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Clubs prepare for a canine congregation

With the Florida Winter Classic Dog Shows starting Saturday, workers set up for the 2,200 dogs they are expecting.

By JOY DAVIS-PLATT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 10, 2003

RIDGE MANOR -- Just days before the big event, the only dog at Florida Classic Park east of Brooksville was the basset hound on Mary Manning's T-shirt.

But by Saturday, the 50-acre site will host 2,200 dogs representing 110 breeds at the annual Florida Winter Classic Dog Shows.

The park is on Lockhart Road, south of State Road 50 and just west of Interstate 75.

Because it is the largest show of its kind in the state, Manning said, there is a great deal of preparation to be done.

"My list of people to thank when this is all over is a page and a half," she said. "Nothing this big gets done without a small army of people."

For two months, volunteers have spent time trimming trees and laying out markers for competition circles.

"This is a real undertaking," said Barbara Stillwaggon, a volunteer from New Port Richey. "But when it all comes together, it's worth the work."

Kennel clubs from Inverness, Tampa, Pasco and Clearwater formed a corporation in 1998 to buy the property specifically for this show. Organizers expect the parking lot to be filled by Saturday with motor homes bringing dog owners from all over the United States.

About 2,200 dogs are expected on Saturday and Sunday, with Monday's events drawing 1,800 dogs.

The show is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. all three days, and the public is invited. Gate entrance is $4 per car. More than 50 vendors will sell dog-related items, as well as food and drinks for people and pets.

Until 2:30 p.m. each day, judges will concern themselves with the best of breed competitions. The afternoon will feature mixed groups from the morning's winners.

"If you've never seen a show, it's all very interesting," said Manning, who lives in Tampa.

Organizers plan to hold eight days of shows next year to draw even more competition.

"It's like putting all the pieces of a giant puzzle together," said Dan Stolz, Manning's husband. "You learn a little more each year on how to funnel things through."

Besides breeders and trainers, Manning said, she hopes the event will draw people outside the dog show community who are interested in seeing how the process works.

"We're always trying to get the community involved," Manning said. "It's a chance for people to become more educated about this. We're here to inform the public."

The most common questions are about how a dog becomes a champion, Manning said.

"Everything is done on a point system," she said. "It can be very complicated, but basically, dogs are judged on criteria set up by the American Kennel Club."

Those criteria, she said, set standards for each breed on things such as height, length, head size and coat. All dogs are then judged against the standards for their breed.

"In the end, there is a lot of subjectivity involved," she said. "Judges are very well educated in these things, but a lot of it is matter of opinion."

Too often, Manning said, people see a dog in a movie or on television and decide it's the breed for them without knowing the first thing about what the animals are like.

"They say, "Oh, they're so cute,' " said Manning, who raises long-haired Dachshunds with her husband. "And that's really not a good criteria to choose a pet. Getting a dog is a lifetime commitment."

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