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A ‘Must’ in May – The Trenton Kennel Club Dog Show

Photos by Dan Sayers.

The “Bucks and Trenton” weekend in the spring each year has long been a staple for East Coast residents who show dogs, and many a top dog has made its way from other parts of the country to compete on this prestigious dog show weekend.

The Bucks County show in Pennsylvania has traditionally gotten more praise and attention than Trenton, thanks to the star power of a few of its members, including the late Dr. Josephine Deubler and one of the sport’s most respected Terrier men, Walter Goodman. But it is the show just across the state line in New Jersey that has drawn the most exhibitors for decades.

The Trenton Kennel Club was formed in 1911 and became an AKC member club in 1928. For decades beginning in the 1970s, with the exception of perhaps two years, its show has been among the 25 largest shows in the United States. Indeed, during the heyday of the AKC dog show in the late 1990s, Trenton’s entry reached a high of more than 4,200 dogs. Although entries at all American shows then began to decline, and even the largest shows had entries in the 3,000s, in 2000 Trenton held the second largest show in the U.S. That year Bucks County was the fifth largest show.

The weather was glorious at the 2011 Trenton KC show.

From 2001 through 2008, the Trenton show was among the 20 largest. Although it fell in the rankings in 2009 and 2010, its entry remains strong, and in 2011 it was the country’s 25th largest show.

But as we all know, size isn’t everything. Trenton KC couldn’t boast about the size of its shows if it didn’t have much to offer to draw that entry. One aspect that makes the show appealing is its venue at the spacious Mercer County Park in West Windsor Township, N.J. The show has been held on these grounds for almost 40 years, since the very first year the park opened, and the park has gotten more beautiful as the years have passed.

Local residents flock to the scenic 2,500-acre park in the spring, as the weather begins to warm up, one likely reason that the Trenton show draws a large number of spectators from the local community. Visitors enjoy the relaxed, family-oriented atmosphere and can watch obedience and rally competition as well as conformation. More than 45 vendors, offering every imaginable kind of item having anything to do with dogs, are also part of the show. Many locals come to shop for unique items for their pets that they can’t find in any ordinary store.

In 2008 the club created a Meet the Breeds area at the show, where visitors can meet a lot of different dogs and learn about them from their breeders and owners. This is another popular draw for local residents and their children.

Spectators enjoy visiting with exhibitors and getting to know some of the dogs.

The size and layout of the grounds at Mercer Park allow for big rings that each stand alone, so spectators can sit on all four sides of the ring with an unimpeded view of the competition. This brings us to another ingredient in the show’s success – the specialty clubs.

Much of Trenton KC’s entry comes from the breed clubs that hold specialty shows and supported entries with the all-breed show, and many of these clubs, even those with supported entries, virtually have their rings to themselves. Show Chairman Deanna Lonabaugh has worked hard to make specialty clubs happy, and, she says, “The specialty clubs have been very loyal to Trenton Kennel Club.”

This year 11 clubs will hold their specialty shows with Trenton, 10 with sweepstakes, and 17 specialty clubs are supporting the entry, seven of those with sweepstakes. “Having the specialty clubs on board is the secret to our success,” says Lonabaugh. When she came in as show chairman, the number of specialty clubs involved were few, and even fewer supported the entry. “I mailed out letters to all of the local breed clubs and encouraged them to join us for their shows,” she says. Now she goes to great lengths to make sure that the specialty clubs feel special.

Before the show ever starts, clubs that hold specialties are asked for three names of judges they’d like to have come, and Lonabaugh makes sure that if their first choice is not available, one of the other two is hired for their breed. Supported entry clubs may also submit four or five judges’ names, and every effort is made to select one of their choices. Trenton KC pays for all of the judges, specialty or otherwise.

Clubs that hold their specialty shows with Trenton draw large entries and are treated as welcomed guests.

On show day, tables are provided for each specialty club for rescue, trophies, raffles, a luncheon or whatever is needed. As noted, most of the clubs with specialties or supported entries have their tents virtually to themselves, and the club and exhibitors are made to feel welcome. The Borzoi Club of the Delaware Valley is one example of a specialty club whose event with Trenton is special. They not only have a separate tent for their classes, they also have quite a lot of parking right near the ring, and the club hosts a luncheon that everyone enjoys.

The show is laid out in an “L” shape, and the Keystone English Springer Spaniel Club requested an end ring for their specialty, and it has it. The New Jersey Pine Barrens Golden Retriever Club has its own tent, and draws well over 100 Golden entries.

Making the day special for breeds that are interested in doing so has become a tradition at Trenton. Dr. Marion Levy and his wife, who were longtime Trenton KC members, were very involved in Komondors, and he also served for many years as the Trenton KC delegate. Although his breed always had a small entry compared to more popular breeds, Levy wanted to make the day special for Komondor exhibitors, so the breed had its own tent (which he paid for himself!) and the Marions hosted a catered luncheon after judging was completed. Although Dr. Levy is gone now, Komondor fanciers will long remember the events he and his wife hosted at the Trenton shows.

