One of my favorite shows on the East Coast was this past Saturday, May 5. Bucks County Kennel Club held its 71st show at Tinicum Park in Erwinna, Pa., a pristine wooded location with sweeping green lawns that has provided an ideal setting for the event each spring since 1972.
The Bucks County Kennel Club show has for many decades been held the first Saturday in May, with Trenton Kennel Club, down the road in New Jersey, on Sunday. The pair of shows was among the two dozen or so largest shows in the nation for many years from the mid-1980s through 2005, and in 2000 Bucks was the fifth largest show in the nation.
The figure in the dog show world that has epitomized Bucks for fanciers in the modern day was Dr. Josephine Deubler, who served as the show chairman for a remarkable 37 years, from 1969 through 2005. Dr. Deubler was iconic in her professional life; she was the first female graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, served on the faculty there until 1987 and had the Josephine Deubler Genetic Disease Testing Laboratory at U Penn established in her honor. As a purebred dog fancier, she was a breeder of Dandie Dinmont Terriers who became a respected AKC judge, officiating at the country’s most prestigious events, including Best in Show at Westminster.
Dr. Deubler was equally accomplished as a show chairman, and what is most unusual is that she served in this position for two of the nation’s most prestigious dog shows, Bucks County and Montgomery County Kennel Club. Dr. Deubler’s influence in hiring respected American and foreign judges along with promising new judges for her shows, as well as her input into hospitality, show layouts and décor, made both of her shows among the most preeminent in this country.
Under Dr. Deubler’s tutelage, and with the help of a strong show committee, Bucks became one of those shows that fanciers look forward to attending every year. Instantly recognizable by its beautiful setting and green-and-white striped tents, it is one of just a handful of truly distinctive shows left in the American show year. Eventually it was not only local fanciers who considered it essential. For many years now, a win at “Bucks and Trenton” has been considered quite prestigious, and top dogs often come from around the country to vie for the Group and Best in Show wins on this weekend.
Although Dr. Deubler passed away in 2009 at the age of 92, her vision has continued at Bucks. Entries at all AKC conformation shows began to falter around 2005, but, with the exception of just a couple of years, Bucks has maintained entries each year over 2,000 dogs, keeping it in the upper tier of shows as far as size goes. This year its entry was 2,243.
Still, there is no question that clubs in today’s economy have to look out for the bottom line, and for most clubs that means becoming part of a cluster. The Bucks County show is now truly a “standalone” event, sandwiched between two days of specialty shows on Thursday and Friday, and two all-breed shows hosted by Trenton Kennel Club on Sunday and Monday, all at the Mercer County Park location in New Jersey. The concern that Bucks members have, that fewer and fewer exhibitors will leave the New Jersey venue to traverse the sometimes narrow country roads that lead to Bucks, for a single show day, is a legitimate worry.
The question becomes this: Are all dog shows today just about what can be won, or do we still want to go to shows that are unique and distinctive, representative of their heritage? The suggestion has of course been made by some that Bucks should share the Trenton venue, that the weekend become another big cluster. But then it wouldn’t be Bucks. It would be just another dog show in New Jersey.
Packing up and moving on to the next show site is something exhibitors once did for every dog show, sometimes four or five days in a row at what were once the country’s major “circuits.” Today, of course, the cluster has become ubiquitous, and there’s no question that multiple shows in one location are more economical and convenient for exhibitors.
I don’t believe, though, that we want all of our shows to be anonymous, cookie-cutter versions of each other, one indistinguishable from the next. Clusters where exhibitors settle in and show for several days in a row are terrific, comfortable for people and dogs alike, and beneficial to the pocketbooks of the clubs and the participants, but we surely don’t want every weekend to be just the same.
The memories we carry with us of special wins and special times at dog shows are made at shows that are unique and noteworthy. We have relatively few real “events” today on our show calendars. It is important that we preserve our most distinctive shows. When planning where we’ll show our dogs, let us all keep in mind that we don’t want shows like Bucks to fall by the wayside. Let’s make the effort to preserve special shows like Bucks.