The Dog Show
You don’t know what trepidation is, until you’ve walked the ring in a dog show, deathly afraid that you’ll step on one of these show-dog’s feet with your giant clodhoppers.
My friends Steven and Janet came out to Murfreesboro for the weekend.
There was a dog show on the campus of MTSU this weekend. Janet takes dogs to shows all through the year. It’s often why she doesn’t join us on any weekend excursions that Steven and I might engage in (that, and the fact Steven and I act like 11 year olds when he and I hang out together).
But they both came out this weekend.
I’d never been to a dog show before.
And since it was within walking distance (roughly 1200 feet), I went on Sunday to check things out.
I borrowed my roommate’s camera.
But I took maybe three pictures. The first person I saw, was using a pick comb and what looked to me like a small vacuum cleaner on a beautiful wolfhound. I took a picture, because I’d never seen anybody using a vacuum cleaner on a dog (though it’s a brilliant idea, if you can get the dog to stand still). But the lady got a little upset when she saw me taking the picture. So I didn’t take many more. Also, I learned that it wasn't a vacuum cleaner, it was a blowdryer that looks like a vacuum cleaner.
Also, yes, I know it’s rude to take pictures of a person without asking, but if it’s not continual and not up in my face, it’s never bothered me. But Janet informed me that “show people” are quite temperamental in the morning before showing.
I went up to the building and saw a fellow walking a bulldog who was wearing a Cardinals cap. I was wearing my Cubs cap, and we talked for a good fifteen minutes about our fortunes this past baseball season. I said, I can’t bring myself to actually like the Cardinals, but I’ve always respected them as a team and as an organization. He said he hoped a lot of Cubs’ fans’ faith in their team paid off this year...and if not this year, sooner rather than later.
His Dad was a Cubs fan, he said. His Dad was born in 1933, and died in 2001, and went his whole life time without seeing his team, of which he was a fan nearly his whole life, win it all. (This guy’s mother was from St. Louis, and they lived 15 miles from St. Louis, so he became a Cardinals fan).
We said our goodbyes and good lucks and I went into the Agricultural Center. It’s a smaller building, ringed with boxes with folding chairs around 2/3 of the building. And in the center floor space, there were a couple hundred people with their dogs, dividing themselves among 10 smaller rings.
Janet and Steven weren’t there yet. I didn’t know when they’d shown, of if they had already and gone back to their motel. I found an out of the way spot, and just watched.
Let me say first that watching the goings on of a dog show without knowing the specifics is kind of like watching Kurosawa with the subtitles off. You know basically what’s going on, but you don’t really know the whys and wherefores. Little things happen, and you aren’t sure why. Little peels of applause break out, and you turn to see, and find out why, and everything’s done past.
The first thing I figured out is that I needed to find something to focus on. A dog show is a lot like a carnival, or Times Square, in that there’s so much going on, and so much to look at, you don’t know quite which way to look.
Look this way, and there are little bitty old women towing along Great Danes as tall at their shoulder as she is. Look the other, and you see a large man carrying a very small, very fluffy, very squirmy little dog in the crook of his arm while he eats cracker jacks out of a box.
And then there was the dwarfish lady who was showing a chow. And the chow was bigger than she was.
There is a portion of showing the dog to the judges that take place in the rings I spoke of, where you show the movement of the dog in relation to what the dog is supposed to be able to do. And you run the dog in a circle. Sometimes, many dogs run in a circle, with the owner trotting along side it. I called this move the vortex....because it looked like if enough dogs and owners ran the circle, it would create a whirlwind.
And when this very small lady ran along her chow, she was literally dragged along side it. It was bigger and stronger than she was.
I don’t mean to laugh at anybody’s physical make up. But pragmatism forces me to say there’s a mismatch when it comes to the breed of dog she’s chosen to show.
As I looked around, I saw something that interested me greatly.
My parents adopted a pug named Maximus back around Christmas last year. One of my sisters’ friends had to give him up. And Max has more personality than anybody in my family (yours, truly, included).
So I went over to the ring where they were showing the pugs.
And things happened that I didn’t quite know why. They ran in circles. And then the dogs stood there, while somebody came along and “felt them up.” They would feel one shoulder and one leg, lifting it slightly off the ground, then they would repeat the process. Then, they would feel the back legs.
I almost cried when they checked the testicles of the male dogs.
(As opposed to the testicles on the females (or bitches)).
Then they run around some more, and the judges will get in and look at the eyes of the pug...little known fact: The mass of the head of the pug is roughly 80% eyeball.
The judges will also check the teeth, the skin.
There were four pugs in the ring that I saw. And they ran around, and they all walked around with that same grin Maximus walks around with, tongues lolling crazily from their mouths, all of them breathing like they’re trying to speak Hebrew but getting only the Kh syllable out.
