Most of my non-doggy friends and family question my obsession with the dog show game. During my life I have spent a lot of money and time attending more traditional sporting events like football, basketball, and baseball. I've also had a couple of expensive and time consuming hobbies like boating and cars. My friends and family thought that all of these pursuits were wholesome and normal. Yet when I tell these outsiders that I just spent $1500 for a puppy or I'm driving 400 miles to attend a dog show, they act like I've taken leave of my senses.
Well, here's a couple of life lessons I've learned from the dog show fancy:
1. Dog show people live forever...or at least way longer than the average NASCAR fan. Last year, I attended a local show and a Japanese Chin exhibitor asked me to handle her class dog, while she showed her champion in best of breed ring. The judge was Maxine Beam. I first met Maxine in 1974 when we were both members of an all toy dog club in New York, now defunct (the club, not Maxine). I won't say Maxine is old, but she was "mature" in 1974.
2. Dog people know how to succeed. The dog fancy is a subjective sport and, like all subjective sports, accusations of favoritism and politics abound. In 1973, after a particularly long loosing streak , I asked one of the most successful professional handlers of the day, Bob Forsythe, if he had any advice for a novice like myself. Bob told me, with typical modesty, "If you bring a OK dog in the ring, I will beat you every time. But if you have a really special dog, you will win your share." The next dog I exhibited went Group Three from the classes at his first show.
Years later, my son came home from basketball tryouts, grumbling about how he had been cut because of favoritism and politics. I told him, "Next year you will just have to be so good they can't overlook you." He made the team that following year.
3. Dog people are tenacious. Back in the day when we had a lot of benched shows...benched shows, for those who have never exhibited at one, require that an exhibitor and his dog remain in the show hall during show hours, even after your dog has been judged and failed to win anything. This was done so the dog owner could meet and greet spectators while coming up with creative excuses for the failure to finish in the ribbons....but I digress. At one of my first shows in Philadelphia, which was benched show, I returned to my bench at 10:00 AM, after taking a reserve winners, to await for the warden, I mean show chairman, to release us from the show hall at 4:00 PM. I struck up a conversation with a fellow detainee, uh, exhibitor, an elderly woman accompanied by a particularly ill tempered Pekingese. Explaining that Pekes were bred to be guard dogs for the emperors of China, she regaled me with a story of how she had, in the 1930s, attended the Crufts Dog Show.
Crufts is the world's largest show, with over 22,000 dogs, and believed by many, especially the English, to be even more prestigious than Westminster
At that show she witnessed a magnificent looking Peke being disqualified for attempting to bite the judge. She approached the owner and told her that it was a shame that such a beautiful dog had been dismissed. The exasperated owner offered to sell her the nasty animal at a bargain price and before the afternoon was out my fellow detainee had a new stud dog. The next day the lady and the Peke boarded the Queen Mary for the trip home to New York. Once they were settled into their stateroom, she decided to get acquainted with her new dog. A few minutes later she rang the steward for some iodine, bandages, and a pair of heavy work gloves. The way she told the story, by the end of the week long crossing, she and her bad tempered buddy had gained a lasting respect for one another. That dog went on to win several best in shows here in the US.
CH Chik T'Sun of Caversham with handler Clara Alford. Ossie was the top winning Pekingese in history with 126 Best In Shows. Ossie was NOT the bad tempered Peke that my friend imported.
The only life lesson I ever learned at a football game was how to balance a beer and a dish of nachos in my lap at the same time.