It seems to rain at least once a weekend during every Kenai Kennel Club dog show, organizers and participants said.
The 2015 show was no different and mid-afternoon Sunday, the looming clouds finally let loose just as the day’s dog shows were reaching a climax and the agility trials were coming to a close.
“Oh no,” said an audience member as Hillary Jenkins trotted by with Z, a fluffy, white Afghan hound from Wasilla. “That’s going to ruin her hair.”
Jenkins and Z managed to beat the downpour, but not by much.
Laura Pabst, event organizer and President of the Kenai Kennel club said the weekend weather had been good, despite the rain.
“It usually happens on the last day, cause we have put everything away and we don’t want it to get wet. So then it rains,” she said, with a laugh.
Jann Palach seemed unconcerned as she sat under a tent near a judges table, brushing Peluitos This Girl Is On Fire, an AKC Champion Havanese.
The breed, is a type of Bichon that originates from Cuba. Palach’s dog, who goes by Ali, has a long fluffy white and black coat that curls when wet.
Ali is close to getting enough points at dog shows around the state that she’ll earn a grand champion title.
“She took breed today,” Palach said. “I think she only has five single points to go.”
As Palach spoke, Ali eyed everyone who walked by the grooming table with a canine grin — her tongue lolling out of her mouth. It gave the dog, one of several toy breeds on display, a playful demeanor. That personality is one of the things that judges are looking for in the breed, Palach said. “They’re supposed to be happy little dogs,” she said. “They’re a toy breed but they’re supposed to be hearty enough to play outside with kids.”
Palach said she has been showing for nearly 20 years, though she started with English sheepdogs before switching to Havanese. She likes the breed because they’re snugglers.
“They’re so calm,” she said. “It’s like, they’ll go outside and play and play and play and they’re active and then when you pick them up they just kind of just melt in your arms and they want to snuggle.”
Nearby, several terriers were in various stages of preparation for their shows.
Pabst said just over 120 dogs had competed in the dog show, about 25 in the obedience trials and nearly 150 in the agility trials. It’s not unusual for the club to see 300 dogs during its show and trial weekend.
Pabst said attendance was steady but had not grown much in recent years.
“The economy is hurting us,” she said. “Entries are expensive to fly the judges up here and put all this on and we have hospitality, we have to do the hotel rooms and put people up locally here. It takes a lot of money to put one of these on.”
Despite the cost and the enormous coordination of volunteer effort, Pabst said she enjoys spending time with like-minded dog owners.
“Everybody works very hard in our club and the whole dog community in the state is one big family,” she said. “If we say, ‘hey, we need help,’ We’ve got 10 people running to help us, no matter if they’re in the club or not. If they’re dog people, they’re helping.”
A steady crowd of between 20-50 people wondered through the soccer fields where the competition rings have been set up, watching the games.
Pabst said there’s always a crowd.
“People love dogs, plain and simple, cut and dry, people love dogs,” she said. “They want to see something that they don’t get to see every day.”
Sarah Brown, of Wasilla, cuddled her puppy Bailey, a Parson Russell Terrier. Bailey, who is 7 months old, is a wiggling, friendly ball of energy who Brown said could be difficult to control in the ring.
“We just kind of wing it and hope for the best,” she said with a smile.
Brown said she recently returned to Alaska after more than a year of traveling in the lower 48 and showing other people’s dogs.
“I had a bigger terrier and my mom wanted something smaller,” she said. “That’s why we got a Parson, cause my mom fell in love with them while we were down there.”
Brown said judges also look for personality in the terrier breed. Bailey, while still a puppy, has a lot of it, Brown said.
“Way to much for her own good,” Brown said. “She thinks she owns the world. At my house she pretty much does own the world.”
As handlers ran around the ring, working to coax their dogs into the perfect stance or a slow run, Brown said she loves showing her dogs because it strengthens their relationship.
“It’s just something I can do with my dogs individually and not have to worry about other people,” she said.
“It’s me and my dog and my little world. It’s not other people saying ‘you’re not good, you’re not pretty, you’re not this.’ It’s just me and my dog and the only opinion that matters is the judge’s.”
Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @litmuslens