Philly Firsts | Philadelphia Is a Great Place to Get Started in Dogs

Philadelphia Dog Show history


Philly Firsts – Philadelphia Is a Great Place to Get Started in Dogs

Philadelphia has always been a place for beginnings. The present-day city was part of Lenapehoking when Dutch, Swedish, and English colonists established forts along the banks of the Delaware River in the early 17th century. It’s where William Penn founded his colony for religious tolerance and it’s where the Founding Fathers met to create the world’s first modern democracy. The list of Philly Firsts is extensive and includes everything from the nation’s first hospital, library, and public school to its first insurance company and zoological garden. The City of Brotherly Love also hosted America’s first World’s Fair, and it was at this inaugural exposition that Penn’s “greene country towne” hosted the first exhibition of purebred dogs for the benefit of the general public.

12 Visionary Men

In his preface to The American Kennel Club 1884-1984, A Source Book, then AKC Executive Vice President Charles A. T. O’Neill refers to the early beginnings of a purebred dog “Club of Clubs” in the United States. “On a warm late-summer day, September 17, 1874, a group of 12 dedicated sportsmen, responding to a ‘meeting call’ from Messrs. J. M. Taylor and Elliot Smith, met in the rooms of the Philadelphia Kennel Club, at the northeast corner of 13th and Market streets, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” notes the author. “Each member of the group was a representative or ‘delegate’ from a dog club. Each of those clubs had, in the recent past, held a benched dog show or had run field trials… the brave souls who responded to Messrs.

Taylor and Smith’s meeting call did so because they shared a common concern for the sport.” Among the delegates in attendance that afternoon were gentlemen representing clubs in Chicago, Boston, Louisville, St. Louis, and New York. That first meeting in Philadelphia officially organized the sport of dogs in America, just in time to hold a dog show in the city as part of the nation’s Centennial celebration. The event’s success encouraged the delegate from New York to organize a similar exhibition, which was held in that city in 1877. That show was the first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

The Kennel Club of Philadelphia also has a few unique firsts of its own. Best in Show was not awarded until 1924 when four judges, Messrs. Ross, Wilcox, Offermar, and McKean, bestowed the honor to the Greyhound Rosemont Liskeard Fortunatus for the Rosemont Kennels of Mr. and Mrs. John Sinnott. Interestingly, the sighthound was also the club’s first two-time BIS winner, repeating the victory the following year under judges Mrs. Hadley and Mr. Reeves. Other repeat winners have included Ruth Cooper’s Norwich Terrier, CH Thrumpton’s Lord Brady, handled by Peter Green, and the Scottish Deerhound GCHS Foxcliffe Claire Randall Fraser, handled by Angela Lloyd who co-owned this sighthound with her co-breeders Dr. R. Scott Dove and Cecilia Dove.

Icons & Inspiration

Historically, Philadelphia’s November show has been a “dress rehearsal” of sorts for Westminster in February, and sometimes it’s been The Garden winner who has triumphed at Philadelphia later that same year. The list of BIS winners at both events is indeed impressive, and includes the Boxer CH Bang Away Of Sirrah Crest, the Toy Poodle CH Wilbur White Swan, the Whippet CH Courtenay Fleetfoot Of Pennyworth, the English Springer Spaniel CH Chinoe’s Adamant James, the Sealyham Terrier CH Dersade Bobby’s Girl, the Irish Water Spaniel CH Oaktree’s Irishtocrat, and the Scottish Terrier CH Roundtown Mercedes Of Maryscot. The only father and daughter to go Best at both shows are also among the shows’ top winners. They are the Springers CH Salilyn’s Condor and CH Salilyn ‘N Erin’s Shameless.

Judge Eugene Blake awards Best of Winners in 1998.
Judge Eugene Blake awards Best of Winners in 1998 to Rhodesian Ridgeback CH County Line’s Pride And Joy with Owner Handler Dan Sayers. Photo by Ashbey.