Putting on a show of this size and scope is a full-time job. A school teacher for many of the years that she was show chairman, Lonabaugh, now retired, wonders how she ever did both jobs at one time. The Trenton KC is a fairly small club, and only about 20 members actively work at the shows. One reason that they’re able to put on such a large, and yet very successful, show is because they hire out much of the work.

Many exhibitors consider a win at Trenton prestigious, and the show draws a high quality entry in many breeds.

“Hiring Harry Miller’s East Coast Site Control company was the best move the club ever made,” says Lonabaugh. This is the fourth year Miller’s crew has worked on the show. “Harry’s crew has made life so much easier,” she says. Miller himself is a veteran dog breeder and exhibitor. He and his crew, at least a dozen men, lay out the vendor area and handle getting all of the vendors in to unload. They also coordinate parking of motor homes and other rigs, and collect required fees from their owners. In fact, they remain on-site late into the night to park motor homes that arrive late.

His crew collects money at the gate as well, and they also handle layout of the fire lanes, very important at a show this large. “One of the best things about using Harry’s service is that, because they work many shows in the area, exhibitors don’t give them many problems,” Lonabaugh notes. “They know they’ll have to face this crew again the next weekend and the weekend after that, and if they cause any trouble, the next time they might be parked in the next county!” According to Lonabaugh, many of Miller’s crew are ex-law enforcement officers, and, as such, they have an air of authority about them that says they won’t tolerate much nonsense.

The Mercer park rangers also help with parking of spectator cars and directing traffic on show days.

For the first time, the “Bucks and Trenton” weekend actually starts at Mercer Park on Thursday this year with the Central New Jersey Hound Association show. On Friday Garden State All Terrier Club, Delaware Valley Toy Dog Fanciers and four specialty clubs take over at the park, some offering rally in addition to conformation. Some exhibitors move to Pennsylvania for the Bucks County show on Saturday, and then they’re back at Mercer Park for two all-breed shows hosted by Trenton KC on Sunday and Monday.

Holding the Monday show is new for Trenton, starting just last year. “At first I was not at all sure that it was a good idea, but it was phenomenal,” Lonabaugh says. They expected to have 500 or so entries the first year and instead drew 900. Last year many people told her they didn’t realize there was a Monday show, and they expect the Monday entry to grow as time goes by. “It was certainly financially beneficial to the club,” says the show chairman.

Forty-five vendors offer every imaginable item for or about dogs at the Trenton show.

Although Trenton was traditionally held completely outdoors, the Toy breeds were judged indoors for the first time last year, in the skating rink. As is true with any outdoor dog show, the opportunity to enjoy showing dogs in the beautiful outdoors comes with the risk that the weather may occasionally interfere. In 2009 major rainstorms raged through the weekend, and motor homes were stuck on the show grounds at Mercer Park until Wednesday. That was the first year Groups and Best in Show were judged indoors, and the club has continued this practice.

Now and then other weather related issues arise, but they often work out for the best. In 2010 heavy winds blew down every tent on the grounds before the show got started. Some, but not all, were put back up before judging began. As it turned out, the day was sunny but windy and cold, and many exhibitors in areas where the tents weren’t up were grateful for the sunshine to keep them warm. In contrast to the previous two years, the weather in 2011 was gorgeous – sunny and 62 degrees under glorious blue skies.

Meet the Breeds has been popular with spectators since 2008.

But no matter what the weather, with judging indoors or out, Lonabaugh understands that regardless of how hard you try, you just can’t please everyone. She gave one humorous example: “The obedience rings are on the opposite side of the building where the skating rink is and have been there for years. Several years ago, the obedience people told me that it was too far to walk to the porta-potties.” She was only too happy to help, so the following year she ordered an extra one and put it right near their rings.

“After the show was over, they told me the door banged every time anyone went in and out, which distracted the dogs working in the rings, so the following year we put it near the same location, but turned it around so the sound would not be directed toward the rings,” she says. Problem solved? “Exhibitors complained that the door faced traffic going by, and it was embarrassing to be seen going in and out of the porta-potty.”

In spite of the fact that Lonabaugh and her show committee know that you just can’t please all the people all the time, they greatly value the clubs, exhibitors, handlers and spectators that come to their shows and do everything they can to please as many as possible, as often as possible. The result is a beautiful, well-run show that many exhibitors are more than happy to attend each year. The Trenton Kennel Club show is certainly worthy of its standing among the largest shows in the United States.

You can learn more about Trenton Kennel Club and its members and officers at http://trentonkennelclub.org/. To see a schedule for this year’s shows, go to http://www.raudogshows.com/pdfs/upcoming-shows/TrentonPL2012.pdf.

Written by

Christi McDonald is a second-generation dog person, raised with a kennel full of Cairn Terriers. After more than a decade as a professional handler’s apprentice and handling professionally on her own, primarily Poodles and Cairns, she landed a fortuitous position in advertising sales with the monthly all-breed magazine ShowSight. This led to an 11-year run at Dogs in Review, where she wore several hats, including advertising sales rep, ad sales manager and, finally, editor for five years. Christi is proud to be part of the editorial team for the cutting-edge Best In Show Daily. She lives in Apex, N.C., with two homebred black Toy Poodles, the last of her Foxfire line, and a Norwich Terrier.