Thursday, February 14, 2008

132nd WKC Dog Show - Part 1 of 2

I miss having a pet. Even though I was greatly blessed to have been owned by the perfect cat for many years, I often think about getting another dog. The little white Bichon Frise that's opened a couple of the television commercials for the 132nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at New York City's Madison Square Garden persuaded me to watch the show with an eye for figuring out what kind of dog I might want.

Although I've owned both mixed breeds and purebred dogs and found the purebred puppies turning out as expected more reliably than the mixed breeds, I used to engage in reverse snobbery when it came to show dogs thinking that they were nothing more than kenneled runway models for whom appearance is everything. My respect was reserved for dogs competing in the obedience and field trials. A lot of my poor attitude for show dogs came from the few dog shows I attended as a teen and young adult where it was really hard for a spectator like me to see anything more than how the dogs got fussed over and primped and trotted around before the judges.

My attitude started getting adjusted with an invitation from a coworker to attend a dog show in which he and his wife entered three or four dogs. Meeting them at their van in the parking lot, I watch while two dogs are unloaded and one is turned over to a professional handler who heads for the building. Another handler comes over with a dog to speak with my host.

"Is that your dog, too?" I ask after the second handler leaves.

"Yes, some of our dogs board with their handlers in different parts of the U. S. so they can make the shows we can't get to and we sometimes get to meet at the same shows. Here, go ahead and take her in," he says, handing me the leash for the second dog from the van.

"Oh, dear. Do you think that's wise?" his wife asks. I'm not sure about it myself because I never held the leash of a champion dog before.

"Sure. Gail's used to German Shepherds. She'll be fine," he replies.

"You are?" she asks me.

"I have one. It's the second one I've owned."

"Well...just be careful," she says as we merge with the fringe of the crowd entering the building.

Was I in a position to break the dog?

"What do I need to be careful about?" I have to raise my voice above the low din.

"She doesn't like other dogs," he replies as we enter. "Just keep hold of her and you'll be fine."

She doesn't like other dogs and we're at a dog show? Oh, man! I cast a quick eye around for the nearest dog while I check the collar at the end of the leash I hold. Was it put on her as a slip chain so I can use it as a choke collar?

"She doesn't like children, either," his wife yells above the noisy crowd of families with their children and dogs.

The steps to the seating area are close enough that I don't have time to freak out at the thought of that scenario and we soon reach the seats staked out by the German Shepherd Dog crowd. A handler claims the dog I hold before I sit down. We have a good view sitting right above the second of four rings on our side, but things are happening too quickly for me so I focus on the chit-chat around me.

A German Shepherd soon leads his lady down the row, returning from his turn in the show ring, pausing to check me out.

"Hi, baby," I say. In that moment, he deduces that I'm his long-lost best friend forever and stops all conversations within earshot by climbing onto my lap and trying to lick my face.

"NO! DOWN! GET OFF! I'm so sorry! He hasn't done that to a stranger before. I'm so sorry!" The dog's lady apologizes profusely after pulling him off of me.

"It's okay." I'm laughing. "He's just a big baby."

"Really? Are you really okay?"

My host leans forward to speak across his wife, "She's okay. She's one of us. She has a Shepherd of her own at home."

"You do?"

I nod.

"Oh, good," the woman visibly relaxes. "So many strangers think of German Shepherds as fierce, mean dogs when they're really just a bunch of babies. I used to have Dobies, but never again. They really are fierce and after one of my own dogs bit me, I said, 'That's it,' and got rid of them all."

I agree. Most dogs don't mind puppies, but when I lived in Texas, a neighbor's Doberman came from three houses away and bit a little Collie-mix puppy I had badly enough to require stitches.

The group of us spend the rest of the morning swapping dog tales, finishing up at a nearby restaurant.

That's all it took to start changing my attitude toward show dogs; I'm that much of a sucker for dog kisses.

----- Continued in Part 2 -----

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