This year I am a making a point of visiting every part of these United States to see dogs I don’t normally see and talk with people I don’t normally hear from. Next week I will be in Kalamazoo, MI. for a five-day dog show extravaganza. The Apple Blossom Cluster starts next Thursday and runs through Monday, with the Pontiac Kennel Club, the Holland Michigan Kennel Club, the Grand Rapids Kennel Club, the Kalamazoo Kennel Club & the Greater Muskegon Kennel Club, all taking a turn hosting. I find this spirit of cooperation to be refreshing. I will reserve for a future post my opinion of clubs that perpetuate the “split venue” weekend.

Too often, I only get to see the dogs that travel around the U.S. However, as I pore over catalogs every week, I notice dogs that win frequently, but rarely venture out of their region. Given the cost of traveling with a dog these days, that’s no surprise to anyone. There’s got to be something wrong with a system that makes it easy for an old fat man to travel to shows, but makes it difficult for someone to travel with a Bulldog. I assure you, I am way more trouble than a Bulldog. Happily, travel difficulties have not dissuaded exhibitors. The Apple Blossom Cluster will be one of the largest draws, if not the largest draw, next week, with over 7,000 entries over the five days. I mean, they have 1,100 dogs on a Thursday. Now that’s impressive.

This cluster is full of special features including a Best Junior in Cluster and Best Bred by Exhibitor in Cluster. It also features four specialties and seven supported entries. All of these shows & specialties require a busload full of judges, 37 in all, from every quarter of the U.S., from Maine to Florida, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, 16 states in all. There are even three judges from Canada. However, the prize for the longest plane ride goes to Adrian Landarte of Montevideo, Uruguay. The cluster committee did not want the Apple Blossom Cluster to be just another set of local shows, selecting all of the Best in Show judges from outside of Michigan. The five judges who will command the final rings are Vicki Abbott of Texas, Pat Mowbray-Morgan of Florida, Norman Patton of Arizona, Luc Boileau of Wisconsin and Linda Robey of Missouri. South American judge, Adrian Landarte, will judge the Best Bred by Exhibitor in Cluster.

While most of my show experience is with Toy and Terrier breeds, the first dog I took into a show ring was my family’s pet St. Bernard. If you ever live with one of the Molosser breeds, you will love them forever. Saturday’s Grand Rapids Kennel Club show boasts 64 Bullmastiffs and Sunday’s Kalamazoo Kennel Club show will feature 52 Newfoundlands. Other breeds with impressive counts are Australian Cattle Dogs with 42 on Saturday, Longhaired Dachshunds with 38 on Sunday and Salukis with 30 on Saturday. I’m still trying to work all these into my schedule. I feel like a kid in a candy store.

Once the cluster begins, I will be blogging directly from ringside. Be sure to check in with me frequently for updates. Only here will you be getting The Back Story as it happens.