February 6 is the closing date for one of the more prestigious show weekends in the U.S., the International Cluster, hosted by the International KC of Chicago, Park Shore KC and Blackhawk KC. These shows will be held Thursday, February 21, through Sunday, February 24, at McCormick Place in Chicago, as they have been for many years now. People come from all over the country to these shows, which always draw some of the current top dogs. Club members work hard to uphold the tradition of providing a special event for competitors and spectators. The cluster draws some 100,000 spectators over four days, which makes it an ideal opportunity for purebred fanciers to connect with the public.

The Amateur-Owner-Handler competition is in its fifth year at IKC. Last year’s Best in Show winner, judged by Lou Auslander, was Alaskan Malamute Aluk’s Doin’ the Full Monty at Icecube, owned by Linda Hofer and Laural Berg and handled by Linda. Photo by Lynda Beam.

The history of IKC traces back to the Chicago Kennel Club, which was founded in 1900. When I was young, my mother and her fellow Cairn breeders often made the trek to Chicago for the IKC show and the accompanying Cairn Terrier Club of America specialty when the shows were held at the International Amphitheatre, adjacent to the old stockyards in the city. Mrs. C. Groverman Ellis, president of IKC in the 1930s, owned the Killybracken kennels, known for its Cairn Terriers and Irish Wolfhounds. For almost a century, Chicago was famous, or infamous perhaps, for its stockyards, where the city’s enormous and prosperous meatpacking industry consolidated its cattle pens into one half-square mile location between Pershing Road and 47th Street on the city’s south side.

In 1985 Kennel Review magazine published a story about IKC’s history from 1938 to 1985. In 1938 the Union Stock Yard and Transit Company, which owned the stockyards, bought the charter of the then-defunct Chicago Kennel Club. The organization’s livestock show was famous as America’s Number 1 livestock event, and 4-H kids and college students participated through judging contests and showing their exhibits at the event. The Junior Dog Judging Contest and junior handling became part of the IKC dog show. Truly the history of the International Kennel Club is a rich portrait of one of this country’s most distinguished dog show events.

There are some changes to the cluster in 2013, and the premium list opens with a letter from club president Lou Auslander, who has been an integral part of IKC for many years, regarding these changes. This year the shows will be held in the North building at McCormick exclusively, Thursday and Friday on the first floor and Saturday and Sunday on the second floor, which is the location exhibitors are accustomed to. This year only the Saturday IKC show is benched, using “Chicago-style” benching. Sunday is unbenched. I think this is a smart compromise; it keeps the Saturday format so that visitors and spectators can find the dogs they want to see and talk with the people who own and show them, but on Sunday allows exhibitors the freedom and flexibility of an unbenched event so they can get out and get home as necessary.

These are special and unique shows, so if you’ve never been you should try them sometime. There are many special offerings, including numerous specialty shows and supported entries, the “Bred-by-Exhibitor Spectacular” on Friday, the “Puppy Extravaganza” on Saturday and the Amateur-Owner-Handler Best in Show competition on Saturday and Sunday, the fifth year this has been held.

On Thursday after BIS this year, the AKC Registered Handlers program and Purina sponsor a taxes and bookkeeping seminar that will give information specific to dog people. It’s free, and I’m sure will present valuable information.

Among the most unique offerings at any show, in my opinion, is IKC’s Junior Dog Judging Contest, which is still held more than 60 years after it was implemented back at the stockyards. Anyone aged 9 to 19 can enter, and competitors judge three to four breeds, with up to four dogs per class. An AKC judge will score each contestant based on “proper placing of a class,” and the 10 highest scoring competitors will received a trophy. This competition gives young people the opportunity to hone their skills at evaluating dogs, but also gives them a different perspective on the whole process of showing and judging dogs, something from which lots of adult competitors would benefit!

Voting in Florida

The democratic process is alive and well among two clubs that will hold shows in Tallahassee, Fla., on February 21 through 24. The Greater Panama City DFA and the Ochlockonee River KC host four all-breed shows at what is billed this year as the “Name That Cluster” Cluster, so called because from Thursday through Saturday at noon the clubs are asking fanciers to submit entries to give the cluster a name. The winner will be announced before Best in Show on Saturday. This is a great way to get exhibitors involved, and I’m sure someone will come up with the perfect moniker.

This cluster does plenty to show its exhibitors that it wants them there. It begins with a Peach Cobbler Welcome Party on Thursday evening for anyone who wants to indulge. The clubs are also serving free coffee, donuts and Danish every morning, and Saturday evening the clubs host the “Who Let the Dogs Out?” dinner on site, $10 per person with children free, for the first 100 people who buy tickets.

Pat and John Mixon of Mixon and Associates, on behalf of the Ochlockonee River KC, are hosting a wine and cheese reception for the cluster’s vendors on Wednesday evening. Talk about a nice way to make sure your vendors know they’re appreciated! We forget sometimes that the vendors are an important part of every show weekend.

This cluster includes agility trials Friday through Sunday and obedience matches on Thursday and Friday after BIS. Heart and eye clinics, and CGC and Therapy Dog International testing are also included, and the International Canine Semen Bank mobile clinic will be on site.

So many clubs are being creative in bringing great perks to the exhibitors and handlers who come to their shows. We love reporting on unique offerings, so if your club is doing something special or unusual, be sure to email me at christibisd@gmail.com.