Dog show

Vet students dive into the world of Finger Lakes dog shows

On a clear Saturday morning in early October, a caravan of veterinary students meanders through vineyards and the lush Finger Lakes National Forest, heading from Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine in Romulus, New York, where the Wine Country Circuit dog shows of this year are the third day of exhibitions.

The event is a unique opportunity for students to sharpen their understanding of dog breeds and explore how veterinarians intersect with the American Kennel Club (AKC) dog show world. Their focus for the day is to listen, watch and learn.

“Not many student vets get the chance to work at a dog show like this,” says event organizer and judge Susan Hamlin, who has judged dog shows for 50 years.

The Wine Country Circuit is one of the largest dog show circuits in the country. Four independent kennel club shows take place over four days at this annual event at Sampson State Park: Elmira Kennel Club, Finger Lakes Kennel Club, Kanadasaga Kennel Club, and the Onondaga Kennel Association. Each of the four shows showcase conformation, obedience and agility, and average a daily total of over 1,400 dogs. Many continue to compete at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

The Cornell Veterinary Care Team.

The 19 Cornell students arrive early for their Saturday Elmira Kennel Club event. Students are assigned a mentor and they spend the day getting an insider’s look at the world of breeders, exhibitors, hands-on veterinary care providers and more.

“We were thrilled to be able to send students to advance their understanding of different dog breeds and interact with the dog show community,” says Dr. Meg Thompson, director of Cornell University Hospital for Animals.

“I hope this is the start of a long-term relationship, which will benefit not only dog ​​sports, but also dog health providers,” says Carol Srnka, liaison and agility coordinator for the four days. . Srnka currently sits on the board of the Finger Lakes Kennel Club and has been involved with the event since 1986.

Although this is the first year with student participation, Cornell has been on the circuit for a long time. Retired Professor of Ophthalmology Dr. Thomas Kern runs an eye examination clinic for dogs on the show grounds, and Dr. N. Sydney Moise, MS ’85, CV Professor of Cardiology Starr, retired, runs a cardiovascular clinic. Not only did Cornell clinicians provide on-site veterinary care, but Hamlin herself retired from Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine.

Attentive observers

There are students present from every class year in the veterinary program. The event also works as a way for them to get a fuller picture of which path – big or small animal – they would like to take after school is over. For many, the Wine Country Circuit will be the first show they have ever seen.

“I had only watched the National Dog Show on TV on Thanksgiving Day, so I didn’t know what to expect,” says Michelle Greenfield, DVM Class of 2023.

Veterinary student Alanna Horton.

For Greenfield, the highlight of the day was soaking up the knowledge of his mentor, Ereign Seacord, president of the Finger Lakes Kennel Club and chief ringside steward for the Friday show. “She was phenomenal,” says Greenfield. “She not only took the time to explain all the intricacies of earning points and becoming a champion, but she also pointed out the different dog breeds so I could get to know them – and there are so many.” In fact, 197 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club take part in these shows.

Seacord also appreciated the mentorship experience. “We visited playhouses to see how much fun owners can have with their dogs,” says Seacord. “I hope Michelle and the other students enjoyed the bond that exists between handlers and owners and their purpose-bred dogs.”

Although Greenfield wanted to become an aquatic veterinarian, she discovered that there were principles from the show that she could apply to other situations. “It was a unique experience to have as a veterinary student, and I’m really grateful for this opportunity,” says Greenfield.

Alanna Horton, Class of 2024, also had limited dog show experience. She says her mentor’s enthusiasm was just as infectious. Horton was paired with mentor Julie Luther, Hamlin’s daughter, who introduced her to other exhibitors and let her go through the preparation process. “It was very clear to me how passionate the people at the dog show were about their dogs – and how much they loved talking about them!” said Horton.

Talking to exhibitors about their motivation to enter dogs in shows like this was also a highlight for Vivian Shum, Class of 2023. They do it because they love the whole process from training to qualifying says Shum.

Hamlin has also had a passion for dogs from a young age, starting a Junior Kennel Club when she was 13 years old. She says she was happy to facilitate this opportunity for Cornell students. During lunch, the students were also able to meet Kern as well as Sandy D’Andrea, the field representative of the American Kennel Club. “They were able to ask a lot of questions and get a really good idea of ​​the whole thing,” Hamlin said.

Focus on breeding

As the students enjoyed the excitement of the event and met an array of unique people, they also saw a door to a wider world open up – a deeper understanding of dog breeding.

Veterinary students Vivian Shum (left) and Leah Ramsaran.

The show’s mentors gave the students insight into their own motivations and goals for breeding. Srnka, for example, notes that health, structure, and temperament are equally important in a performance dog. “As a breeder and exhibitor, it’s important to me that all genetic testing is done for my breed to ensure that my dogs live as long and healthy lives as possible,” says Srnka.

Shum’s biggest takeaway was hearing about responsible breeding, especially for breeds with a limited gene pool in the United States. “Their voices are largely overshadowed by less responsible puppy mill operations dominating the news,” Shum says. “I gained a better understanding of the steps taken by responsible breeders, such as genetic testing their dogs and breeding animals around the world, with the goal of maximizing diversity.”

Greenfield says that after seeing the show, she recognizes the love and care these owners have for their dogs. “I can also understand that dogs have to meet certain standards, and many of those standards are developed for form and function,” says Greenfield. “For example, we’ve seen brachycephalic dogs — breeds with shorter skulls and muzzles, like pugs and Boston terriers — breathe easily during competition, which, as the mentors at the emission, is essential because, if you are going to breed them, your goal is to provide them with the healthiest and highest state of well-being.

Horton is ready to incorporate what she has learned about the breeders she has interacted with into her career. “Sometimes we can see very irresponsible breeding practices in veterinary medicine and assume that all breeders are like that, but I think it’s important to step back when we have breeding clients and try to avoid pre-determined judgments,” says Horton. “At the end of the day, responsible breeders and veterinarians all want healthy dogs.”

Preparing for next year

Even as students return home to Ithaca this Saturday evening, plans for next year are underway. A few of the students even hope to dip a toe into the world of dog shows with their own dogs. “My crew was planning on registering their own animals, investigating their next breed, setting goals to test their own dogs,” says mentor and judge Amanda Pough. “They hoped and planned to attend other dog shows and learn where to find resources for healthy purebred dogs now and in the future.”

“I would love to stay involved in veterinary care at dog shows as a vet eventually. It’s a great way to get involved in the community,” says Horton. And while she would love to train her (future) dog to agility after seeing them having fun on the course, meeting the people at the show was always the best part.” The best experience was not only going to watch the dogs in the show, but also talking to a lot of people who have very interesting life experiences and perspectives.”

Vet students observe a competitor on the course.

With this successful first kick off, this new partnership between Cornell veterinary students and the Wine Country Circuit dog shows promises to be a rewarding opportunity for students to deepen their knowledge and professional skills.

“Their upbringing is already so varied,” Hamlin says. “They learn about dogs, cats, cows, horses, pigs, birds, sheep, wildlife – our show is a deep dive into one species with 197 breeds.”

The unique learning opportunity was not lost on any of the students. Says Shum, “My time at the Wine Country Circuit dog show was absolutely fantastic and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”

Melanie Greaver Cordova is assistant director of communications at the College of Veterinary Medicine.