Today I visited the Sunday show of a 3 or 4 day cluster. I hadn't been to one in a few years, so I was immediately struck by how things have changed. The show was at the same location (and same time of year) where I was show chairman 25 years-ish ago. Back then, you could hardly move through the huge building and we had so many vendors we had to turn some away. My show's entry was near 3300 dogs. This one had around 1900. That isn't even factoring that there are dozens more AKC breeds recognized now!
Folks, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out this ain't good. At 55, it's safe to say I'm an elder statesman as I started showing at age 18. I was way the youngest in the local kennel club where I have sadly watched so many of my older friends, judges, fellow exhibitors pass away with few coming up in the ranks to fill the void. It was basically the same crew 25 years older, including me helping out at the gate a little while reminiscing about this with a fellow member.
I get it. Dog shows and everything that goes with it is expensive. The breeding, entries, travel, gear, vet bills, yada yada has taken the sport into one mostly for the wealthy. We originally blamed the slowdown on fuel prices (lots of motor homes, etc.,) but that can't be it now. The sport has always cost a lot of money with the rich prevailing a lot of the time, but even adjusting for inflation it seems to have gone up astronomically. For Pete's sake, I complimented a friend on her trolley (a crate on wheels with a grooming top) and she said it was $425! I need to start saving now....
Did it ever occur to any of the powers that be that they may be pricing this sport right out of existence? I can't say for sure, but horses are waaaayyy more expensive to own and show and if our All-American Quarter Horse Congress brings the local economy six million dollars in three weeks, I suspect they don't have the same issues. Yes, we all joked about being "horse poor" (and we were) but... Maybe it's because horse shows often have cash prizes? Our horses had to pay their way to shows or we couldn't have afforded it as long as we did. I know there are folks that sacrifice a lot of other things to be able to show dogs (I was one of them too.) But if you had a good dog you could fight your way through the political maze and eke out a win or two.
My dear friend Barb and I did the math and yes, it was generally cheaper (though not as fun) to use a handler because you shared costs with their other clients, they travelled to further shows and often had a better chance of finishing your dog quicker than if you did it yourself. You also didn't have to take off work or find someone to care for the rest of your dogs. After seeing some of the rigs the handlers are driving, I am not so sure it is cheaper anymore though. More power to them, packing a bunch of dogs on the road can be a hard life and they should have the comforts of the home they never get to live in....
I know it is hard to get a decent price for our pet puppies who "support" our hobby (well, nobody I knew really has gone in the black too much this way...) because backyarders and puppy millers can sell cheap since they have nothing invested in them. But it has been that way since the beginning of time....so probably isn't the cause.
I don't have the answers to this, but somebody had better be thinking on it. In church they used to say "a church that isn't growing is dying." Well, the sport of dogs certainly isn't growing and if something isn't done and soon, it may not survive (at least in the form we know.)
Just my two cents ----