Reflecting on Milestones

Reflecting on Milestones

Reflecting on Milestones | Showsight Magazine has reached an amazing milestone with its 30th Anniversary this month. In honor of the celebration, I look back at various milestones and how they may have changed our lives, our legacies, and our sport.

Reflecting on Milestones | A Changing Society

It is hard to believe that we are already 21 years into the 21st century. It does not seem all that long ago that Y2K was a huge issue, with people worried about computer crashes, world economies, and the possible destruction of all things controlled by technology.

As one of the post-war baby boomers, I can honestly say that the world we live in has undergone so many changes that it does not resemble the America of my youth.

Whether it be our lives, our families, our jobs, and even our sports and hobbies, the inevitability of change has been a constant.

Do you ever look back at those moments in your life that most would consider milestone moments? These might include your first day of kindergarten or high school, your first date, first kiss and first serious relationship, your high school prom or a sports moment, your college graduation, marriage, and so many other significant moments in your life.

Each one of us has a unique story. We are born into this world with no control over the circumstances in which we arrive. We are dependent upon our parents, our siblings, our extended families, the teachers, friends, mentors, and so many others as we grow and develop into the people we are today.

For many, the circumstances in which we are raised have a profound effect on our adult lives. Some are born and raised in poverty, some in the average two-parent, middle class American home, while others are fortunate to be born and raised in the comfort of certain privileges that many will never have. Some will survive broken homes, physical and mental abuse, and a variety of religious and political upbringings. Many will come from loving, two-parent homes, some from single-parent or split families, and yet everyone will have moments or milestones, both good and bad, that mold them over the years.

As I mentioned earlier, change is the one constant in life. In my youth, I don’t remember very many of my friends coming from divorced families. In comparison, the average length of a marriage in the world today is a little over eight years, and only seven percent of marriages will last 50 years. Also, our life spans have increased over the years. During the 1970s, the average lifespan was 67 years, whereas today the average lifespan for men is 77 and it’s 81 for women. In the past, it was common to work and retire from the same company you’d worked for through most of your adult life. Today, the average employee tenure is 4.2 years and most people will change jobs over 12 times in their lifetime.

Reflecting on Milestones | Participation in the Sport

Just like everything in life, our sport is also undergoing constant change. Part of the charm of our great sport of purebred dogs is the truly unique diversity that each of us who are participants brings to the table.

What other hobby, profession, or competition can you think of that has such a diverse group of participants? We have all ages, all races, all religions, diverse sexual orientations, every political view, people with average incomes, and those with great resources. We have a variety of breeders, owners, and exhibitors, from newcomers to professionals and everything in between. Our participants come from all walks of life with a variety of backgrounds, and we have a sport that exists throughout the world, made up of people dedicated to man’s best friend.

Through my nearly five decades in this sport, I can honestly say that my involvement has introduced me to people, places, experiences, and relationships that I would have never thought possible in my youth.

The sport also brought Carol into my life, and we are about to celebrate 38 happy years of marriage. Even after all these years, we both share in our love of the dogs; breeding, showing, and judging together.

Rumor has it that the average length of involvement in our sport is between three and five years. So, I guess just surviving all of these years is a milestone in itself.

Reflecting on my journey, I have had many milestones. Like many in our sport, I started with a “pet quality” puppy bought from a newspaper advertisement. Little did I know that my little Old English Sheepdog puppy would change my life.

Her name was “Ginger,” and like most newbies, I did not have a clue about raising, grooming, and training a puppy. Fortunately, I met a man while walking her one day. His name was John Tacejko and he was a member of the Western Reserve Kennel Club and the Old English Sheepdog Club of America, as well as a founding member of the Western Reserve Old English Sheepdog Club; all clubs that I would eventually join and learn a great deal from. John invited me to a club “fun day” where I met other OES owners who were wonderful about helping me and teaching me how to groom, etc.

Eventually, I went to my first sanctioned “B” match and I still have the first ribbon I ever won from that match. I went to many matches that were very available in those days, and I learned how to show and groom and practice my handling skills for the show ring. Unfortunately, it did not take me long to realize that Ginger was not a show dog—but I had already been bitten by the bug. So, I began to search for a “show prospect.” While I pursued a real “show dog,” Irma Dixon of the Cleveland All-Breed Training Club encouraged me to train Ginger for an obedience title. Back in those days, very few OES competed in obedience. So, I took on Irma’s challenge to get Ginger trained so that she could compete at the OESCA National Specialty in Obedience the following year. I earned the first two legs toward her CD that winter, and then waited until the National Specialty where I was fortunate to qualify with a third-place to complete her CD.

