I believe the Steel Valley Cluster was the first one I was ever aware of that had armband raffles with gasoline gift cards as the prizes. They’re doing so again this year each of the four days, Thursday through Sunday, August 1 through 4. Shows are sponsored by the Fort Steuben Kennel Association and the Columbiana County, Beaver County and Mahoning-Shenango Kennel Clubs and held at the fairgrounds in Canfield, Ohio.

The Steel Valley Cluster, held at the fairgrounds in Canfield, Ohio, the first week in August, began in 1990.

There’s no question that this cluster can be taxing, as many breeds are judged outdoors and it will be August, after all. But the clubs go to great lengths to provide a lot of extras for exhibitors. My favorite offering is movie night. Because of the size of the show grounds, many exhibitors and handlers rent golf carts for the weekend. On Friday night the clubs are hosting an “old fashioned big screen drive-in movie,” which means you can “drive in” with your golf cart, moped or scooter, or just walk over. The clubs invite everyone to take a blanket and sit under the moonlight for free popcorn and the movie. Sounds like such a fun, relaxing thing to do after a day at the dog show.

Another great thing these clubs are hosting is a dog-supply drive, collecting “gently used” items to donate to local shelters. They’ll take brushes, collars, leashes, toys, half-full bottles of shampoo… anything that is in decent shape and usable – except food products.

There will be an AKC “Judging Junior Showmanship” seminar Saturday, as well as a free clinic for junior handlers moderated by AKC registered handlers. On Sunday before Group judging, the cluster will hold the “Best Junior Handler of the Steel Valley” competition for the winners of Best Junior Handler from the four shows with a $1,000 scholarship going to the winner.

Purina and the cluster are offering early morning hospitality each day at the Steel Valley Cluster. Artist Mike McCartney has created an original Steel Valley Cluster design that will be available on T-shirts at the shows. On Thursday there’ll be Best Bred-by-Exhibitor competition, 4-to-6 Puppy on Friday, AKC Owner-Handler Series and competition for veterans on Saturday, health clinics on Friday and Saturday, and CGC testing on Sunday.

The Mountain Valley Cluster wins the prize this week for the most unusual special event at its shows. Comprised of the James River, Roanoke and New River Valley Kennel Clubs, the cluster begins Wednesday, July 31, and runs through Sunday, August 4, at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Va.

The cluster has several interesting things going on, but the one I don’t recall ever having seen before is the “RKC Elite Dog Competition” to be held on Saturday after Best in Show at Roanoke KC’s second show. Any dog that is entered and shown at one of the RKC shows Friday or Saturday is eligible to compete. Three judges will be randomly chosen from available AKC-approved judges and PHA and AKC professional handlers. Dogs will be judged against their breed standards using a one-through-10 point system – called the “Olympics system” by the clubs – in nine categories: type, style, side gait in the circle, front movement, rear movement, hand stack, free stack, soundness and overall conformation.

Each judge will evaluate each entry in the nine categories. Scores from all three judges will be tallied after all judging is completed, and “the dog with the most points may be examined by each judge to ensure correct mouth/bite and that the dog is unaltered.” This presumes that the judges didn’t check these two points in their earlier evaluations. In any case, the dog with the most points is named the “Elite Gold Dog” and receives a cash prize of 50 percent of entry fees, the second place Elite Silver Dog will get 20 percent, and the Bronze Dog will be awarded 15 percent. The entry fee is $40, and entries will be taken at the shows on Friday and Saturday. This is something different, and no doubt it will make for an interesting evening for exhibitors and spectators!

Also at these shows, the cluster and Purina will sponsor the “Howl-o-ween Monster Mash,” which includes dinner, dancing and a costume contest – for humans only – on Saturday night.

The clubs want to show special support for the junior handlers during their shows, and to that end offer special rosettes each day, a pizza party with a special speaker Thursday evening and a scavenger hunt on Friday for which juniors will be divided into teams and given a list of items to locate on the show grounds. Now that sounds like fun!

The five-day cluster also includes a B match on Friday evening, AKC Owner-Handler competition, CGC testing, and cardiac, eye and reproduction clinics. These clubs are really going the extra mile to provide a lot of great things for their exhibitors.

Talk about low entry fees! I can’t remember the last time I saw a $20 entry fee, but that’s exactly what the Louisiana and Metairie Kennel Clubs are offering at their Lagniappe Classic Cluster, Thursday, August 1, though Sunday, August 4, at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner, La., just 15 minutes from downtown New Orleans. Puppy and Bred-by-Exhibitor classes are just $20, the Amateur Owner-Handler class is $24, and other entries are $27 – often the price for the Puppy class at other shows.

The weekend will include CGC testing, a “Judging Junior Showmanship” seminar and Best Puppy competition the first three days, which will culminate in Best Lagniappe Classic Puppy competition on Saturday between the three Best Puppy in Show winners. Both clubs are holding raffles, Metairie for an Apple iPad Mini, and LKC will host a Chuck-a-Duck raffle that I presume will have cash prizes.

The cluster has concurrent specialties in Bulldogs, Australian Shepherds, Dachshunds, Poodles and Boxers at various points during the four days, as well as several breeds with supported entries. It’s Louisiana KC’s 97th anniversary. Knowing you can slip into New Orleans for a great seafood feast in the French Quarter or Garden District, beignets and coffee at the Café Du Monde or a night of revelry on Bourbon Street might make these shows extra appealing.

The Crab Orchard Kennel Club, whose shows will take place at the Pavilion in Marion, Ill., August 3 and 4, will hold a raffle for a 10-by-10 foot kennel and a 50/50 cash raffle at its shows, with a portion of the proceeds going to the AKC Canine Health Foundation and the club’s junior handler scholarship fund.

The shows also include an armband drawing on Saturday for a $50 gift card, CGC testing, eye, BAER and microchip clinics, and a B match.

Entries are down and many fanciers worry about the future of our sport. I think it’s important that clubs offer something extra so that people will want to come back to their shows, and I commend these clubs for working so hard to make their events extra special. If your club is offering something interesting or unusual at its upcoming show, email me at Christi@bestinshowdaily.com a few weeks before the closing date and I’d be happy to report on it.

Please remember to go the extra mile to keep your dogs safe during these hot summer months. Don’t leave any dogs in an enclosed vehicle, night or day, without the air conditioning running and checking every 10 minutes or so to be sure the dogs are cool and safe. There’s no sense in taking chances!