Cherry blossoms are the symbol of springtime in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area, and the Cherry Blossom Cluster signals the start of the region’s spring show season.

The Washington, D.C., area’s famous Cherry blossoms welcome the Cherry Blossom Cluster later this month.

This year, a dozen specialty clubs will welcome exhibitors on Friday, April 20, 2012, to the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium for the first of four days of camaraderie and competition. On Saturday, the venerable Old Dominion Kennel Club of Northern Virginia will hold its spring all-breed conformation show, followed on Sunday by the Baltimore County Kennel Club and the Catoctin Kennel Club event on Monday.

The 180,000-square-foot Cow Palace is a great location for a dog show. As one of the largest covered exhibition buildings in the area, it has plenty of room for spacious rings and out-of-the-elements, indoor setups. April showers may bring May flowers, but they also bring misery to show committees.

Exhibitors to the site appreciate the expansive loading dock with its drive-through doors, concrete floor, separate concessions area, and electricity and water hookups throughout. Acres of paved parking make for easy access for all, including spectators who spend part of their weekend visiting with some of America’s finest purebred dogs.

The Cow Palace is easily reached by all.

Old (and New) Dominion

According to club records, Old Dominion’s first dog show was held on October 17, 1936, at 520 S. Washington St. in Alexandria, Va. Mr. Frank Downing judged Best in Show at the inaugural event, with its total entry of 383 dogs representing a mere 43 breeds. By the spring of 1961, entries topped 1,000 when Frank’s son, Mr. Melbourne T.L. Downing, judged Best in Show.

The club holds separate shows in the spring and fall, and the 50th anniversary show in April 1968 saw entries rise to 1,655, and by 1,973 entries exceeded 3,000. While the April 1987 show set another milestone with 4,522 entries, the club’s 100th All Breed Dog Show and Obedience Trial holds the club record with an all-time high entry of 5,438, including 143 different breeds and varieties.

Members celebrate after the club’s 100th show in 1993. Photo by John Ashbey.

Happy Anniversary

On April 24, 1993, at Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville, Va., a continental breakfast awaited exhibitors to the show’s centennial celebration. For this single show, 39 conformation rings were set up to accommodate the record-breaking entry. Twelve specialty shows and sweepstakes were held for breeds such as Dachshunds and Dobermans, and more than two dozen clubs supported the entry in their respective breeds. Cardigan Welsh Corgis saw the highest number of entries with 199, while Samoyeds enjoyed an entry of 139, and Great Danes and Tibetan Terriers each celebrated the day with an entry of 132.

To mark the momentous occasion, Melbourne Downing once again judged Best in Show, exactly 100 shows after his father judged the club’s very first event. His winner was found in the Norwich Terrier, Ch. Chidley Willum The Conqueror, handled by Peter Green.

The Cow Palace is a spacious facility that perfectly supports a cluster show. Photo by Cathi DiGiacomo.

Where the Facilities Are

Throughout its long history, the Old Dominion Kennel Club has experienced 14 changes of venue. “You have to go where the facility is,” says club president Damara Bolte, an accomplished sculptor and AKC-registered handler. Previous show sites in Virginia have included Alexandria’s Municipal Ball Park, four area junior high and high schools, the Annandale Recreation Center, the Steeplechase Course and Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, Bull Run Regional Park and Morven Park Equestrian Center in Leesburg. The club’s fall show moved to historic Long Branch in Millwood, Va., in 2004, as part of the three-day Hunt Country Cluster with the Warrenton Kennel Club.

President Bolte has experienced Old Dominion’s many incarnations firsthand. A member of the Professional Handlers Association and the first recipient of the AKC Breeder of the Year award in the Hound Group, she understands the importance of having the right facility for a show to succeed. “They need to be big enough, without a lot of columns. Paved parking is necessary too because of all the motor homes.” Bull Run, site of the centennial show, was certainly beautiful, but its location on a flood plain would wreak havoc when a spring rain arrived to water the cherry blossoms.

Old Dominion Kennel Club members prepare for lunch. Photo by Cathi DiGiacomo.

Community Counts

Old Dominion has an active membership that offers its support to the community in many and varied ways. In addition to the spring and fall shows, a late-winter AKC conformation and obedience match is held annually, and multiple dog training classes are available to the general public throughout the year.

The club is a member of and contributor to the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs & Breeders, an organization that works continuously with the state’s general assembly on animal legislation. Through their efforts, information and guidance are provided to the proper representatives in the state legislature on behalf of the purebred dog community.

Club members Kim Byrd, Damara Bolte and Alice DeLuca at the spring 2011 show. Photo by Cathi DiGiacomo.

A Service Organization

Old Dominion was founded in the 1930s to protect and advance the interests of purebred dogs and the dog fancy in general, and to promote responsible dog ownership in the Northern Virginia area. In compliance with its charter, the club “distributes funds to aid in education, protection, legislation and the promotion of purebred dogs and their environment.”

Support from exhibitors allows individuals and organizations to benefit from the club’s events and programs. Funds raised are distributed to local and national organizations, including the AKC Canine Health Foundation, the AKC Companion Animal Recovery Disaster Relief Program and Take the Lead. The American Dog Owners Association Canine Defense Fund has benefited from the club’s support, as have the veterinary schools at Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania, Children’s Hospital, the Dog Museum of America, Dogs East, and the Hurricane Hugo relief effort.

The club awards scholarships to veterinary students at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, and the Veterinary Technology Program at Northern Virginia Community College, Loudoun Campus, has also received funding for the purchase of much-needed equipment. Support is also given to the Loudoun County Accelerant Dog Program through food and veterinary care for their dogs. Club members have also worked with the Fairfax County Animal Shelter and the Animal Control Board.

In the past, members have held training classes with the Annandale 4-H group and contributed money to the state fair. The club has also awarded a scholarship to a communications student, as selected by the Dog Writers Association of America, in memory of Mrs. George H. (Bobbee) Roos.

President Damara Bolte, judge Keke Kahn, 2012 Best in Show-winning English Springer Spaniel GCh. Wyndmoor Champagne Supernova and handler Robin Novack, and trophy presenter Corey Benedict. Photo by John Ashbey.

With its storied past and active membership, the Old Dominion Kennel Club represents much of what is good about purebred dog breeders and exhibitors. At this year’s event, members will be working hard to show their guests a good time, just as they support their community in many ways all year long.