Wichita Kennel Club celebrates 85 years of dog shows

The Wichita Kennel Club held its first dog show in 1925 at the Forum in downtown Wichita, with two judges and 107 dogs.

The annual event, now called the Sunflower Cluster Dog Show, will be Friday through April 11 at the Kansas Coliseum pavilions — a venue club members like and hope they can hold on to.

The show, which will bring about 30 judges and 1,330 dogs to town, has been held at the Coliseum since 1979, but there were years when it had trouble finding a home.

From 1962 to 1964, the dog show was held at Frontier Village, an attraction on West Kellogg, then in 1965 it moved to the livestock pavilion at the Wichita stockyards on East 21st Street.

That was the year that a celebrity, actor Paul Lynde, showed up, entering his dog Harry McAfee, a Lhasa apso named for Lynde's character in the movie "Bye Bye Birdie."

"How embarrassing," Milli Dold, Wichita Kennel Club historian, said of that year's venue.

Dold, 80, remembers wearing her boots and "grungies" to hose out the building where cattle had been.

"It was a mess," Dold said. "We had to get it as clean as we could."

The stockyards building was "all we could get at the time," she said.

The show was at the stockyards for two years, "then we tried some auto dealerships," Dold said.

Eagle file photos show exhibitors and their dogs at Quality Chevrolet in 1967 and Turner Ford in 1968.

The dog show moved to the new Century II in 1969, where it stayed for nine years, Dold said.

"It was a lovely place to have the rings and everything, but there was but no place for all those rigs" — the RVs and mobile homes that many dog handlers travel in.

The show moved to the Kansas Coliseum in 1979, and club member Larry Moody remembers when the Best in Show ceremonies were held in Britt Brown Arena, "with the bright lights and everybody wearing suits."

Moody and Dold said they're concerned about possible plans to close the Coliseum pavilions, which provide plenty of room for all the dog show events — which include conformation, obedience, agility, herding and lure coursing.

"They will throw us into a real problem if they shut those down," Dold said.

The pavilions are expected to be open through 2011, but their future is uncertain after that.

Dold said she doesn't consider Intrust Bank Arena "user-friendly for that type of show" because of the problem with parking for RVs and motor homes.

Moody can't picture the arena having room for all the dog show events, "plus all the vendors," he said.

The Coliseum pavilions are "a nice setup," Moody said.

"We would not be able to have the type of show we have out there downtown."

The show's merchant mall features vendors selling doggie-themed merchandise and services "that you'll never see anywhere else in Wichita," said club member Pat Deschler.

Spectators also can check out the 24th annual Art Show at the Dog Show, the world's only juried fine arts show dedicated to man's best friend.

Deschler, whose introduction to Wichita dog shows was that stockyards show back in 1965, said one of the biggest changes in the dog show world is the increasing number of breeds accepted by the American Kennel Club.

Twenty breeds were represented at the 1925 Wichita show, with the largest numbers of entries being Boston terriers, collies, shepherds and English setters.

About 135 breeds will be represented at this year's show, and the dogs you're most likely to encounter include Doberman pinschers, Papillons, golden retrievers and Australian shepherds.

If you've never been to a dog show, or if you'd just like to learn more about it, you can sign up for one of the free guided tours offered by Wichita Kennel Club members.

The tours, which will start at 9 a.m. April 10, are child-friendly and will offer a look at all of the events going on at the show. To make a reservation, call 316-440-4425.

The dog show, which draws between 20,000 and 25,000 spectators each year, is a great place to take a family for a day of low-priced fun, Deschler said.

"You can't bring your dogs, but you can bring your kids," Deschler said.

"Since we don't charge admission, it's a great family opportunity."

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