Next week entries close for shows in 10 locations around the country. Among them are shows hosted by a club that’s trying the most unusual method I’ve yet discovered to boost its entry.

The Yosemite Kennel Club will host back-to-back all-breed shows April 6 and 7 at the county fairgrounds in Merced, Calif. The club is offering “Money for Majors,” a unique idea for encouraging exhibitors to enter in the classes. Here’s how it works: in each breed that draws a major entry at these shows, Best of Winners will receive a cash prize equivalent to an entry fee. Sure, in the end it means that only one exhibitor will receive a $28 cash prize, but it sure is a clever way to draw attention to the effort to build major entries!

In addition, the club will have a sheriff’s K9 demonstration at noon on Saturday, and a lure coursing demo following Best in Show that day. Breeder’s Veterinary Services and the International Canine Semen Bank will be on the show grounds to conduct sedation-free X-rays and reproductive services as well.

One of my favorite sets of shows closes next week. The Sunflower Cluster is held in Valley Center, Kan., a suburb due north of Wichita, and this year runs from Thursday, April 4, through Monday, April 7. For many, many years this has been what I think of as a jewel of the Midwest – four all-breed shows plus a day of specialties with thoughtfully selected judges, a large, brightly lit facility and a show committee that really wants to make sure exhibitors are happy and that the public comes out to enjoy its event. When I was actively showing dogs, I attended this cluster as often as possible.

The Sunflower Cluster is made up of the Hutchinson, Salina and Wichita Kennel Clubs and the Sunflower Combined Specialties of Kansas. The Wichita KC has been nominated twice as “Show of the Year” at the Show Dog of the Year awards, although truthfully the entire cluster deserves recognition.

The cluster first shows its welcoming spirit by offering free beverages during move-in on Thursday before the specialties begin. Then free coffee and donuts are available to exhibitors every day from 6 to 8 a.m. The clubs have made sure that large breeds have large rings, and there’ll be a “holding area” at ringside for Toy breeds, so the little guys don’t have to worry about being stepped on by the crowds. Taken one at a time, these may seem like small favors, but it takes an attentive show committee to think of them in the first place, and they make a difference to individual exhibitors.

The cluster has all of the “usual” goings-on – health clinics, semen collection, CGC testing, three days of the AKC Owner-Handler Series, concurrent specialties, National and Regional specialties, a B match on Friday – but it has so many more great things going on. The one that the cluster has become best known for is the Art Show at the Dog Show, which is such a terrific little event that I’m going to tell you all about it later this week in a separate article.

The Central Region Top Junior Handler will be selected at the Saturday show. Juniors from 15 states who have had two wins from the Open class during a specified time period can enter, and the winner will receive a $1,500 scholarship, while three Award of Merit winners will receive $500 each in scholarship awards. The competition is dedicated to the memory of Walter Bebout, who helped get it started. Last year, 27 juniors competed for the awards.

The AKC Registered Handler program, along with the Wichita KC and Purina, offers “An Afternoon with the Professionals” on Saturday, a handling clinic for anyone who wants to learn about showing dogs from seasoned professionals. New and experienced exhibitors are welcome.

For those who want to see or be part of activities other than conformation, there is plenty to do. On Friday and Saturday on the show grounds, the Northwest Arkansas Kennel Club is holding Coursing Ability (CAT), Junior Courser (JC) and Qualified Courser (QC) tests, open to all breeds, with lure-coursing trials on Saturday and Sunday. The 4 Corners Herding Association of Tulsa offers Herding Instinct tests Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the Central Oklahoma Herding Association will have practice arena runs all day on Friday, with AKC herding trials Saturday and Sunday. The cluster also includes numerous agility, rally and obedience trials, which we all know the public enjoys.

In addition to all of these great extras, Purina is the cluster sponsor and offers lots of great prizes each day for many of the winners. The cluster also has a plethora of terrific booths where fanciers can shop to their hearts’ content.

As if all that isn’t enough, the Kansas Federation of Dog Clubs will meet on Saturday afternoon. Right in the heart of the area’s biggest cluster is a very clever place for the organization to meet, since it’s where the greatest number of people who should attend their meeting will be gathered. Various breed seminars will also take place during the cluster. The folks who work so hard to make the Sunflower Cluster a success continue to have my admiration, and that of many others, for their efforts and dedication.

These days, as we all know, the dog sport is often under fire from animal rights extremists. In addition, dog clubs are struggling more than ever to draw entries comparable to those in years past, and for many clubs their very lives depend on getting a decent entry. It is imperative that clubs come up with ways to both draw more exhibitors to their shows and to encourage the local community to come to their events.

Club members can no longer, in good conscience, decide to “just hold a dog show,” without including something extra for fanciers, and more importantly, some kind of special attraction to bring in spectators, then entertain and educate them when they get to the show. It’s a harsh reality, but clubs that fail to do these things will have no one but themselves to blame if they don’t survive. Yes, dog clubs are volunteer organizations, but if we want our sport to continue and to thrive, we all have to give a little extra to encourage our fellow fanciers and to help educate the general public.

And while I’m on my soapbox, for those of you who’ve been involved in dogs for many years but don’t belong to a club, I think you owe it to the sport to join a club and do your part to support our beloved hobby. If you really love the sport of dogs, it’s the least you can do.