As I pursued my show dog, I went through the heartbreak of two puppies that had dysplasia before I was able to obtain my first champion from Ken and Paula Leach. His name was Cheerio Olde English Jester. “Jester” finished at the Greater Portland OES specialty, and together we enjoyed a good competitive career in the old Working Group.

When I think back, there were many milestones moments; first ribbon, first sanctioned match Best of Breed and Group placement, first leg in Obedience, first Obedience title, first Conformation points, first Champion, first Group placement, and so on.

Since those early days, each of my dogs, litters, and different breeds has provided a milestone moment along the way.

Reflecting on Milestones | Learning from Mentors

In the early 1970s, there was no Internet, cell phones, or trophies for just participating. Everything you got was earned. The only way to learn and succeed was to do your research through various books and publications or by observing and learning from mentors in the breed who were willing to help.

Joining those clubs previously mentioned was also a huge source of knowledgeable people who were generous in sharing and encouraging anyone who wanted to learn.

I have many fond memories of talking OES (as well as other breeds in general) with people I met through the clubs and at the shows. In OES, Cass Moulton-Arble, Ken Kopin, Hugh and Linda Jordon, Ken and Paula Leach, Anna Jacobsen and others, as well as such notables as Max Riddle, Lina Basquette, Frank Oberstar, Sam Pizzino, David Parker, Tommy Glassford, Bob and Ellen Fetter, and Bob Stein… just to mention a few. I learned a lot from these people and from so many others. We learned from the people and judges at the shows. We would have dinner with the judges and they would share their experience and knowledge, and no one ever questioned the integrity of the judges because of it.

We had many great learning experiences, but we also had our share of issues, tensions, jealousies, and occasional rifts. However, in those days, there was a lot more respect given to the judges as well as to our fellow exhibitors. Everyone knew that it took hard work and dedication, and if you were willing to pay your dues, eventually, success would come.

I can remember the Late Tommy Oelschlager with his Siberian Huskies, and me with my OES, talking about how cool it would be to earn a Group 3 or 4 at the shows when Lina Basquette with her Great Danes and Tommy Glassford with a Samoyed of the Hritzo’s dominated the Groups in our area back in those days.

Over the years, the sport has changed a great deal. During the 1970s, little black and white newspapers were started. These were way different than what we have today, but they were “current” publications and probably the first that were devoted exclusively to “show dogs.” Popular Dogs and the AKC Gazette were out there, but the early newspapers were the first to showcase dogs currently being shown.

In the years since that first black and white edition was published, there have been numerous others that have come and gone on the show scene.

Reflecting on Milestones | Up-to-Date & Ever-Changing

It was 30 years ago this month that SHOWSIGHT came on the scene, and it has continued to grow into possibly the best publication in our sport. Through the years, SHOWSIGHT has been the one magazine that tries to bring its readers up-to-date information in our ever-changing world of purebred dogs. AJ Arapovic and his staff work hard to bring information to the masses about individual breeds through informative articles on subjects ranging from anatomy, structure, and gait to those about each specific breed, including topics such as how to judge the breed, interviews with successful breeders, in-depth information on how breeds have changed, the current show scene, selections dedicated to the various Groups and Owner-Handlers, spotlighting Junior Showmanship, and providing recaps and photos of shows and just about everything related to our sport, both past and present.

For 30 years, SHOWSIGHT has been there for all of the highs and the lows in the sport, while covering the continued evolution of our sport as it takes place.

Do you realize that 30 years ago we did not have the Grand Champion Program or the National Owner-Handled Series? Even if you personally don’t like them, there is no doubt that they have been good for the sport. By adding the various levels to the Grand Champion title, many exhibitors who might have simply quit showing now continue to exhibit in pursuit of higher levels of achievement. In some cases, exhibitors live in an area that has restrictions on the number of dogs they may have on their premises. So, some may have faded away or may have had to wait for their older dogs to pass on before getting another. Although I come from a time when no one thought twice about the owner vs. the professional handler, the NOHS seems to be growing, and for some exhibitors, it is a deciding factor on whether or not to attend some of the shows. Many of these individuals take the program seriously and work hard to achieve a top owner-handler ranking in their respective breeds.

