As primped and proper canines from around the globe put their best paws forward at the 2017 Florida Gulf Coast Clusters dog show, a pair of decidedly local fancier groups of man's best friend will make their debuts.
The two-week extravaganza, which takes place at Florida Classic Park east of Brooksville, begins Jan. 7 and runs through Jan. 22.
The recently organized Brilliant Dog Club of Dade City will stage the event's opening act, two days of crowd-pleasing agility trials, the club's raison d'etre and a growing sporting event fueled by its television popularity.
Canine athletes with uncommon smarts will leap, dive, chase, tunnel and flat-out dash in timed events at their masters' commands, the top dogs anticipating their antics without their handlers' orders.
Also, the Hernando Kennel Club, with Ronald Lombardi of Brooksville as show chairman, is new among Clusters hosts, joining the kennel clubs of Pasco Florida, Tampa Bay, Clearwater and Manatee. Some 15 volunteers of the 30-member Hernando club will help stage the 10 days of conformation competitions, two days of breed specialty shows, plus junior showmanship contests, obedience trials and rally trials.
"This is one of the largest events in the Southeast and one of the largest (dog) shows in the country," spokeswoman Pat Lombardi said. "We're expecting slightly more (entries) than last year, when we had close to 19,000."
Entrants are coming from Asia, Japan, South America, Europe, Canada, Mexico and throughout the United States.
Sixteen breeds newly recognized by the American Kennel Club will compete for the first time, bringing total breeds vying for ribbons and titles to a record 125.
One of those breeds, the berger picard, is represented by Hernando County resident Debbie Butt, co-owner of the nationally top-ranked dog of the herding breed. Having moved last year from Virginia, Butt said, "The dog show was definitely a factor" in her choice of a Brooksville home. Butt will compete daily with her champion canine.
Showgoers also will want to look out for popular newcomer breeds, Lombardi said: podango of the hound group; Spanish water dog, a corded brown- and white-coated herder, and cirnecko dell'etna, a short-haired hound of medium pincer size; miniature American shepherd, a downsized border collie herder.
Specialty breed shows on Jan. 9 and 10 will showcase terriers, Great Danes, Akitas and poodles.
Ongoing daily will be age-designated showmanship events for juniors, introductory obedience rallies, and an open-to-the-public doggie fun zone with races and performance contests, with an entry fee of $12.
Also, the public is invited to stroll through staging areas to see dog grooming and to chat with owners and handlers.
Vendor booths surrounding show rings will offer "everything that a dog could possibly want and more for whatever their owners can spend," Lombardi said. She mentioned "doggie beds, collars, people jewelry with dog stuff on it, doggie art."
A food court will be equally eclectic with a java and breakfast bar, Italian and Chinese kitchens, barbecue and the usual festival fare.
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]