One of them won, and got its picture taken. It wasn’t my favorite. It was a little too fat for my tastes (said the pot to the kettle). This pug didn’t look like it would chase a tennis ball or a rubber sandwich, or nose his way into the bathroom while you’re sitting on the toilet. They picked the pug that looked like it had gotten too much Alpo, and who would probably chase a sandwich only if it were real.
Though if they could teach a pug not to chew hickory nuts until little sharp shards are ground into the carpet, I might be willing to consider a trade.
I walked through the vending area. Not a whole lot having to do with actual dog grooming or anything like that. At least, not as much as I’d thought. There were a couple of booths set up with that type of thing. But mostly there were booths selling knick knacks of dogs. Pillows with dogs’ pictures on them. Beanie Babies.
My favorite booth, though, was the Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods booth, which sold specialized raw food for the dogs.
With the letters B.A.R.F. emblazoned in red across both the banner and the hat of the fellow selling the pet food.
I so badly want a hat that reads B.A.R.F. across it that I can hardly stand it.
As I wandered back to my vantage point where I could see the whole arena, I ran into an acquaintance from my former workplace.
He and I never really got along. Actually, it was one of those relationships where he liked me a bunch and sought me out to talk to me whenever he had a chance, and I was annoyed to no end by him. I never had much use for him. And when I heard his voice behind me, it sent a cold chill up my spine. I knew exactly who it was.
He’d brought his St. Bernard into show.
I’ll say that I never cared much for the guy, but he did take in the St. Bernard from a neighbor who had been abusing it. He’s gotten the dog healthy and re-acclimated to people. And I’ll say that he brought in a beautiful animal. He’s done really good by that dog, and I can’t fault him a bit for it. It’s a good dog. So that’s a good mark by his name, I guess.
I’d just gotten back to my vantage point when I saw Steven strolling in. They’d overslept, he said. And since they “were robbed” by the judges on Saturday, Janet wasn’t stressing too much about coming in on Sunday to show Lola, her Australian Shepherd. Apparently, she dislikes Steven’s name for her “Lola Granola.”
I like it, personally. Another good dog, Lola.
We walked around a bit. Janet explained to me a lot of what was going on, especially when it came to scoring. They weren’t creating a vortex when they ran in a circle. Rather, they were showing off movement, seeing if a dog could move the way it was supposed to. They were checking the bite in some dogs. When they “felt up” the dogs, what they were doing was checking musculature and skeletal structure. Seeing if the hips were set at the correct angle and whatnot, for the dog to be doing the job it’s supposed to be doing.
They were scored on disposition, as well, she explained. Certain dogs are supposed to act certain ways, and if a dog in a certain breed category doesn’t adhere to that disposition, they lose points. I liked the part where it might be okay for a Rottweiler to growl at a judge, so long as they don't snap at them.
And it all comes down to breeding. That’s what it’s all about. A dog gets points based on its performance at these dog shows. And as points accumulate, the dog’s value when it comes to breeding rises.
I was glad I’d gone to the dog show. I’m a people watcher. If you’ve ever seen Best in Show, you know that it’s an....eccentric...group of folks that go to these things.
Maybe I’ll speak more on some of my favorite people later. Right now, I want to talk about passion and obsession. Passion is a wonderful thing. Obsession...now, that’s scary.
There are a lot of passionate people in the room.
But there are a lot of obsessed people too.
In the abstract, it’s interesting, and maybe even funny to see.
But up close?
I talked about the lady who took issue with my taking the picture early on in the day.
I must have counted sixty or more Recreational Vehicles. Some of these things, Steven noted, were $130,000 and $150,000 vehicles. That's a lot of money to plunk down. But then...if it's coming in....
Here's what bothered me. At one point, I witnessed an exchange between family members. A kid was doing what looked like schoolwork, sitting on the floor of a van. A lady came to the van. I assumed the lady was the kid’s mother. The mother jumped her dog up into the van, opened up the cage, put the dog in the cage, and got another out of another pen.
The kid asked the lady something. I didn’t hear exactly what.
The mother never acknowledged the kid. Never spoke. Never even looked at the kid. She only turned with the dog and walked back to the show.
Now, I don’t know the circumstances, but it bothered me a bit.
Yeah, I know the dog show’s important. But acknowledge your kid. Look at him. Say something. Answer his question. Make him seem at least as important as the damn dog.
That’s why there are so many screwed up kids in the world. Because a parent’s priorities are out of whack.
But I digress.
On the whole, I enjoyed my day at the dog show. I saw a lot of interesting people. And luckily, most of the people I saw were like like Janet. They talked to their dogs (and their children, for some part) and treated their dogs with a respect.
There were a few who only touched their dogs to shove them into and pull them out of carriers. And that seemed to treat them too much like merchandise for my taste.
Maybe I anthropomorphize too much, but to me, a dog is a friend.
But again, I digress.
It was a neat experience. If I have a free day again, I might go to people watch again.