When I visited my first dog show more than 38 years ago, little did I know that a door was opening to a sport that would change the course of my life.

I vividly recall that cold Saturday afternoon in February and traveling to West Warwick, Rhode Island, in search of a basset hound. I observed all sorts of handsome hounds, including a beautiful young basset female that had won best of breed and was competing in the hound group. She was a gorgeous canine and I figured she’d produce some handsome puppies.

My mother, however, had other ideas, and fell in love with the Kerry blue terriers that were exhibited that day. Needless to say, when we couldn’t locate a litter of bassets of good quality within the next few months and also couldn’t find a Sealyham terrier, my mother continued her research and found a litter of Kerry blue puppies that had just been born in a kennel about a mile away from our house on the other side of Swansea.

My determined Irish mother won, and a string of delightful Kerries filled our home for more than two decades.

For the next 25 years, I frequently attended dog shows all over the Northeast and occasionally to Canada, California and elsewhere. I developed countless wonderful friendships, had the opportunity to visit fascinating places, learned about almost 200 breeds and their development, and had a lot of fun.

When I began exhibiting in 1980, there were only about 140 breeds registered with the American Kennel Club. Today, more than 200 breeds are registered throughout the United States, including some that are listed as “rare” and facing extinction if efforts aren’t made to improve their numbers. Many of the terrier breeds that require a great deal of grooming, such as Skyes and Dandie Dinmonts, are vulnerable.

The sport of purebred dogs has certainly changed a great deal during the past 40 years. Many dog clubs have shuttered and the shift has gone from conformation to performance activities such as rally, Earthdog trials, Schutzhund and dock diving. Many years ago, handlers were nattily attired and owners spent the entire day at a dog show where they enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow exhibitors and spent time learning about other breeds.

After purchasing my first purebred dog in 1980, I joined the Wampanoag Kennel Club, then based in New Bedford, and trained with the late Al Kirby of Westport, one of the country’s leading professional handlers. I later had the pleasure to serve as the president of the club, and I’m still a member of this group of hardworking, dedicated and extremely knowledgeable dog fanciers.

Since 1955, Wampanoag has earned a stellar reputation for hosting well-run, fun-filled dog shows, and continues to host events in late June at the Crackerbarrel Fairgrounds at the Wrentham Developmental Center in Wrentham, Mass. Although the venue is a bit of a hike from Greater New Bedford, it’s well worth the trip to have the opportunity to meet experienced breeders and handlers and to see hundreds of the country’s most beautiful, top-winning show dogs.

Closer to home, on May 6, the Wampanoag club will also host a match at the Freetown State Forest. Admission is free. Spectators can speak to club members about various breeds, and learn about performance activities, training, exhibiting, breed rescue and junior handling for young people who want to have fun with their dog.

For more information, contact Micky Rein at (508) 320-7435; or contact her by e-mail at: cruellathelady@aol.com.