A ‘Novel’ Look at Our Wonderful World

A 'Novel' Look at Our Wonderful World

A long time ago, back in my high school days, several novels were required reading. One of those novels was Charles Dickens’ best-known work of historical fiction, A Tale of Two Cities. The novel was published in 1859 and the story is set against the various conditions that led up to the French Revolution and the so-called Reign of Terror.

A Tale of Two Cities is believed to be one of the best-selling novels of all time. Through the years, this great work has been adapted for film, radio, television, and the stage. The novel, though written 164 years ago, continues to influence popular culture.

The novel opens with a sentence that has become famous: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way-in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for degree of comparison only.” 1 Hard to believe that this was written in 1859. It could have been written last week when you think of the state of our world today.

I believe this is especially true in our wonderful world of the sport of purebred dogs. When I started this lifelong journey, there were just a few opportunities for competition within our sport. We had Conformation, Obedience, and Field Trials in which to compete. There were far fewer opportunities as shows were one-day events, usually with two clubs combining in a general area to provide a Saturday and Sunday show. There were very few “professional handlers” and most dogs were exhibited by the owners and/or breeders of the dogs. Some old-timers still refer to those days as the “golden age.” This was before long circuits, complete with hundreds of RVs and numerous professional handlers, and the opportunity to show at over 200 shows per year like we have today.

Shows in those days rarely had under 1,000 entries, and certain well-known shows would often reach the 2,500-3,500 number of dogs entered. The competition was keen and most people stayed in their general area. Owning a Champion and earning a Championship on a purebred AKC dog was considered a big deal. AKC-registered dogs were held in higher esteem than they are today, and the “designer dogs” of our current society were just simply called “mutts.”

But, as with all things in life, things change. We no longer have the large kennels that once existed, and today, many exhibitors are limited by local laws and ordinances as to the number of dogs they are allowed to have on their premises.

Technology has, on the other hand, brought about many new tools to assist breeders in their quest to make improvements in their breeding programs as they search to produce the ideal specimen as described in the Standard for the breed.

At the same time, breeders also now have the opportunity to introduce their puppy buyers to many new and exciting venues in which they can compete with their new family members. Today, it is truly a great time to be interested in our sport. Exhibitors are no longer limited in the number of venues in which they can compete for one of those “prestigious” AKC titles.

Today, it is truly a great time to be interested in our sport. Exhibitors are no longer limited in the number of venues in which they can compete for one of those “prestigious” AKC titles.

Looking at the AKC website, I found that today’s exhibitors have over 400 various titles available to achieve. The AKC itself governs at least 20 separate types of sports titling events. Along with the traditional Conformation, Obedience, and Field Trials of yesteryear, which themselves have expanded the number of titles available to earn, we have CGC (3), Coonhound Events (17), Coursing Ability Tests (3), Earthdog (5), Farm Dog (1), Fast CAT (3), Herding (44), Hunting Tests (17), Lure Coursing (6), Rally (8), Scent Work (52), Search and Rescue (4), Therapy (6), Tracking (5), Trick Dog (5), and derivative (Multi-Sports) titles. Some of these titles also have higher levels of achievement, like MACH 1, MACH 2, and so on.

The AKC also recognizes titles won in other sports not under the direct control of the AKC. These include NAFA (Flyball), Barn Hunt Association, NADD (Dock Diving), UP DOG (Disc), Working Dog titles (Various Breeds), Carting and Drafting, and Parent Club titles.

As you can see, the average dog owner today has the option to do so many wonderful things with their family pet that they can be involved in our great world for many years. It is also amazing how many people start in one arena and then migrate to one of the others. In some cases, people who were never interested in the Conformation side of things have become interested in it as they decide to join the ranks of responsible breeders and see the need for breeding healthy, happy, and sound representatives of their breed.

The only negative I see in these events is that the AKC has not had the wisdom to restrict the number of exhibits a person can compete with in the “All-American” classification. In my humble opinion, the original mission of the AKC was the promotion and preservation of purebred dogs, and while I see the advantage of allowing the All-American to compete in Performance Events, thereby introducing people to our sport, the ultimate goal should be for them to become owners of a purebred AKC dog at some point. Why not make it like Novice A & B where, after you have achieved a title with your All-American exhibit, the next one (or maybe after two) you must have a purebred to continue to compete in AKC events.

Looking back at Dickens’ opening sentence, it appears we still have “that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for degree of comparison only.” Our sport has always been full of critics. Authority figures try to dominate our perceptions and ways of thinking. We also have so many newcomers who simply want to learn and enjoy a form of competition with their best friend. Everyone should acknowledge and encourage participants, for without competition there would be no sport.

No matter what your area of interest, we are fortunate to have so many options available to us. I do not think there is anything better than looking into the face of an excited exhibitor at any event when they have achieved their personal goal with their best friend.

The bond between man and his most faithful companion has been well-documented throughout history. Setting a goal and achieving it with that companion is priceless.

The next time you attend an event where there are multiple forms of competition available, take some time to visit and observe them. You might be surprised and even find yourself interested in trying one of them out yourself. The possibilities are endless. And if that pup you thought was a “show prospect” doesn’t work out in the Conformation ring, instead of giving up and feeling bad, find another venue where you both can succeed.

So, make it the “Best of Times” and persevere in our wonderful world of purebred dogs.




1. Dickens, Charles (1859). A Tale of Two Cities, Book 1, Chapter 1

A ‘Novel’ look at our wonderful world of dogs

  • Walter Sommerfelt of Lenoir City, TN has been involved in the sport of purebred dogs since acquiring his first Old English Sheepdog in 1972. He is a former professional handler as well as a breeder, and exhibitor of breeds in all seven groups, most notably Vizslas, OES, Pointers, Bearded Collies and Weimaraners. Judging since 1985 he is approved for All Sporting, Working, and Herding breeds and groups, Junior Showmanship and Best in Show and has had the honor of judging on four different continents. Mr. Sommerfelt has judged many of the most prestigious shows in the United States including the herding group at the 2014 Westminster Dog Show in New York City where he has judged on three separate occasions. Mr. Sommerfelt was the founder and chairman for the St. Jude Showcase of Dogs from 1993 until 2009, a unique event showcasing the world of purebred dogs. This special event was the largest collection of various dog events in one location, featuring an AKC all Breed Dog Show, AKC Obedience and Rally Trials, AKC Agility trials, (prior to AKC adding agility NADAC trials ) One of the largest Fly ball tournaments in the U.S.A., Herding and go to ground demonstrations, A main stage featuring performances by Canines from Television and the Movies, Freestyle, Demos by drug and various therapy dogs, A full room of booths for meet the breeds, over 50 AKC judges seminars annually, Lure coursing, A fun Zone for Children, and other dog related fun activities for the general public and their dogs. Over the years the event not only raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the world-renowned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, but also raised awareness of the many activities for people with their dogs as well establishing a voice for dog people in the Memphis area with regard to legislation. Many aspects of today’s AKC Royal Canin show can be traced back to the St. Jude event. Along with Carol his wife of 36 years they have bred well over 90 AKC Champions including Group, Best in Show and Specialty Winners, dual Champions and multiple performance titled dogs. During the past 40 years Mr. Sommerfelt has been active in a number of dog clubs and is currently the President of the Tennessee Valley Kennel Club. He is recipient of the AKC outstanding Sportsmanship Award and is also a career agent and financial planning specialist with Nationwide Insurance. The Sommerfelts’ have two grown children, both former Junior Handlers and they are still active breeders and exhibitors of the Vizsla breed.

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