Showing a pet in competition builds a bond between the person and animal, say local residents who train their cats and dogs.
For Karen and Wayne Henneke of Great Bend that relationship with their animals led to a relationship between them.
“We met at a cat show,” said Karen Henneke, who met her husband in 1978 in Minnesota. “It’s our hobby.”
Kids and their dogs
“You not only learn responsibility for yourself, but responsibility for someone else,” said 4H Extension Agent Berny Unruh of the Barton County 4-H Dog Club. “You teach the dog to be a better dog. It’s you and the dog working together.”
The dog project is an alternative for kids – ages 7 to 18 – that want to work with an animal but are not able to have livestock.
“A good majority of our kids don’t live on a farm,” Unruh said. “Not everyone can have a pig or sheep or steer in their back yard. You don’t have to live on a farm or in the country.”
The kids will show their dogs this weekend at the Barton County Fairgrounds with just local kids at 6 p.m. tonight and open to all counties Saturday at 8:30 a.m. The show is a qualifier to show at the state fair as long as a participant receives a purple ribbon.
Dog Project Leader Michele Mayers of Hoisington started working with dogs – a black lab was the first – in 4-H when she was 7 years old. Now 32, she remains active in 4-H as a leader.
Her experience with animals is extensive. Her parents owned The Fish Emporium years ago in Hoisington when she was growing up and she now works as a groomer in Great Bend. She’s also certified to be a judge at dog shows.
“It teaches kids respect, patience and teamwork,” she said. “In the winter, we work on obedience and showmanship. When it’s warm, we work on agility and that’s the kids’ favorite. It’s more fun than ‘sit’ and ‘stay.’”
The dog project has about a dozen active members, Mayers said, and practices Sundays for 10 months out of the year. The project focuses on obedience, showmanship and agility, though proper grooming is a part of judging as well.
“They look at how well groomed the dog is. Whether the teeth are clean and toenails trimmed,” she said.
The dog can be any breed, Mayers said.
“They can be mixed or pure breed. The judges don’t judge the dog as a breed,” she said. “It’s about the communication between the kid and the dog.”
The club also offers obedience classes to the public in the fall. The 4-H students help owners teach their dogs to sit, heel, come, stay and down, as well as socialization with people and other animals. The classes cost $50 for five weeks.
The classes – as well as a raffle for dog-related items and gift cards during this weekend’s show – raise money for equipment.
“We’ve been working on getting agility equipment since I was in 4-H,” Mayers said. “We used to rent equipment for shows.”
The group finally has a full set of agility equipment like teeter totters and A-frames, but new ones need to be added each year like the nearly $1,000 sway bridge.
Campaigning a cat
In 2009, the Hennekes’ cat P-Knutt Sugar n’ Spice received Best Household Pet in the U.S. through the American Cat Fanciers Association. It’s the highest honor a cat can receive.
“She was a show cat. She loved shows and never met a judge she didn’t like,” Karen said of the cat, who has since passed away. “She was a very special girl.”
The couple moved to Great Bend 15 years ago from Minnesota. Karen first started showing cats in 1971. Wayne started in 1976. Her cat of choice was Cornish rex and his was Russian blue.
The more shows a cat participates in, the higher the ranking they receive and the higher they place in the country. Some years a cat showed particular promise and the couple would “campaign” it.
“When we’re campaigning a cat, we can go to 28 shows a year,” Wayne said. “It would get so I wished I could stay home this week.”
During a campaign, they spend one weekend on the road – continuing to work a regular job in between – and the next week preparing for the next show. The couple has shown from coast to coast in places like San Diego, Portland, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Denver and even in Canada. They’ve also been organizers for more than 30 shows.
Nowadays, they only go to about eight shows per year. So far this year they’ve been to places like Fargo, N.D., and Lawrence.
They now show a different breed of cat, choosing one only recently admitted into the American Cat Fanciers Association registry. The breed is Australian Mist and, Karen Henneke said, there are only 19 in the U.S., two of which live with the Hennekes in Great Bend. One, Pzazshiraz is just four months old, and the other, Neolani, is a year old.
The cats – bred in Australia – are very friendly, the Hennekes said.
“We’ve handled them from the time they were eeny-teeny,” Karen said. “We put them through the same motions the judges would.”
Show weekends are busy.
“We’re a bunch of weekend warriors,” Wayne said. “We could drive 14 hours at a shot.”
The cat show community is very close, he said.
“When we get to the show, we do a lot of socializing,” he said. “We all consider ourselves family.”
They typically arrive at a show the night before, get settled at the hotel, do any grooming or bathing of the cats, eat dinner, socialize, and then go to bed. Then they are up at 5 a.m. the next morning.
“And we do this for fun, right?” Wayne said.
The Barton County 4-H Dog Club will hold a dog show for local 4H members at 6 p.m. today and an open dog show at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Both events will be at Expo III at the Barton County Fairgrounds, located near the intersection of 10th Street and G Avenue, near the airport. A raffle will be held to raise funds for the dog club with prizes like dog food, collars and leashes, and gift cards. Tickets are $1 each or six for $5.