Dogs at their best

Debbie Ward leads Northeast Indiana Kennel Club

Artemis and Debbie Ward, photography by Ellie Bogue

Debbie Ward wasn’t a big dog fan as a kid. Her family had a misbehaving cocker spaniel with an unfortunate tendency to bite people. It wasn’t until she got to know her in-laws’ Weimaraners that she saw the appeal of the furry, four-legged creatures.

Now, she serves as president of the Northeast Indiana Kennel Club and has three dogs of her own: two Clumber Spaniels (Dolly and Artemis, who is pictured above) and an English setter named after former Purdue basketball coach Gene Keady. The club furthers the advancement of all breeds of purebred dogs, encourages sportsmanlike competition at dog shows and obedience trials and offers and lends aid and encouragement to novice or inexperienced dog owners, she said.

In addition, the local kennel club wants to be part of the Fort Wayne dog community, with exhibitions, training, therapy groups, rescue groups and the popular Paws to Read program, where specially trained dogs and their handlers visit area libraries to let inexperienced readers read aloud to the dogs.

The club sponsors several events each year, including Responsible Dog Owners Day in September, for which it received an American Kennel Club Community Achievement Award in 2012. The local group also hosts the Old Fort Cluster Dog Show, set this year for Oct. 28-Nov. 1 at Memorial Coliseum. This annual event draws dog breeders from across the country, all of whom hope their purebred pooch will be awarded the coveted Best in Show award. The show itself has been nominated for a “Winkie” award for best dog show in the country, given by “Dogs In Review” magazine.

“There’s a lot of activities in conjunction” with the Old Fort Cluster Show, Ward said. “Last year we had top dogs” in the country, including some that went on to compete in the Westminster Dog Show, the top dog show in the world.

(Interesting side note: The Old Fort Cluster Dog Show was the first sporting event held at the coliseum after it opened in 1952, and one year, then-President Gerald Ford presented the Best in Show winner, Ward said.)

The local kennel club helps train local dog owners how to properly show their dogs.

“It’s important for people interested in showing to know how to do it,” Ward said. Visitors to the show can learn more about each breed.

“Dog shows allow the public to see dogs looking their best,” she said.

But it’s not all about who has the top dog. The club also wants prospective dog owners to be educated about breeds and how they interact with different lifestyles, Ward said. The group wants to help people understand how different breeds respond to people, their training and grooming demands and activity levels.

“My main motivation is that people get the right dog for them,” Ward said. With that, she reached down and stroked Dolly’s head, then headed off to listen as young readers eagerly showed off their skills to the silky dog.

First appeared in the October 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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