A Great End to a Challenging Year

human and dog shaking hand to represent A Great End to a Challenging 2022 Year in dog show community

The year 2022 was difficult for many people. World events had a profound effect on our sport as high inflation created a huge increase in the cost of gasoline. Likewise, the cost of dog food, hotel rooms, entry fees, and so many other things put a huge burden on the finances of our many breeders, exhibitors, and handlers. The entries at many shows continue to decline while it seems the number of shows themselves continues to rise.

In 2022, we had numerous marriages within the fancy along with wonderful additions to many families with the birth of their children—our Junior Handlers of the future. As a parent, I know there is no greater joy than bringing a new child into the world and watching them grow and prosper in life. And, while birth brings us great joy, death brings us great sorrow. This past year saw us lose so many people with hundreds of years of experience in our sport as judges, breeders, exhibitors, handlers, and most of all, friends. Although we all know that birth and death are just parts of the circle of life, it is nevertheless difficult when we lose those friends and mentors that we have come to cherish.

On a brighter note, the Performance side of our sport continues to prosper, and many more people have become involved in those areas of competition that put titles on the back end of the dog’s registered name than ever before.

Having just returned from this year’s Orlando Cluster that precedes the AKC Championship National Championship Presented by Royal Canin, I am encouraged by so many things in our sport.

There is no question that, for most of us, when it comes to dog shows in our country, Orlando and Westminster move to the front of the line along with the National Specialty. Westminster is chock full of history, tradition, and pageantry. It is also probably the most well-known dog show on planet earth. For those of us in the fancy, both old and new, a win or a judging assignment at “The Garden” is what dreams and memories are made of.

However, since the permanent relocation of the AKC National Championship to Orlando, Florida, this show and the preceding cluster of shows and specialties have also become the “must attend,” “bucket list” events for many.

While both events are of the highest quality, they are uniquely different. Westminster is, unfortunately, limited to 2,500 dogs while the Orlando cluster had entries exceeding 5,000 dogs, which allows for twice as many high-quality dogs to compete. I was surprised to hear that there was a limit of 5,000 placed on the Orlando Cluster, as they clearly could have handled additional entries.

The members of the Space Coast, Brevard, and Central Florida clubs work hard all year to make this cluster great. Large, spacious, carpeted rings, great lighting, and a huge amount of space to avoid crowding near the rings make these shows an exhibitor’s dream.

For judges it is an exceptional honor to have high-quality dogs in every breed, as the top dogs from all over the country converge to take on all comers for a very special award. In our sport today, it is very rare to see top dogs come from other areas to compete head-to-head. But in Orlando, the specials classes were jam-packed and all of the judges talked about was how refreshing it was to have so many choices in every breed.

It should also be mentioned that the “Owner Handled” exhibits were outstanding and many of the “owner handlers” dispelled the myth that only the professionals win, as many were not only NOHS Best of Breed winners but also the outright winners in their breed. Having had the privilege to judge one of the regular as well as Owner-Handled Groups during the week, I can tell you there was no drop-off in quality in either, as they all were exceptional and very competitive.

The passion and love that most people share for their breeds and our sport were on display everywhere you looked. The fact that people from all over our country came to compete, observe, and just visit each other is special. The opportunity to visit with and discuss various topics with our friends, fellow breeders, judges, and exhibitors is a bonus to the activities of the week.

In Orlando, there is something for everyone: competition in Conformation and Performance events, shopping, seminars, mentoring opportunities, and just watching and taking it all in. Plus, Orlando has the added opportunities to enjoy the many theme parks, restaurants, and other attractions that the good December weather in Florida provides.

The AKC National Championship and the three clubs that complement it have made Orlando the place to be for all dog-crazy people to end the year. A huge “Thank You” to all of those who work so hard to pull it all together and make it run like a well-oiled machine.

  • 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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