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Community Connections: Dog Show Tours Bring Local Students & Dog Clubs Together

The 2024 senior class of the Advanced Career Education (ACE) Center at Hermitage gathers together for a photo at the Langley Kennel Club all-breed dog show. Karen Bickett, sitting with sign; Nancy Fisk, kneeling with Akita. Photo by Bryan McNabb.


Community Connections

Dog Show Tours Bring Local Students & Dog Clubs Together

The American Kennel Club encourages all-breed dog clubs to become actively involved in their local communities. By connecting with civic and business leaders, government officials, police departments, youth groups, and area schools, clubs and their members can develop the kinds of strong relationships that promote responsible dog ownership while improving the public’s perception of purebred dogs. These exchanges can even encourage community members to become involved in club activities, from finding puppies from reputable breeders to attending training classes and “fun” events—even becoming club members themselves. The possibilities for connecting with people in the community are many, and they all begin with some form of community outreach.

Nancy Fisk has been reaching out to her local community for more than 40 years. A breeder of top-winning Akitas, Nancy has been the AKC Delegate for the Hockamock Kennel Club in Massachusetts for 23 years and currently chairs the AKC Board-appointed Junior Task Force as well as the Delegate’s Legislative Caucus and the Delegate’s All-Breed Clubs Committee. Building connections and fostering relationships is what Nancy does. So, when she relocated to Virginia following her husband’s passing, Nancy joined the Langley Kennel Club and the Gloucester Kennel Club of Virginia, Inc., where she teaches show handling classes and is particularly supportive of the local Juniors. Working with youngsters is something that Nancy feels is especially important for clubs today. “We reach out to different school systems and other youth groups,” she shares with encouragement. “We also make sure we publish in local newspapers that Dog Show Tours are available.”

It is through a request for a Dog Show Tour that Nancy was introduced to Karen Bickett of the Advanced Career Education (ACE) Center at Hermitage in Henrico County, Virginia. Karen is head of the school’s Veterinary Science program and she wanted to bring her students to a dog show so that they could meet many of the breeds they’d been studying. “I love teaching about the breeds, but you can only show so much with slides,” Karen confides. “I contacted Nancy and she said, ‘Yes, please come! They were really excited to have us.” Karen’s students are juniors and seniors with a keen interest in pursuing a career working with animals. They come from nine area high schools to attend classes on alternating days, acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to be hired as veterinary assistants, vet techs, trainers, and groomers. Some of the students who visited the Langley shows earlier this year are even interested in learning how to show dogs professionally. “What better place to learn about dogs than at a dog show?” Karen offers.

Karen was already familiar with dog shows before she started bringing her students along for a tour. “I have a friend who’s a vet tech who shows dogs,” she says. “I started taking my middle school students to the dog shows and thought it was a really cool experience.” That was about four ago and Karen has been coming back every year since, visiting the Richmond Dog Fanciers Club, Inc., as well as the Langley and Gloucester KC shows. “After I took my first middle school class to the dog show, I dragged husband to the show the very next day,” Karen confides with a laugh. “We were looking at what kind of dog we wanted and spoke with a couple ladies who had PBGVs.” When the couple’s Beagle passed away, they located a woman in New Jersey who had an older female looking for a home. Macy ultimately joined the family as their perfect PBGV.

Nancy says she enjoys giving Dog Show Tours just as much as Karen and the ACE students appreciate the clubs hosting them. “It’s really fun to do,” Nancy says. “I reach out to handlers beforehand and they are always eager to help. The handlers who volunteer with the tours genuinely want to help educate the students about AKC purebred dog shows and preservation breeders.” Nancy says she’s looking forward to giving another student tour this summer and she’s planning to speak at the school in June to talk about handling dogs as a career. “I’ll be bringing brochures from the AKC Registered Handlers Program (RHP) and a local professional handler has also been invited to speak to the students,” she shares. “Although seeing dogs being cared for, shown, and loved appears to be fun, handling dogs professionally is a serious career choice and isn’t for everyone.”

The ACE students and their teacher are appreciative of the warm welcome they’ve been receiving from local dog club members and the dog show community in general. “We enjoy seeing the behind-the-scenes stuff,” Karen says. “It’s super-exciting.” That excitement translates to the enthusiasm her students feel for their future career opportunities. “Many go on to do different things,” she offers. “One former student owns a dog obedience school. Others are zookeepers and wildlife biologists.” Karen is genuinely proud of her students’ accomplishments as well as the school’s career-driven program and its excellent reputation. “At ACE, we prep students for careers,” she affirms. “I connect students with employers like doggy daycare and boarding facilities. That way, they can make a decision ahead of time… ‘Do I want to pursue this as a career?’”

For her part, Nancy is committed to reaching out to her local community in any way she can. “On Wednesdays, I go into an elementary school and read to second-graders,” she shares. “Ninety percent of the books they want me to read are dog-related books. One of the kids’ favorites is If I Ran the Dog Show: All About Dogs. It’s amazing how you can encourage enthusiasm in kids who are already interested in dogs,” Nancy emphasizes. “There are so many things we can do. Clubs need to be active. We can get out into the community to educate, other than just at our shows. We can get AKC’s The Dog Listener video into schools, libraries, and other places where kids gather, bringing local families positive dog-related information from club members/experts.”

Dog Show Tours are just one way that dog clubs can become more actively involved with their local communities. By getting out into the community and inviting people to attend events, all-breed clubs and their members can introduce more people to the sport and to the many ways in which purebred dogs enrich our lives. As Karen from ACE admits, “It’s a win-win, for sure.”