The Centennial Dog Show and Obedience Trial, which was held in Philadelphia on November 17-18, 1984, was the first dog show hosted by the American Kennel Club. As then AKC President William F. Stifle notes in the event’s 864-page catalog, “The choice of Philadelphia as the site has special historical significance. It is within two miles of the location of the offices of the Philadelphia Kennel Club… where the 12 founders of the American Kennel Club first met on September 17, 1884.” Mr. Stifle’s message goes on to say, “In 1885, there were 11 events held under AKC rules—this compares with nearly 10,000 events held by almost 3,000 clubs in 1983.”

The Centennial Show was a resounding success and most surely inspired the late AKC Chairman Ronald H. Menaker when he envisioned the AKC National Championship, which began in 2001 and now boasts the largest entry of any single dog show in America.

Personal Firsts

In 1984, I was living within walking distance of the Philadelphia Convention Hall and Civic Center where AKC’s Centennial celebration was held. In fact, I’d walked to the site to attend my very first dog show as a spectator years before, and I walked there again when I exhibited my first show dog. As a first-time visitor, I was astounded by the energy of the place and the variety of dogs I saw relaxing on the benches. When I returned a few years later as an exhibitor, I simply put a comb in my jacket pocket, and a lead on my dog, and strolled a few blocks to get to the show.

Being in the ring in that hall was a surreal experience for me—especially after watching Jimmy Moses win BIS at the Centennial Show with CH Covy-Tucker Hills Manhattan—but I hadn’t realized that the dogs were required to stay on the benches for the duration of the event when they weren’t being shown. That was the first (and only) time I had to call someone to deliver a crate to a show so that my dog could relax—and I had to find a pay phone to make the call!

My first home-bred show dog competed at Philadelphia too, and that year I remembered to bring everything I needed. In 1990, my Irish Water Spaniel, Quiet Storm Jersey Sure (Tucker), earned his first major under Judge Barbara Kloss. I don’t have many specific memories of the day, but I do have a photo. In those early days, I’d met a frugal woman who told me that the smart thing to do was to have a win photo taken of a dog earning its first point(s) and first major, and finishing its championship. The lady’s advice saved me a few dollars, but it also taught me to focus on the bigger goals. Today, I have several photo albums filled with pictures that rarely see the light of day but represent plenty of personal firsts.

Judge Barbara Kloss and Breeder/Owner Handler Dan Sayers.
Irish Water Spaniel CH Quiet Storm Jersey Sure CD JH is pictured with Judge Barbara Kloss and Breeder/Owner Handler Dan Sayers in 1990. photo by Ashbey

Another first at Philadelphia came a few years later when I was showing a young Rhodesian Ridgeback. County Line’s Pride And Joy (Kyra) was co-owned by me with her breeder, Lisa Hoffman, and Brian and Eileen Eisenhower, my sister and brother-in-law. She was a delightfully determined individual and my first “project” in the breed. When Kyra was entered at Philadelphia under Judge Eugene Blake in 1998, I’d been showing the headstrong hound for several months without much success. Sometimes we’d win a class, but those first points remained elusive.

Elusive, that is, until everything came together in Judge Blake’s ring. Kyra showed flawlessly that day and I didn’t make any major mistakes either. That day, she finally earned her first points and the occasion was recorded for posterity with another memorable win photo. A few months later, Kyra finished her championship in one weekend with three majors, the last awarded by the breed’s longest-serving breeder-judge.

This year, thanks to the Kennel Club of Philadelphia and the annual Thanksgiving Day broadcast of the 2023 National Dog Show Presented by Purina, thousands of exhibitors and millions of viewers will have the chance to experience a few “Philly Firsts” of their own. For those who are planning to watch the broadcast, enjoy the show. And if your dog is entered this year, best of luck—and don’t forget to pack a crate.

  • Dan Sayers covers the sport of dogs with a particular interest in purebred dog history and breed preservation. His articles feature notable icons of the past as well as individuals who work tirelessly to promote purebred dogs today. A self-taught artist, Dan’s work is represented in collections worldwide and his illustrations appear in the award-winning Encyclopedia of K-9 Terminology by Ed and Pat Gilbert. Since 1981, Dan has been an exhibitor of several Sporting and Hound breeds. He’s bred Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix and judged Sweepstakes at the parent club’s National Specialty twice. Dan is a member of the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America and the Morris and Essex Kennel Club.

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