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To Bench or Not To Bench?

Victorian Dog Show

Much of my post-Westminster conversations with fanciers have been about the change in venue for next year. As I wrote yesterday, I was initially put off by the decision to move to the benching and breed judging to New York’s Piers 92/94. As I warm to the idea, I am renewing my advocacy of a return of the benched show. If you look at the mast head of my site, Dog Show Poop, you will see it is a drawing of a benched dog show in 1877. I believe there are only two benched shows left in the US, the Westminster Kennel Club show and the Golden Gate Kennel Club’s January show at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. I showed at both in the 70s and have fond memories of the time I spent on the benches with my friends and mentors.

During the 90s I showed cats at Cat Fancier Association (CFA) shows. All CFA cat shows are benched. If you have never visited a CFA shows, I strongly encourage you to do so. Not because I want you take up showing cats, but because I want you to see how much fun the spectators and exhibitors are having. One of the traditions at CFA show is the “Grand Party”, a celebration of a cat receiving its Grand Championship. Invitations are not restricted to just the owner’s friends or even to exhibitors. There will be an announcement on the Public Address system that, “There’s a Grand Party on Aisle 10.” and everyone in the hall will join the owners for champagne & cake. It’s an enormous amount of goodwill for the sport for the cost of a Costco sheet cake and a case of champagne.

CFA Cat Show

As much as I love the partying, that’s not why I advocate benched shows. The hours spent talking to your fellow breed owners foster an instant mentoring program. Early in my dog show career I was benched next to a Pekingese breeder at the Nation’s Capital Kennel Club show in Washington DC. I think I learned more that day in eight hours than I had learned in several months of attending non-benched shows. Benched shows are also an insurance policy against acrimony in the game. It’s hard to keep a feud going if week after week you are going to be sitting next to one another all day. Now, I have been to benched shows where the conditions were medieval, but if benching areas are spacious, a kind of doggy tailgating party can be had. Benches can be decorated to be comfortable for exhibitors and attractive to spectators.

Spectators are the main reason I like benched shows. A benched show is an opportunity to promote our sport to the public. While I think any dog show can be enjoyed by the public–my blog, Dog Show Poop, was established to promote that concept–I think that enlisting every exhibitor as an ambassador of the fancy is the best way to counter all the animal rights crazies out there. Now, there are lots of people in the fancy that would just as soon never see a member of the public, but I believe all of them would agree that we need to be proactive in advocating for the rights of breeders & hobbyists. I remember the story about the union member that was asked to be a pall bearer at a non-member’s funeral. He said, “Of course, I carried him in life. It’s only right I should carry him now.” Join our union and promote more benched shows. And that’s today’s Back Story.

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Written by

Billy Wheeler has been attending dog shows as a spectator and exhibitor for over 40 years. Billy is the man behind the popular Dog Show Poop. He is a retired management consultant who has advised multiple organizations affiliated with the AKC and the Cat Fanciers Association on business management, long range planning, customer service, and legislative matters. After 25 years of living in the big cities of New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, he now resides in his hometown of Memphis TN with his wife, Brenda, her Toy Poodle and his Cairn, Scottie, & IG. When he is not blogging, Billy can be found in the kitchen cooking, and listening to opera.
  • Collin February 16, 2012 at 1:54 PM

    Sorry Billy, but the marvelous International Kennel Club of Chicago is also still a benched show… arguably, from the dogs’ and exhibitors’ point of view, the best benched show in the U.S.!

  • kathi February 16, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    Collin beat me to mentioning IKC in Chicago (next weekend!) – they changed it (this year?) so that dogs are released 2 hours after their breed judging is complete, and (last year or the year before?) obedience and rally competitors are released immediately after their class is judged and awards given.

    Detroit KC at Cobo Hall is also still benched and I think the National Dog Show in Philadelphia as well.

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