A good friend in dogs and I were talking about the current show season and the ending of it. It will end for us in December this year and we don’t know when we will start again next year. Our young dog is not ready for the rigors of the road and though we long to test him against others in his breed, we have to be aware of his limitations at his young age. He is not nearly a puppy, not nearly an adult. Like a 17 year old human boy, he wants the keys to dad’s car but can’t remember how to shift the gears.
Our Eva will come home to us and try to adjust to living in our house again. Here, she will have to become reacquainted with the dogs she left behind, a new schedule and new expectations. She will have to learn to share again and also learn a new role: brood bitch. Eva will be nearly five when her puppies could be born. Kind of old for a first litter. Like a career woman who has put off having children until she is truly ready, we run the risk of her being unable to have pups at all. So you see, we really have nothing left to show. We are once again faced with starting over.
Our friend’s wonderful dog will be returning to Sweden at the end of this season. She has poured her soul and all her energy into showing this very special dog for the past two years. Together they have achieved a tremendous amount of success on two continents. She has done it alone, for the most part, with no big money behind her. Her considerable force of will, and the raw quality of this beautiful animal have combined to rank the dog in the top 20 among all breeds for most of this year. When this dog goes home, our friend will be starting over, too.
We are all at this same juncture. We have come to this wide place in the road from different directions, certainly, but we are all still here. After this particularly disappointing weekend our friend was truly melancholy. And she asked me the question, “Why do we do this?” It is a fair question. One we never ask ourselves. In fact we’ve never asked ourselves this question for the 40 plus years we’ve been involved in showing dogs. Why would we? It is self-evident to us. We love the dogs, the competition, the rollercoaster of emotions experienced every weekend. Like the mountaineer who climbs higher and higher mountains just because they are there, we show on, through the disappointment and elation because it is woven into our lives.
Starting a young dog out is thrilling. It’s exciting to see him learn and experience the show scene for the first time. The time invested training and evaluating a young dog is the best time spent. The push/pull between you is frustrating and seems like it will never end. So much energy, so little concentration. Is this the dog you bred for when you picked him out of the litter. Will he be the standout you thought he would be or will he fall into mediocrity. How much will he win, if he does, and will the winning make you love him more? Through his first shows you learn how he thinks and what he likes. All the time evaluating and comparing him to the standard. He wins some, loses more and you wonder. Is this the one?
Sitting ringside, you watch your special with her handler. You see her every fault, but you also see her beauty and strength. How did she become the dog the judge seems to be looking at just a bit more than the others? You remember when you showed her and laughed out loud in the ring when she started barking at the other dogs behind her. “Let’s go play frisbee,” she seemed to demand. Three years before, you had started her out, wondering if she was worth the effort and the expense. Has it really been that long? She is mature now, not the exhuberant adolescent that left your home for the road. She has a pride and an attitude borne from her time in the ring, on the road, away from home. She carries your name and will soon hold inside her your new hope for the future. New hope for the starting over.
Showing dogs is not for the thin skinned. It cannot become a measure of your self-worth if your dogs win or loose. Maybe we show because it’s something we’ve always done, some kind of habit too hard to break. It’s where we can be surrounded by other people who are crazy enough to stand in the middle of a field, under huge tents, in a rainstorm. We are a large extended family and each show a reunion of sorts. Some of our family we cherish and some we make sure to avoid. You see Uncle Harry, fatter and more bald than last year. You narrowly avoide a faux pas when you realize the cousin you are talking to about big butted women had one last year. You see the young black dogs of last season sporting bright blue coats that shine in the sun and you watch the veterans gait around with their equally veteran handlers and realize that someday this will be you.
We pay more than a hundred dollars a weekend to have a stranger tell us we are winners or losers. But in the end the winning and losing only matter a for a little while. We show on because we love to be with each other and our dogs. It is as simple and as elegant as that. Why do we do this? Why not!