Thirty years ago, we only had Conformation, Obedience, and Field Trials. Here we are today with AKC titles available in Agility, Lure Coursing, Scent Work, Herding, Dock Diving, Therapy, Farm Dog, CGC, Trick Dogs, and a variety of other competitions. Looking at today’s dog in the catalog or on a pedigree you will see an “alphabet soup” of letters both before and after the dog’s name, signifying all of the titles they have earned.

Thinking back to the mid-1990s when I started the St. Jude Showcase of Dogs in Memphis, Tennessee, part of our mission was to show the public everything they could do with their dogs. I would like to think the success of that event was instrumental in the AKC adopting many of those same competitions into their organization. When you look at the AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin, the entire concept is a replica of the 16 highly successful years the St. Jude event had, along with contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Through that event, therapy programs were developed at the hospital, and today, therapy dogs are a big part of our society.

Look at the growth of “Take the Lead” over the past 30 years and the difference that organization has made in the lives of many in our sport who have dealt with difficult times.

During the past 30 years, the landscape of the breeds themselves has changed. In my breed, the Vizsla, we have grown in popularity and competition from being one of the lower entry breeds into one in which (in some areas) our point scale is higher than that of Dobermans and Boxers. At the same time, there has been a huge decline in what I call the “hard work required” breeds; those with coats that demand work and dedication. Thirty years ago, Irish Setters, Afghan Hounds, Old English Sheepdogs, Bearded Collies, and others would garner entries of over 35-50 regularly. Now, at many shows, they rarely even reach double-digit entries.

Even the Terrier Group, once full of high quality and sizeable entries, has seen a huge decline in entries. This is probably because of the demanding effort needed to condition and maintain the coats for competition.

Reflecting on Milestones | Change Is Constant

The number of breeds continues to increase. The Herding Group itself has grown from the initial 16 breeds to 31 breeds today. Every Group has seen some type of growth over the past three decades, and the AKC continues to add more new breeds to the registry.

Over the past 30 years, we have lost many ICONS of the sport, yet there have always been highly competent individuals to step up and fill those roles.

Unfortunately, over the past 30 years, we have seen a huge decline in the “true” dog men and women involved in our sport. Nowhere has this become more evident than within the ranks of today’s judges. The number of individuals approved not only as Breed Judges, but also as Multiple Group Judges, has grown by leaps and bounds. This meteoric rise in the ranks has also, unfortunately, brought about a dilution of talent in the quality of today’s judging.

The American Kennel Club has made many changes over the years, but in some circles, the perception of our shows and our officials has deteriorated. Disgruntled exhibitors are often complaining about many of our judges. As a result, the AKC is trying to legislate integrity with rules and guidelines for judges that, in my opinion, are not necessary but are being done to give credibility to the complaints from unhappy exhibitors who find it easier to find fault with judges and handlers rather than taking a good, long look at what they are exhibiting. Back when I started in the sport, you did not complain about the judges; you just got better dogs and did not show to those whom you thought lacked integrity.

As mentioned, change is constant—and will be forever. With each change, there will be those who approve while others will be dragged along kicking and screaming. Hopefully, each change will provide new opportunities for future milestone moments to cherish and remember.

What does the future of our sport look like? I don’t think any of us knows. Since COVID, we have seen more issues with club and show facilities, a decrease in the reliability of show superintendents, virtual competitions for titles, and numerous other issues.

For our sport to succeed, we need to find ways to satisfy the needs of clubs, exhibitors, breeders, and judges. These needs must be satisfied in a practical, economical, and safe way for both humans and canines. It may be time for the American Kennel Club to look into a change within the Bylaws, to update the over 100-year-old model into one that fits the 21st century and beyond.

SHOWSIGHT has been here for 30 years, and hopefully, AJ and everyone at SHOWSIGHT will be here in 2031 to reach another milestone.

Congratulations to SHOWSIGHT and the staff for continuing to meet and exceed the needs of our ever-changing sport. In closing, I hope that each person in our sport can reach the goals and milestones they look forward to with their version of Man’s Best Friend.

ads
  • 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.

  • Show Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

comment *

  • name *

  • email *

  • website *