Having driven seven hours to walk into a political situation that caught us completely unaware on Saturday, we were eager to return to the Seward County Kennel Club show on Sunday. Surely, this was our day. We had removed the bad taste from our mouths by dining at a local restaurant, the Chances R, that carried in its name what must surely be our last good omen for the weekend. We are sure it was named for the famous Kerry Blue, Ch. Melbee’s Chances Are, the dog from which our line descends. The owners are less convinced. My burger was unremarkable, boring in fact, but still it was a nice meal eaten early enough to allow some sleep that night.
By 8:00 am we were in our set up working on Danny. This was our day of redemption and we were going to be ready. Our judge for the breed was the same, disinterested man who had judged us in the group on Saturday. He couldn’t hurt us anymore since we had a different person for the terrier group on Sunday. But fate intervened and dashed our hopes in the early morning. The judge we were scheduled to have was ill. She had let the show giving club know, two days before, that because of a nasty sinus infection she would be unable to fulfill her assignment. The substitute judge was an old friend of ours. Someone who’s first all-breed Best in Show, as a handler, had come on a dog belonging to our family in 1972. This long-ago dog was dark, like our Danny, and looked very much like him. The judge should love the dog we were bringing him. But we knew better. He would pull me in the group, maybe spar me with one of the others and then pick his placements from other dogs. This disrespect had not gone un-noticed by ringside the few times we’d shown to him and we knew today would be no different. But we run from no judge or exhibitor. We had entered these shows and we were there to show our dog. With a defeated feeling we made the decision to show that day.
The weather in Seward was beautiful and the fairgrounds were green with a light breeze. Our breed ring was supposed to be outside our setup again, but had been moved to the main building for Sunday. It was a pleasant walk to the ring building. There was a cement walkway that wound through the bushes and trees and the walking seemed to calm Danny down. He is a true urban dog. Familiar with the sounds and scents of the city and indoor shows, he was a little spooky at the tall waving grass and the sound of gravel being scuffed by people’s feet. A large stick on the ground was definitely a threat in his eyes, but he was more than ready to take on the German Shepherd that passed him on the walk. He is still so young in his head. A fighter one minute, unsure the next. These are things we are working on with our boy. Every trip yields a little more progress and moves him one more step closer to what we hope he will become.
Inside the show building we visited with the Denver people and I got to help a very hard-working handler with a Border Terrier. They are cute and all seem to get along. The group of us stood ringside talking about dogs and what has drawn each of us to the breeds we consider ours. It is great to spend time at shows this way. Everyone wants to win and are hard competitors, no shame in that. But, beyond the winning and losing is the love of dogs and our joy of being in their company. The little special I was showing did not win. The purple and gold ribbon went to another dog. And he and his handler moved on to the group later that afternoon. We watched our group judge in his ring and observed he was happy and seemed to be judging dogs. We knew better than to get our hopes up. Our motel neighbors looked great in the ring with their Lakeland girls. The younger of the two showed with her tail up and seemed to be enjoying herself. We hope to be in the ring with puppies next year ourselves. Waiting to know if Eva is in whelp is hard. There is so much hope involved in dogs. Hope for puppies, hope they are healthy, hope for winning and hope for good owners for the pet puppies. There is hope in all of us connected for a lifetime with dogs. At the end of a lackluster weekend or show season that is often all you are left with.
On this day our group was first. A mixed blessing. Usually we like to be closer to the bottom since it gives us more time to get a dog ready. But if your group goes earlier, you can pack up and still watch some of the other groups and Best in Show. We returned to our set up and got our dog ready for the group. To say we had no chance would be an overstatement. There is a phenomenon at dog shows whereby people enter ever day of the show, but drop out on the last day. Why bother to enter if you’re not coming. This goes on across the country. You can count on the number of dogs being less, sometimes substantially less, on the last day and thus the wins carry less point value. There is also an unsportsmanlike behavior some people, mostly handlers, engage in that should be penalized. This is the practice of winning the breed but not showing the dog in the group. Sure, you sometimes know the dog will not place for one reason or another, but to pull the dog is not consistent with the spirit of competition, nor the letter of the AKC rules governing dog shows. In some countries, France for example, if a dog fails to show up for the group, it loses all the points it won in the breed ring. Not a bad idea. Overall, the practice is disrespectful to the breed judge and disrespectful to the process. This was clear in Seward on Sunday with the Soft Coated Wheaten BOB winner. The breed judge picked a BOB winner that was obviously not going to be competitive in the group. The handler, who has a special place in the breed judge’s heart, elected not to show the Wheaten in the group. To me, this shows what the process means to this handler: If you can’t win, why be there. The BOS Wheaten handler always shows her dogs in the group no matter what the predicted outcome. Had she been the breed winner there would have been one more dog in the group. The AKC rep in attendance was not informed about this situation, but what would have been done if he was. This is one of those dog show issues nobody wants to face.
As on Saturday, Danny and I led the parade into the group ring. I was pleased with our performance and got some applause from ringside. Some nice people on one end said they were pulling for us. It’s always good to have fans. When it came time for the final determination the judge walked toward me as I expected. He told me to bring my dog out and set him up on the diagonal mat. I nearly didn’t go. But we walked toward our place with our heads up and smiling. I caught the eye of the people who were in our corner and they gave me the thumbs up. Poor fools! They actually believed I’d be picked. As predicted, our judge pulled me and the Smooth Fox Terrier out for sparring. We love to spar in the Terrier ring. It showcases the temperament and character of our breed. It’s something we work on with our show dogs. Unfortunately, the Fox Terrier owner had no idea what to do. No matter what the judge and I did, neither her nor the dog would face Danny and me. She looked scared and confused. Her dog had no attitude and stood there like the two of them were waiting for a bus. A Smooth with no gameness! You rarely see this in the ring. As we stepped back to our places I knew it would make no difference. The judge pulled out the Border Terrier, the Smooth, a Westie and an Australian Terrier with a snippy face. These were his picks. Danny and I were left standing about eight feet from the remaining cut dogs alone. I felt a wave of anger come over me. But angry at who? At ourselves for not leaving the show when we knew of the judge change?. Angry at the judge for doing what he always does when we show to him? Or was it anger at all?
As we walked back to load up the old saying echoed in my head: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Sadness, the brother of Hope was in there, too. Were we fools to have stayed, to have honored a man we once held in high esteem for his knowledge and love of terriers? Maybe so, but showing is what we do and part of that is giving the process and every judge respect. Even if we don’t always receive it in return.