of the dog owners stay in the Ramada Inn & Suites adjoining the Convention Center. Others pull up recreational vehicles in the parking lot. The facilities are indoors, air-conditioned and have plenty of room for all the dog coat, trimming, fluffing and curling that goes on to ready them for the spotlight.
“When you tell people you’re from the Southeast Arkansas Kennel club, they say, ‘Oh, I love your show building,’ and that’s something people in Pine Bluff take for granted,” Peacock said.
Jeanie Calhoun of Little Rock agreed, calling the event a “well put on show.”
Calhoun and her 8-year-old female Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Scarlett had just won a title in the Novice A obedience trials. It was Calhoun and Scarlett’s second time to compete in Pine Bluff.
“It’s a team job. We have a good time together … It’s fun to show, because then you get a benchmark of where you are with your training,” Calhoun said.
Scarlett watched Calhoun with big eyes and wagging tail — anticipating her treat for winning — as Calhoun explained that they have been training since 2005, originally because Scarlett serves as a therapy dog at hospitals and hospice. As a therapy dog, she must be well trained to be obedient and well behaved in crowded, sometimes hectic environments and around new people.
And in addition to the practical side, there’s the fun side. Scarlett occasionally shows off what she’s learned for the patients.
“And they always say, ‘Oh my, how do you do that?’” Calhoun said. “It’s hard work, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Peacock said dog shows attract all kinds of different people: from the super-committed who earn their living off breeding and showing dogs to the more casual participant.
“Dog showing is something you can participate in at whatever level you want,” Peacock said, describing it as a great activity for families and has the potential to take participants all over the world.
Convention Center Director Bob Purvis said that the dog show participants are a great group of people.
“It’s been a great show,” Purvis said. “Everything has been easy to deal with. Everybody brings their own materials.”
With all of the participants who eat in area restaurants and stay in local hotels, Purvis estimated the event brings in a couple hundred thousand dollars in tourism dollars to the city.
The Convention Center has been hosting the event for more than 15 years, Purvis said.