A dog groomer by trade, Keely Wilkins of Bradford Township caught the show bug about six years ago — not long after purchasing an Afghan Hound from a friend who showed her dogs for years.
Now with five Afghans, Wilkins has around 600-700 dog shows and all the experience that comes with it under her belt. She has enjoyed much success along the way, from many Best of Breeds to Best in Show and multiple Hound group wins, particularly with her 3-year-old Afghan whose call name is Naughty Puppy.
“I’ve had a good run with my Afghan,” said Wilkins, noting she has shown canines for friends, as well. In dog show competition, she added, “you don’t win money; you win a title and (build on) pedigree by having a dog with multiple championship wins.”
Canine enthusiasts will have the opportunity to watch dog owner and handler Wilkins and many other professional handlers compete at the Summer Solstice Cluster All-Breed Dog Shows on Thursday, June 20, through Sunday, June 23, at the Isanti County Fairgrounds, 3101 NE Highway 95, in Cambridge. The shows begin at 8 a.m. and will run until about 3 p.m. each day. There is no admission charge to the public.
Each year in June, two premier local kennel clubs — the Anoka County Minnesota Kennel Club and the Cambridge Minnesota Kennel Club — join together to host this four-day dog show extravaganza. Everyone is invited to come and enjoy seeing the dogs and visiting with breeders and exhibitors.
A very competitive and oftentimes political sport, Wilkins noted, it can take over a year and cost between $5,000 and $8,000 — due in large part to the training, supplies, traveling, lodging and other expenses involved in showing dogs across the state and nation — to become a champion.
Otherwise, “I just love being with the dogs and doing activities with them,” she said. “I enjoy getting out there and exhibiting them to, especially, dog lovers.”
And unlike some handlers, Wilkins is comfortable with sharing her show dogs with audiences who approach her at events. This week in Cambridge, for instance, “it’s an opportunity to see all kinds of dogs,” she noted.
In fact, on each day of the show, it is possible to see more than 1,200 dogs representing the very best of as many as 150 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club — the nation’s largest registry and leading nonprofit organization dedicated to the welfare of purebred dogs.
Naughty Puppy, a true talent
Wilkins has competed and earned valuable points with Naughty Puppy, a quick-learning youngster compared to fellow canines, at shows in Lake Elmo, Jordan, St. Peter, Rochester, Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Excel Energy Center in St. Paul and other Minnesota venues. The team has been awarded well outside of the state, too, with showings on the East Coast, Ohio and around the Midwest.
So what is it about Naughty Puppy that has attracted judges? “His confirmation is extremely good,” she said of how his body is put together. “He has a friendly personality and temperament, and he has great movement. One judge said, ‘You don’t see most Afghans move like that anymore.’”
Back to her first show, she recalled the experience as intimidating.
“But you just go and hope you don’t fall down,” she said, noting people have lost shoes and even skirts when showing their dogs. Handlers also must look professional, as “you reflect on your dog,” she added.
The Summer Solstice Cluster Dog Shows celebrate summer with an American tradition that dates back to George Washington and his American Foxhounds. Today the role of dogs has shifted from hunters and working dogs to primarily family companions.
The Anoka County and Cambridge kennel clubs are licensed by and members of the American Kennel Club.
According to Lisa Dankert and Nancy Bergeron of the Summer Solstice Cluster Dog Show Advertising Committee, the sport of purebred dogs, once the purview of the wealthy and privileged, has become the all-American family sport.
For those interested in seeing a particular breed at the dog shows in Cambridge, visit www.onofrio.com and click on Show Information, then Closed Shows, scroll down to Anoka County Minnesota Kennel Club and Cambridge Minnesota Kennel Club, and click on Judging Program. There, viewers will find the time and ring in which that breed will be shown each day.