BROOKSVILLE — In the rising heat of the early afternoon, Trish Weston smiled and watched as her 3-year-old basenji, Jake, sat happily in a blue kiddie pool filled with water and ice.
"That looks fun," Weston said as she sipped on a soft drink. "I almost wish I could jump right in with him."
Yes, it was quite warm at the Inverness Kennel Club's Spring Fling dog show last weekend. So warm that club officials set up special cooling lounges for the canine contestants around the show grounds at the Hernando County Fairgrounds.
But despite higher than expected temperatures, the club's first major dog show drew more entries than originally hoped, and enough for kennel club president Jane Whittenhall to deem it a success.
"For being our first major show, I'd say it went pretty well," Whittenhall said. "We learned a lot from it."
Whittenhall said the two-day show drew more than 900 participants, many of whom were from outside the area.
"We had more than 45 motor homes registered by Saturday," she said. "And I know a lot or people said they were planning to stay in hotels for the weekend."
The 41-member club decided to organize the event last fall after the annual Florida Classic Clusters Winter Dog Show was canceled due to a legal dispute with three other participating kennel clubs. However, Whittenhall said that a recent decision among the parties to drop the lawsuit may mean that her organization once again will participate in the event at Florida Classic Park, east of Brooksville.
"We've been invited back, and I would like that, personally," Whittenhall said. "But that's a decision that will have to made by the membership."
The dispute among the clubs arose three years ago amid allegations by the Inverness club that revenue from the annual dog show had not been equally disbursed among the four clubs. When neither side budged, the clubs agreed to host dog shows in separate locations this year, and abandon the 50-acre home on Lockhart Road that they had jointly owned for 14 years. The other three clubs — the Clearwater Kennel Club, the Pasco Florida Kennel Club and the Tampa Bay Kennel Club — held their event in Ocala in January.
Whittenhall, who became head of the Inverness Kennel Club in March, said that the parties sat down a few weeks ago and mutually agreed that the mounting fees for attorneys were only harming the clubs.
"Had it gone on, it would have left both sides broke," Whittenhall said. "It was decided it was best to just bury the hatchet."
In March, Mary Manning-Stolz, coordinator of the winter dog show, said that her group, the Florida Gulf Coast Cluster, had reserved dates with the American Kennel Club that will bring the show back to its traditional two-week slot in east Hernando in mid January 2014. The event typically attracts upward of 2,000 entries representing more than 110 breeds and is considered the largest AKC-sanctioned event in Florida.
According to the Hernando County Tourist Development Council, the dog show has brought in more than $1.5 million in annual tourism revenue.
Whittenhall said that many in her dog club have expressed delight about the prospect of returning to the familiarity of the original site.
"After so many years having it there, it just felt comfortable, like home to us," she said.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.