BROOKSVILLE — Anything and everything about and for dogs is gathered together for this year's annual Florida Classic Clusters, the largest dog show in the state.
The five Tampa Bay area kennel clubs hosting the event expect 18,000 canines for the 10 American Kennel Club all-breed dog shows that began Thursday and run through Jan. 22 at Florida Classic Park, 5360 Lockhart Road, near the intersection of State Road 50 and Interstate 75 east of Brooksville.
Grounds are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; there are no competitions scheduled for Tuesday. Admission is free; parking is $5 per vehicle.
Public address systems announce in the background, and the audience oohs and aahs with appreciation. But hardly a bark is heard from the celebrities on parade. The show hounds are trained to be obedient.
"Every breed shows every day," said media coordinator Diane Chiucchi.
Each day's program is presented by one of the kennel clubs: Clearwater, Inverness, Manatee, Pasco and Tampa Bay. The classic is the Southeast's replica of the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Entries at the classic range from 1,600 to 2,200 per day, said Chiucchi, who herself is competing with a whippet.
Because class contests are time limited, judges aren't able to voice comments about their selections. But the event offers free show tours where spectators can learn more.
"Visitors can go behind the scenes and learn how a dog is judged, meet dog handlers and more," said Chiucchi. An AKC designee will conduct the tours, beginning daily at 10 a.m., from the superintendent's tent, situated in the midst of the show rings.
Shopping opportunities abound, from jewelry and clothing celebrating dogs to dog foods and treats, collars and leashes, dog beds and crates.
A food court offers hot dogs, burgers, full meals, funnel cakes and other desserts.
Tempting owners of all dogs is the Doggie Fun Zone, a course where canines can traverse a route with obstacles for jumping and running. Entry is $12.
The Fun Zone is open to visitors and their canines. Otherwise, only purebred dogs in the competition are permitted on the grounds.
Opportunities abound to adopt a purebred dog. Breed organizations are showcasing on Rescue Row, offerings of greyhounds, Dalmatians, huskies, Great Pyrenees and Labradors, as well as special dogs from the Humane Society of the Nature Coast.
Some of the proceeds from the classic go to local animal shelters, a scholarship for a veterinary student, junior dog handlers, and needy, ill or elderly dog owners.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]