When members of the Delaware Water Gap and Lehigh Valley Kennel Clubs heard two years ago that the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship was moving from Long Beach, Calif., to Orlando, Fla., in December of 2011, they knew immediately that they’d have to work some magic to keep their shows, which share dates and are on the same coast, viable.

Elaine Lessig is the president and show chair of Delaware Water Gap, has been judging for more than a dozen years and is dog show savvy. The DWGKC is a small club, and its membership, which includes other members who’ve been very active in the sport, is strictly conformation-oriented. The Lehigh Valley club members are more involved in obedience and other performance events. The two clubs work very well together. “We know that we succeed or fail together,” says Elaine.

Their shows, on Saturday and Sunday, December 15 and 16, 2012, and dubbed the Star of Bethlehem shows, will be held at the Agricultural Hall at the Allentown, Pa., fairgrounds. The clubs moved to this location three years ago when their venue at Lehigh University became cost prohibitive. At a time when many clubs were already facing financial difficulties, having the added hurdle of competing with AKC’s shows, presumably meant these clubs had to get creative.

The Star of Bethlehem shows drew majors in dozens of breeds in 2011, including Vizslas.

“When we found out we’d be going up against AKC/Eukanuba, we decided that we would cater to owner-handlers and their dogs,” says Elaine. The emphasis at most shows, whether intended or not, seems at least in large part to be on professional handlers, the majority of whom will be going to Orlando with their strings of dogs. “We’re encouraging owner-handlers to build majors in their breeds for a weekend when they don’t have to compete with the pros,” Elaine explains. Last year, for example, the entry in Vizslas was 41, Boxers, 47 and Great Danes, 39. There were majors in dozens of breeds, even 4- and 5-point majors in a few.

The clubs have created perks for exhibitors besides just not having so many pros to compete with. Every owner-handler can enter a drawing each day for a $100 cash prize. Puppy and Bred-by-Exhibitor entry fees have been reduced. There is no charge for grooming space or electricity, and parking is free. The clubs go out of their way to make these shows, just 10 days before Christmas, “happy, festive, inexpensive and enjoyable,” Elaine says.

And speaking of inexpensive, going to the shows in Allentown will cost a lot less than going to the ones in the heart of Orlando’s tourism district. There are many reasonably priced hotels available near the Allentown show site, as well as numerous good restaurants in the area that won’t break the bank.

Elaine wants to be sure exhibitors know they’re appreciated. She walks around with big trays of Christmas cookies during the show, thanking everyone for coming. “We also make it a point to hire judges who are known for the breeds they’ll be judging,” she notes, “as well as judges that exhibitors enjoy showing to. If we treat every person who enters our shows, and every exhibitor who enters our rings, as though they are important, it’s a much nicer way to have a dog show.” Holiday-themed trophies and potted poinsettias add a festive holiday air to the shows. The clubs also encourage exhibitors to decorate their setups for the holidays if they want to.

Lehigh Valley will add to the party atmosphere when it serves cake before Group judging on Saturday in celebration of its 103rd anniversary. Lots of great prizes will also be given out during hourly armband raffles.

The holiday spirit is greatly in evidence at the Lehigh Valley and Delaware Water Gap shows.

Of course, the bottom line is that these two clubs need to draw entries to their shows so that they can continue to haveshows. It will always be a challenge to be on the same weekend as AKC/Eukanuba. “It’s Economics 101,” Elaine says. “If you can’t pay your expenses, you can’t have a show. We have no idea how it’s going to go this year, but we’re working to make our shows the very best.”

The Lehigh Valley and Delaware Water Gap shows close on Wednesday, November 28, at Rau Dog Shows. Best In Show Daily wishes the clubs the very best on their events this year and in the years to come.