Going to the dogs: When the city went all out

In this 1932 photo, Mr. and Mrs. L.G. Voorhees of Fort Wayne prepare their Beagle for the State Fair Dog Show. PHOTO CREDIT: INDIANA HISTORICAL SOCIETY


Contributing editor

In July 1922, Indianapolis reached a new high-water mark in its display of residents’ refinement and breeding. The event that demonstrated this watershed moment was held on the northside and attended by more than 4,000. Debutante ball? Nope. Dog show.

“The aristocracy of dogdom,” according to The Indianapolis Star, walked, ran and heeled their way to the top of the heap at the Warfleigh kennels on that warm July 2nd. According to “dog fanciers, Indianapolis ranks very high in the number and class of its well-bred animals and 260 of these were entered in the show” – an impressive response to the club’s call for the canniest of the city’s canines.

Although not yet affiliated with the American Kennel Club, the Indiana Kennel Club, which hosted that year’s show, was anticipating an upcoming affiliation soon after this first dog event and carefully followed all the same rules as the national organization.

There were prize winners in every breed and the top of the heap from each class vied for the “best pedigreed dog in Indianapolis,” The Star reported in the full-page article it devoted to this event. Several winners appeared in photos at the top of the page, alongside their owners.

Those photographed were Lord Chomley, Hutch, Indiana Chief, Chin-Chin (a Pekingese, of course), Perfecto, Duke, Freddie, Titus, Stubby, Disturber Jr., J. H. Sullivan, W. R. Overman, Robert Hawkins and J. Wallace Barnes. Some of them were dogs and some were men. There were no bitches whatsoever in the photo, although there were many in the show.

Warfleigh Kennel owner James H. Sullivan’s English bulldogs, Sensible Fred and Kingsome, had already won their class at Madison Square Gardens, and their owner was the chief judge, but there was no report of any of the other contestants feeling the two pooches were substantially advantaged. After all, some of the other contestants had also been previous winners of “awards and prizes throughout the country.” 

With almost 100 members, the local kennel club put on a good display of dog flesh in a number of categories. These included Russian wolfhounds, great Danes, American bull terriers, smooth and wire fox terriers, Scotch collies, shepherd dogs, “puppy dogs,” fox and beagle hounds, pekingese, chow, English and Llewellen setters, pointers, airedales and Boston terriers.

The day’s big winner was airedale Big Chief, “said to be the best pedigreed dog in Indianapolis,” according to The Star. His owner was W. R. Overman. The dog was 13 and a previous winner. He had taken first place in his class at the A.K.C. show in Chicago a year earlier.

The stated purpose of the show was to stimulate an interest in pedigreed dogs in Indianapolis. The turnout of both dog participants and show attendees seems to indicate that city folk already had a significant interest in high-falutin’ doggies.  The long, long published list of winners, placers and show-ers suggests that every dog must have had his/her day.

Although this 1922 show was a sort of call to action to pedigreed dog lovers, it was not the first and certainly not the last dog show in this city. A few years earlier, in 1917, the Indianapolis Kennel Club hosted a two-day dog show at Tomlinson Hall. The crowds were large and the dogs were good. The winner got to take home the Taggart Special Cup “a beautiful silver affair that any dog would be proud of,” according to The Star coverage of the event.

In 1933, the city hosted a specialized show of just Boston terriers at the Hotel Antlers downtown. More than 75 of the little tuxedo-wearing buddies showed up to show off in the middle of the Great Depression, according to a report in The Star. The size of the crowd proved that even in the direst of times, people love a good boy – or girl.

By 1938, not to be outdone, local cat lovers had formed the Indianapolis Cat Club and were holding their own show, undoubtedly with a group of far more indifferent participants, right after that year’s dog show closed at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

The 1961 dog show at the fairgrounds was noted as the 46th annual event in The Star coverage. That year’s show drew 1,500 dogs of 85 breeds. 

There are still dog shows in Indianapolis, a city that has clearly learned the virtues of a high-bred doggie. Today the Indy Winter Classic dog show even has its own Facebook page.

Sadly the annual show was canceled in 2021 due to the pandemic. But, of course, you can’t keep a good dog down. Soon enough the city’s very fanciest dogs will once again strut their stuff, and be judged on it, at the dog show.