“Silver Grand Champion.”

“Best Veteran in Show.”

These were accolades popping up on Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) staff’s Facebook feeds as we followed Director of Sales Dana Lodge during her recent vacation in Seattle.  Strange vacation lingo?  Not in Dana’s world.  She did a bit of sightseeing and enjoyed dinner at the Space Needle, yes.  But Dana’s vacation destinations are driven by, well, dogs.  Seattle hosted the annual English Springer Spaniel National Dog Show, and Dana’s long-time prize winning star Keira scooped those accolades and more.

Keira_Kassie 2016 National1 Dana, her showing friend Ann, and their veteran English Springer Spaniels Kiera and Kassie. Photo by Nancy Gaffney/Gaff Photography

The story that led Dana to the dogs is important because it’s become an intricate part of Denton’s story.  Let me explain.

It began back in 1980 when Dana was attending UNT (then North Texas State University).  A friend gave her an English Springer Spaniel named Kyev.  Dana enrolled Kyev at Denton’s Golden Triangle Dog Obedience Group to brush up on manners.  Kyev performed so well in obedience school, the instructor suggested Dana enter her in an obedience show.  She did, Kyev was a star, and Dana was hooked.

Dana moved quickly from obedience to conformation shows where the concentration is on dogs’ genetic excellence.  She bought Charday, a female pup sired by the then national champion.  In 36 years, she has never wavered from that bloodline.  Now, seven generations and more than 50 champions later, Dana is at the top among English Springer Spaniel breeders and trainers.

Dana invests most of her vacation days on the road with Keira and her other four Springers competing in about 10 shows per year, including the National.   When she’s not at shows, she’s preparing her dogs at weekly training classes, grooming, assisting Springer rescue groups, and socializing puppies.  By the time one of her bound-for-show-life-pups meets its forever family, it has mastered situations like arenas crowded with dogs and people.

The National, though, is the granddaddy of the year pitting the breed’s cream of the crop against the cream of the crop, some 375 dogs this year in Seattle.

“The National is important because we showcase ourselves and our individual breeding programs to other breeders,” Dana explained.  “It’s where we can truly earn respect and establish a reputation of excellence.”

And that reputation is vital to an American Kennel Club (AKC) judge like Dana.

“When people show, they want a judge’s opinion they perceive as valuable,” she said.  “Having the AKC certification plus distinction as a successful breeder, trainer and winner make a good judge that competitors appreciate – win or lose.”

Dana’s life outside of work brings unique skills and experience that have served CVB efforts well over the last 11 years.  Showing and breeding dogs translates beautifully to the horse country culture across North Texas.  A fledgling concept when she joined us, she built what has become one of Denton’s most famous attractions drawing visitors from around the globe, the North Texas Horse Country Tours.

Now, a new project is on the very near horizon.

Denton rendering color schemes-1As director of sales, one of Dana’s new focuses is utilizing the now-under-construction Denton Convention Center to market Denton to meeting planners.  What do dogs have to do with this?  A lot, actually.

For the past 15 years, Dana has been the show chair for the DFW Chapter of English Springer Spaniels, planning two shows every year.  And, she was chair of the National show in 2008 when it was held in Arlington.  In these roles, Dana is a meeting planner.  She selects venues, organizes logistics, plans banquets, receptions and award ceremonies.  She coordinates room blocks, concessions, off-site events, sponsorships, and even welcome packets for show delegates.  Some of these tasks are especially daunting considering nearly half the participants are the canine kind.

All this experience plus the fact that she holds her Certified Meeting Professional certification from the Convention Industry Council leave no doubt in my mind that Dana can successfully and credibly woo convention business to Denton.  She speaks meeting planners’ language, empathizes from their perspectives, anticipates their needs, and that makes a difference.

Dog shows are a great example.  The National Springer Spaniel show has been around for 50 years and brings the host city more than 1,000 hotel room nights.  Dana’s dog world peers still praise the 2008 National she planned as the best anyone remembers.  They want to come back to North Texas, this time to Denton, home to one of their most revered champions and leaders.

“Who knows?” Dana laughs.  “The Denton Convention Center will be dog-friendly as are a lot of our hotels.  Hey, we’re going after business of every kind – dogs included!”

Featured Image Courtesy of Nancy Gaffney/Gaff Photography