Editor's note: This article has been re-printed on farmshepherds.com with permission from the original author. Kay Delk Keziah is well-known in the English Shepherd community for putting on some of the best gatherings around. Kay hosts the informative website http://www.eshepherd.org and has a mailing list you can subscribe to at http://www.eshepherd.org/newsletter-signup. Here are Kay's tips for planning a successful gathering.
In 2005 I first heard about English Shepherd Gatherings and wondered what they were about. I was told that basically ES Gatherings were times to get together with other English Shepherd owners and admirers to visit, have fun, look at the dogs, have a meal, and look forward to the next year when you do it again. I thought, “Oh, like a family reunion, but with dogs!” How fun! In October, 2006, we hosted our first North Carolina English Shepherd Gathering at Maple Grove Farm.
What I have learned is – KEEP IT SIMPLE!!!
There are only three steps: Plan, Prepare and Do It!!!
Pick a date. Pick a date that suits you and your helpers. It is nice to have two or more people working on the gathering. One person can do it alone, it is just a bit harder. Make sure the date does not conflict with some event in your community so there are enough hotel rooms to be had. Call around to the local hotels and see which ones allow pets. Make a list of names, addresses, and phone numbers you can post to your website and on the discussion lists, as well as email and snail mail as needed. Pick a time of the year that has nice weather for your area usually.
Pick a place. Preferably, pick a place that is free to use. It should have plenty of space for the dogs to run and play in a safe area. Ideally you also want to have a covered, dry place, like a big carport, barn, shed, or shop. An ample size for the play area would be 100 feet by 200 feet for 35 people and their dogs. The large, covered area is where you can set up the food, and if it rains you are covered. You also want to be sure there is ample parking that it is handicap accessible. You will need a restroom facility. Port-a-potties are available for rent if nothing on site is adequate.
The place can be your back yard or a field on your farm. Shade is always nice so think about that especially in the summer time. A pond or a creek or a herding spot are fun ideas. But don’t worry if you do not have them. They are fun but not necessary for a good time!
Seating and Tables for Food, Auction Items, Visiting. Use what you have first. A table can be made from old doors and saw bucks. Pull out the old card tables, and use your imagination. Borrow tables from friends or the church fellowship hall. Whatever chairs and benches you have, set them up where you want folk to congregate. Have the attendees bring their lawn chairs too. You could even pull out some hay bales for seating. For the tables, I use table cloths that I have had for years, and keep old throws for chairs and seats. I wash them and put them away each year after the gathering, so they are ready to pull out and use.
Dog Water. Plan for water stations so the dogs have plenty of water to drink. Have someone be in charge of keeping the buckets filled.
Trash Cans. You will need at least four large ones, with one designated for a poop receptacle in a central place. A poop scooper is handy to have at this spot too.
Decorating. Decorations aren’t necessary, so keep it simple if you decide to use them. But do pick a spot and have a nice backdrop set up for photos. Use an out building, or a seat with a colorful throw and some pots of flowers for people/dog portraits. People will love this! I have seen old tractors, wagons, and out buildings used, and we have an out house with a bench beside it. Use what you have. Folks will love it!
Food and Drink. Keep it simple for you! We barbecue chicken, but hamburgers and hot dogs are easy too. Have people bring side dishes and whatever they like to drink. You will have plenty to eat and drink this way. For folks traveling long distance, I suggest bread or chips or something easy to pick up at the grocery. You could also do a complete Pot Luck, and manage it with a sign up list of desired items so you don’t get 50 cakes for the meal.
I pick up paper products on sale through out the year and store them in a Gathering box. This saves me money and I am sure to have cups, napkins, plates, cutlery, and toilet paper on hand. Have ice available. A friend or relative who has a shaved ice machine might be a source, or a church fellowship hall may have ice facilities. Those are free, but you can always buy cubed ice too.
Set Up. Set up tables and chairs the day before and wipe them well to make sure they are clean. Have one table set up as a greeting table with name tags and a sign-in sheet for names, addresses, phone numbers, and emails. The morning of the gathering, put table cloths on the tables and throws on the chairs…..and you are ready!
Miscellaneous Items. Have a first aid kit for people and pets. It doesn’t need to be a complete ‘trauma kit’, but should include the basics for first aid care – bandaging materials, antibiotic ointment, bee sting supplies, etc. Be sure people know where it is located. Have a list of local vets and phone numbers, just in case. Have a map and directions ready should someone need to go to the hospital.
Advertising your Gathering. Post announcements to the group lists to which you belong. Advertise it with the Shepherd’s Post e news letter and on the English Shepherd Source web site. Create a Face Book Page for the event and announce it on your Face Book Time line as well as groups you are in. If there are people you know would be interested, but who wouldn’t get those announcements, you might consider sending them personal invitations.
Activities. Not all are listed here but these are the ones that have worked well. Again, keep this simple. You could do two activities, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, but my experience is that just one is sufficient. And, really, you do not have to plan an activity. People are so happy to get together and visit that activities can be too much. Here are some things that have been done in the past:
- Herding and Herding tests
- Canine Good Citizen tests
- Guest speaker (a veterinarian, English Shepherd history, rare breed conservation)
- Search and Rescue Demo
- First aid for dogs
- Scent Dog work
- ATTS testing
Day of the event! You are ready! Ask some of the attendees to help at the greeting table with signing in of the guests keep a name, phone number, addresses and email. It will help with the next gathering you do! Have stick on name tags for everyone. ENJOY THE DAY, HAVE FUN!!!!!
Some Advice. If the gathering is at your home, you do not have to clean everything! People will not notice, nor will they care, if your windows are just washed or not. Have things clean but just “NORMAL” clean. Keep it simple! Don’t worry, it will all go fine, everyone will enjoy themselves and have fun!
Les and I put on a benefit one year and had 200 people at our home. I decided to cook 15 pounds of dried pinto beans. It took me 3 huge pots and 3 days to have home made pintos. All was good and well. I left the kitchen and had the pots on low to warm the beans. Thirty minutes later, I smelled beans and they did not smell right. SCORCHED is what HIGH heat will do to beans. Someone “turned up the heat”. I sent Les to town to purchase four gallons of canned pintos, heated them up, and NO ONE KNEW THE DIFFERENCE. Well I did, and so did my friends. Taught me a lesson!! All was well and I survived (the pots did not survive).
If you put on an ES Gathering, I promise you will work hard, but YOU will have the best time of all!