By Chuck Ballaro
Some of the best dog breeders in the Southeast and their dogs will converge on the Lee Civic Center in North Fort Myers to showcase 150 breeds at the annual Greater Fort Myers Dog Club event Memorial Day weekend.
The American Kennel Club-sanctioned show is among the longest-running in Southwest Florida and features exhibitors from throughout the region in one of the toughest tests for both dog and owner.
Show chairman Bill Paglivanti said the idea of the show is to get the dogs and breeders points so they can become a champion and perhaps earn a spot in the biggest show of all, the Westminster Dog Show in New York, which takes place every February.
"It's the biggest event south of Tampa. There are a lot who come in from out of state and some from out of the country," Paglivanti said. "The show includes judging on conformation - how a dog conforms to AKC physical standards for each breed - obedience, rally trials (where the dogs jump the hoops) and junior handling, which are the younger people who are judged by how they handle the dog, rather than the dog itself.
There also will be countless vendor booths filled with treats, toys and other items for all dogs.
Saturday's show will feature a Parade of Rescue Dogs, a nonprofit competitive event that recognizes and honors work done by purebred rescue groups.
"In this event, many say the dogs rescued them. It's touching when they told us about the dogs they rescued," Paglivanti said. "It's a really nice event."
The show will be held May 25 and 26, with judging beginning at 8:30 a.m. and will last all day. The dog show will judge in seven groups - sporting, hound, non-sporting, working, terrier, toy, and herding - with the winner of each earning a spot in Best in Show.
Saturday's schedule includes a best of show for puppies, with groups of between six and nine months and nine months to a year competing like the big dogs.
"A goal of the Greater Fort Myers Dog Club is to promote responsible dog ownership," Paglivanti said. "You'll get a chance to see a lot of pretty dogs."
Almost 900 exhibitors participated last year. This year's participation is expected to be slightly less because of the economy.
The dog show is a great source of revenue for the Lee County. Last year's event generated 1,673 hotel room nights and $446,000 in direct visitor expenditures in Lee County.
Attendees pay $10 per vehicle for parking and are admitted to the event for free. The Lee County Civic Center is at the junction of state roads 31 and 78.
For more information, call Paglivanti at 229-5813.