When Helpers Fail and Comforts Flee

An old Army saying is “Never volunteer for anything.”  Since I never 1) served in the Army nor 2) have been accused of having good sense, I agreed for a second year to be the chief ring steward for the Houston Kennel Club show held last Saturday.

For the very few readers of mine who also don’t know about dog shows, a ring steward is an unheralded but important part of a dog show.  A steward is a kind of assistant to the judge, handing out the right armbands to the exhibitors, calling classes into the ring, laying out the right ribbons for the judge to present, moving the examination table in or out of the ring among other chores.  A good steward can be a great help to the judge and exhibitors and a bad one can slow everything down, to the ire of all affected.  Usually throughout these United States, one steward suffices for each ring.  In a few places – including, unfortunately, Texas – two stewards are used for each ring, an inside one to help the judge and an outside one to help the exhibitors.

The job of the chief ring steward is to make sure that there are enough stewards for each ring, to provide for reliefs if one has to step out for a minute or needs time to show a dog, to arrange their schedules so that if someone is showing a dog they are not a steward for a judge doing their breed, group or best in show, and to serve as the ring steward during Group competition and Best in Show.  There are professional stewarding associations that can be hired but most clubs, including Houston at its Spring show, rely on volunteers to help out, most frequently from among club members.

Despite numerous appeals and pleading from early February, last Wednesday I had some 20 volunteers, barely enough to cover all the rings for the day.  In this business, barely sometimes has to be good enough.  I sent out e-mails to everyone involved with their ring assignment and when they should be there.  On Thursday and Friday, six (6) of them replied by fluking out on me, the last at 3:30 on Friday afternoon.  At least two of these people were desperately needed to open the show as the inside steward for that ring.

To say I was deeply concerned is an understatement but at least I could console myself about the two possible outcomes.  Outcome 1:  I would find some people at the last minute, in which case the show could go on.  Outcome 2:  I wouldn’t, in which case there would be a catastrophe with judges having to call people into the ring themselves and exhibitors having to pick up their own armbands, the reputation of the club suffering and so on.  In neither case could I be blamed.

Friday evening I wrote to some of my remaining volunteers, explaining the situation and asking if they could take on some extra time, be willing to move around to different rings during the day and/or work a ring by themselves.  All graciously consented.  Madame, who already had duties with judges hospitality, agreed to do an hour and a half early.  Saturday morning I arrived at the show site an hour before judging was scheduled to begin and explained the problem to the show chairman.  Between us we got just enough people to get through the day, which went off with only a few hiccups.

So just when you’re ready to damn everyone to hell enough good folks step up and pitch in.  I made some major withdraws from the Favor Bank this weekend but it was worth it.

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