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Over the past 43 years, one of the few constants within the Lompoc Valley has been the arrival of hundreds — sometimes thousands — of dogs for a series of competitions on the final weekend of each July.

This summer, that streak will come to an end.

Officials with the Lompoc Valley Kennel Club and the city of Lompoc confirmed this past week that the kennel club’s annual dog shows would not be held this year. Lompoc Valley Kennel Club President Terry Bearman said the condition of Ryon Park, the event’s longtime host site, as well as declining club revenue, were among the chief reasons for this year’s first cancellation after 42 consecutive years of shows.

Still, he expressed extreme confidence that this year will only be a break and that the event will be back — somewhere in the Lompoc Valley — in 2019.

“It’s just not in the cards (for this year), but we are set for next year,” Bearman said of the event, which is considered by many as the driver behind the single-largest annual economic boost in the city. “We’re gonna work with the City Council a little bit and see what we can do. Anybody in town, any restaurant owners or merchant owners that make good money during that week, we’d urge them to pick up the phone and call the mayor and the City Council and tell them, ‘Hey, what can we do to keep the dog show here and keep it going?’ We’ll just have to see what happens.”

Battling gophers

One of the most repeated complaints about the Lompoc dog shows in recent years — from organizers, out-of-town competitors and visitors — has been the condition of the grounds at Ryon Park, specifically the many holes created by gophers.

The gopher holes can create hazards for both dogs and people, and Bearman and others within the Lompoc Valley Kennel Club have cited the turf as a factor in the steadily dropping attendance for the shows.

“The main complaint from exhibitors who come from out of town is that the park is in such poor shape that they’re just not gonna come; it’s not worth it to them,” Bearman said. “One of the biggest problems we have is the condition of the park. That’s something that needs work and needs to be done. That’s what’s keeping people away.”

Although the problem has persisted, it hasn’t exactly been ignored.

A Ryon Park master plan that was developed under former City Manager Patrick Wiemiller calls for all of the turf at the park to be pulled up so that gopher wire — aimed at preventing gophers from digging — can be laid down underneath. That plan hasn’t gotten off the ground, likely in large part due to the hefty financial considerations, and its current status is unclear given that Wiemiller left his post in January and his full-time replacement has yet to be hired.

The city is addressing the issue, however.

Dirk Ishiwata, the city's facilities, fleet and park maintenance manager, noted that the gopher issue is an “ongoing battle” and said that the city has been using a new type of gopher trap, called the Gopher Hawk, for the past 11 months.

The city, according to Ishiwata, has about 40 Gopher Hawk devices — they cost about $35 apiece — that have been used to trap and kill gophers at several city sites, though primarily at Ryon and River Bend parks. Since the devices went into use in Lompoc last year, he said, they have been responsible for the removal of about 1,000 gophers.

“Out of all the things that we’ve used in the past, this works the best,” Ishiwata said of the Gopher Hawks. “There’s no invasive chemicals or anything. It’s just a spring-loaded device and it works really spot-on.”

Bearman said he’d like to see a more permanent fix, but he also acknowledged that the gophers aren’t the only problem facing the kennel club and the annual dog shows.

Drumming up interest

The Lompoc Valley Kennel Club has just a couple remaining original members, and as the older members have aged out, the club has had difficulty attracting young replacements. Longtime lead dog show organizer Pete DeSoto, who stepped away from the club due to health concerns after last year’s show, is among those original members who are no longer involved.

Bearman, who has helped organize the dog shows in Lompoc for the past two decades, said that the club has had some new members join in recent years, but that “dog showing is just another one of those social things that’s not so popular anymore.”

“The interest is just dwindling, so we’re trying to do what we can to update it,” he said.

Some of the updates he cited were the addition of obedience and tracking competitions, which could lead to more entries.

Attracting more dogs is paramount for the club because last year’s all-breed show drew only about 650 dogs, which amounts to a fraction of the thousands of entrants the show would count in its heyday. Considering that the declining membership is already cutting into the club’s budget, the issue is compounded when the shows are also bringing in less-than-expected revenue.

“You can’t pay the same costs for the park and everything else when you’re making half as much money,” Bearman said. “It just doesn’t add up.”

Bearman noted that he’s received calls from people all over the state who are curious if the rumors of this year’s cancellation are true.

“They’re not real happy about it,” he said, when asked their reaction to his confirmation.

Interim Lompoc City Manager Teresa Gallavan, who publicly revealed the cancellation at Tuesday night’s Lompoc City Council meeting, expressed a similar sentiment when she was asked about how losing the show would impact the city.

“We will miss the breeders, trainers, handlers, spectators and, of course, the dogs, in our community,” Gallavan said. “The show has been an important part of our spring through summer event lineup each year, and has had a positive economic impact on our hospitality industry — bringing visitors to our hotels and restaurants, and patronizing our stores and gas stations.

“We thank the organizers … for hosting this wonderful event,” she added, “and we are hopeful the show will be back next year.”

Looking ahead

While Bearman said he fully expects the show to be back in 2019 — it has already been registered with the American Kennel Club, which is a good sign — he said the location was still a mystery.

Bearman said that he and others within the kennel club plan to meet with city leaders, including the mayor and members of the City Council, to discuss fixes for Ryon Park and/or alternate sites in the event that Ryon Park is still unusable for the shows.

“We’re looking for other locations, but, of course, Ryon Park is in the prime location,” Bearman said. “That’s why people like to come — the weather’s great and everything’s great, except for the gophers.

“Something’s gonna happen,” he later added. “I doubt they’ll fix that park in a year, but I don’t know. We’re all kind of in a quandary standing around waiting to see what’s going to happen.”

Like Gallavan, Ishiwata, who oversees a parks maintenance staff of five, said he’d like to see the show back in a Lompoc park next year.

“It’s my goal and my park supervisor’s goal to bring them back and to keep them here, because I don’t want to lose anyone,” he said. “I’ve been living here many years and my kids have grown up here and I just want our parks to be as stellar as possible. I’m not into making excuses about being shorthanded; it is what it is. I don’t like seeing us lose any event for any reason.”

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Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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