COLUMBUS, Ohio – David Vollette has made a mark showing and breeding dogs on an international scale.
And, he says, it wouldn’t have happened without Ohio 4-H.
Vollette, 40, joined the 4-H program in Miami County when he was 12 after his parents bought him a black-and-white mixed breed dog named Sam. Vollette started with obedience training and then took as many dog-related 4-H projects as he could, and won the top prize at the Ohio State Fair with her.
By the time Vollette was 14, friends of the family gave him a chocolate Labrador retriever -- and he hasn’t stopped since. He won No. 1 junior handler at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show three times. Over the years, he has owned about 25 champion dogs including the top-winning Labrador of all time and won Best of Breed at Westminster in 2000 and 2004. And, he travels the world as a sought-after judge at international dog shows.
“I’ve been to England, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Japan -- it's an expensive hobby, but I love it. And I owe it all to 4-H,” he said.
Vollette, whose day job is in marketing for the dog food company Science Diet, co-owns his dogs with longtime friend Nancy Arbuckle who runs a state-of-the-art kennel in Zionsville, Ind. They produce about two litters a year, and have donated many Labradors over the years to be trained as seeing-eye dogs, search-and-rescue dogs and companion dogs for the hearing impaired.
Lucinda Miller, leader of the companion and small animal programs for Ohio State University Extension's 4-H Youth Development program, said Vollette's experience is a prime example of the possibilities that 4-H opens for people. The 4-H dog program is especially conducive to such opportunities, she said.
"Dogs are a part of people's families, and there's a natural interest in working with them," Miller said. "That's the hook. When kids and teens get involved, though, they find out there's a lot more they can do."
Tom Archer, assistant director of OSU Extension in charge of Ohio 4-H Youth Development, agreed. "While 4-H members work on their projects, they gain lifelong skills in all dimensions of their lives," he said. "While working on developing a certain skill is all well and good, the real goal is becoming competent and successful."
Among other fundamentals, 4-H provides:
- Leadership opportunities at the club, county and state levels.
- Positive relationships with caring adults, including contacts with professionals to allow teens to further develop their skills.
- A welcoming and emotionally and physically safe learning environment.
- The development of critical thinking skills.
- The chance to meet others with the same interests.
Vollette said, looking back, he experienced all those benefits and more: "The best thing about 4-H is not just focusing on your hobby or your passion -- which for me was the Labradors, the dogs -- but also 4-H gives you that way of learning responsibility and learning to be competitive." For Vollette, 4-H provided the cornerstone for developing a successful lifelong pursuit.
More than 315,000 young people ages 5 through 19 in urban, suburban and rural areas are involved in Ohio 4-H, the youth development program of OSU Extension. Whether they participate in clubs, camps or in-school or after-school programs, 4-H members take part in hands-on, experiential learning that emphasizes "learning by doing." Along the way, they gain leadership, citizenship and life skills that stay with them for a lifetime. For more on Ohio 4-H, see http://www.ohio4h.org/.