When the Reliant Park World Series of Dog Shows opens this coming Wednesday, a passel of artfully miniaturized structures will greet visitors at one of the entrances to the Reliant Center in Houston, kicking off the ninth annual Designer Doghouse Competition and Showcase.
All kinds of creative minds, from those of Girl Scouts to corporate employees to architects, have been part of the competition that benefits Houston’s Citizens for Animal Protection. “We’ve had groups of friends, scouts and corporations, and we’ve had home builders, remodelers, interior designers and all sorts of other people build doghouses,” says Trisha Royal, community outreach director for Citizens for Animal Protection, also known as CAP. “It can be a fun project for some, and a team-building project for others.” It has become a popular attraction among the thousands of visitors to the dog shows as well.
Trisha has been involved with the competition since it began in 2005. “Kim Lawrence, who worked for the Better Business Bureau, pitched the idea of a doghouse building contest to the home shows that took place in Houston,” Trish says. “They weren’t really interested, so she called me and suggested that we might do it at the dog show.” Trish says that Tom Pincus, one of the cluster coordinators and marketing chairs for the dog shows, as well as the current president of Houston Kennel Club, was very interested, and after a meeting between the involved parties, “It all fell into place,” she says.
Way back in the beginning, the contest might draw as few as four entries, but in recent years as many as 15 to 17 dog houses have been entered. Not that they look anything like doghouses. The men, women and children who create the entries each year are super creative, and have fashioned chalets, fishing cabins and castles, as well as a saloon, a ship, a helicopter and an outhouse, among others, from a wide range of materials. Winners are chosen in three categories: People’s Choice, Kids’ Choice and Dixie’s Choice, which is named for the beloved dog that belonged to Trish when the competition began.
After being judged, the entries are all part of a silent auction, the proceeds of which go to CAP to help feed and care for homeless animals. As far as Trish knows, not many of them end up being used as doghouses in people’s backyards. They’re treated more as the pieces of art that they are. “Often people buy them as yard art, and we’ve had several bought as playhouses for children,” she says. “Kids love them.” Through the years selling prices have ranged from $100 to almost a grand. “The highest price one has gone for was the Spanish galleon John Gay built, which sold for $900,” Trish reports. Gay has entered many times and, Trish says, his designs are almost always “out of the box,” including a doggie “Rescue Helicopter” one year. “John usually wins the People’s Choice award,” says Trish.
Another local resident who’s been a volunteer at CAP and has also entered the competition several times is Troy Powell. “Troy’s parents live in Tennessee, and on their property they have a lot of red cedar,” Trish explains. Back in the early days, “he went to Tennessee and chopped down a tree himself, had the wood shipped to Houston and built a beautiful, simple A-frame house,” she says. Last year Powell went back to his folks’ place and salvaged wood from an old outhouse that stood on their property. “Every piece of his entry was from the original outhouse,” says Trish, and Powell, who went to Texas A&M University, tagged the tiny structure with a “Go Aggies!” sign.
Local Girl Scout troops have been very involved in the contest from early on, but 2013 will be the first year that any of the boys’ scouting organizations have participated. An Eagle Scout has entered a doghouse this year.
The contest has grown slowly but surely into a popular attraction. Three or four years ago, Trish says, the competition got “on the map,” literally. There’s a map for the Reliant Park event that “shows all of the major happenings, such as agility, flyball and all that, and we’re now on the map,” she says. “And they’ve moved us to a prime location, right at one of the main entrances.” This year for the first time the contest has a sponsor, Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers. Todd Graves’ first Raising Cane restaurant was at the entrance to Louisiana State University. Now there are locations from Texas and Oklahoma to Ohio and Nebraska, with more opening soon. The sponsorship of the restaurant has allowed for more marketing for the competition.
One of the most important components of the whole thing is, of course, the dogs that are helped with the proceeds. Trish says that one-third of the dogs that come into the CAP shelter are purebreds, so during the dog show they’re making money for mixed-breed and purebred dogs, and also letting the community know they can adopt a purebred dog if that’s the way they’d like to go.
All in all the Reliant Park Dog Shows Designer Doghouse Competition offers something for just about everyone – adults and kids who are creative, those who want to see or just browse clever items and, most importantly, the dogs.