On a clear Saturday morning in early October, a caravan of veterinary students roamed the vineyards and lush Finger Lakes National Forest, heading to the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine in Romulus, New York, where the dog shows of the This year’s Wine Country Circuit. the third day of the exhibitions.
The event is a unique opportunity for students to refine their understanding of dog breeds and explore how vets intersect with the American Kennel Club (AKC) dog show world. Their goal for the day is to listen, watch and learn.
âNot many veterinary students get the chance to work in a dog show like this,â says event organizer and judge Susan Hamlin, who has been judging dog shows for 50 years.
The Wine Country Circuit is one of the largest dog show circuits in the country. Four independent dog 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 features conformation, obedience and agility, and has an average daily total of over 1,400 dogs. Many then participate in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
The 19 Cornell students arrive early for their Saturday Elmira Kennel Club event. Students are assigned a mentor and spend the day discovering the world of breeders, exhibitors, field veterinary care providers and more.
âWe were delighted to be able to send students to advance their understanding of different dog breeds and interact with the dog show community,â said Dr Meg Thompson, director of Cornell University Hospital for Animals.
âI hope this is the start of a long term relationship, which will not only benefit dog sports, but dog care providers as well,â says Carol Srnka, event and agility coordinator for the four days. Srnka currently sits on the board of directors of the Finger Lakes Kennel Club and has participated in the event since 1986.
Although this is the first year of student involvement, Cornell has been on the circuit for a long time. Retired Professor of Ophthalmology, Dr Thomas Kern, runs an eye exam clinic for dogs on the show grounds, and Dr N. Sydney Moise, MS ’85, Professor of Cardiology CV Starr, retired, runs a cardiovascular clinic. Not only did Cornell clinicians provide on-site veterinary care, but Hamlin herself has retired from Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine.
There are students present from every class year in the veterinary program. The event also allows them to get a more complete idea of ââthe path – large or small animal – that they would like to take after school is over. For many, the Wine Country Circuit will be the first show they have ever seen.
âI had only watched the national dog show on TV on Thanksgiving Day, so I didn’t know what to expect,â says Michelle Greenfield, DVM Class of 2023.
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 steward of the Friday show. âShe was phenomenal,â says Greenfield. “She not only took the time to explain all the intricacies of gaining points and becoming a champion, but she also pointed out the different breeds of dogs so I could familiarize myself with them – and there are so many of them.” Indeed, 197 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club participate in these shows.
Seacord also appreciated the mentoring experience. âWe visited the show venues to see how much fun owners can have with their dogs,â says Seacord. “I hope Michelle and the other students enjoyed the bond between handlers and owners and their purpose-bred dogs.”
Although Greenfield wanted to become an aquatic vet, she discovered that there were principles on the show that she could apply to other situations. âIt was a once in a lifetime experience to have as a vet student, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity,â said Greenfield.
Alanna Horton, class of 2024, also had limited experience with dog shows. She says her mentor’s enthusiasm was just as contagious. Horton partnered with mentor Julie Luther, Hamlin’s daughter, who introduced her to other exhibitors and let her go through the prep process. âIt 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! Horton said.
Talking with exhibitors about their motivation to enter dogs at shows like this was also a highlight for Vivian Shum, class of 2023. do it because they love the whole process from training to qualification. Â», Explains Shum.
Hamlin has also been passionate about dogs from a young age, starting a junior kennel club at age 13. She said 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 American Kennel Club Field Representative. âThey got to ask a lot of questions and get a really good idea of ââthe whole thing,â Hamlin said.
Refresh the breeding
As the students took in the excitement of the event and met a range of unique people, they also saw a door opening to a bigger world – a deeper understanding of dog breeding.
Mentors at the show gave students insight into their own motivations and goals for breeding. Srnka, for example, notes that health, structure, and temperament are just as important in a performance dog. âAs a breeder and exhibitor it is important for me to have all genetic testing done for my breed to ensure that my dogs lead as long and healthy lives as possible,â said Srnka.
The biggest takeaway from Shum was hearing about responsible breeding, especially for breeds with a limited gene pool in the United States. âTheir voices are largely overshadowed by less responsible puppy mill operations that dominate the news,â Shum said. âI learned about the steps responsible breeders are taking, such as genetic testing of their dogs and breeding animals around the world, with the aim of maximizing diversity. “
Greenfield says that after experiencing the show, she recognizes the love and care these owners have for their dogs. âI can also understand that dogs have to meet certain standards, and many of those standards are developed for form and function,â Greenfield said. âFor example, we’ve seen brachycephalic dogs – breeds with shorter skulls and muzzles, like pugs and Boston terriers – breathe easily while competing in the show, which, as the mentors explained. performance, is essential because, if you are going to raise them, your goal is to provide them with the healthiest and highest situation of well-being.
Horton is ready to incorporate into her career what she has learned about the breeders she has interacted with. âSometimes we can see some very irresponsible breeding practices in veterinary medicine and assume that all breeders are like that, but I think it’s important to take a step back when we have breeding clients and try to avoid predetermined judgments, âsays Horton. “At the end of the day, responsible breeders and vets all want healthy dogs.”
Prepare for next year
Even as the students return home to Ithaca this Saturday evening, plans for next year are underway. A few of the students even hope to immerse themselves in the world of dog shows with their own dogs. âMy team planned to register their own animals, investigate their next breed, set goals for testing their own dogs,â said mentor and judge Amanda Pough. “They were hoping and planning to attend more dog shows and learn where to find resources for healthy purebred dogs now and in the future.”
âI would love to continue to be involved in veterinary care at dog shows as a vet. It’s a great way to get involved in the community, âsays Horton. And while she would love to train her (future) dog in agility after seeing them having so much 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.”
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 professional knowledge and skills.
âTheir education is already so varied,â says Hamlin. “They learn more about dogs, cats, cows, horses, pigs, birds, sheep, wildlife – our show is a deep dive into a species with 197 breeds.”
The unique learning opportunity was not lost on any of the students. Said 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.