This year at Montgomery I could not show our dog, Danny, for the first three days. I missed being in the ring, for my less than two minutes, at Morris & Essex, Hatboro and Devon. I couldn’t watch the judging of the class dogs and needlessly stayed away from anybody who had a young dog sure to be entered in the Futurity. I knew our dog, with his weekend handler, wasn’t turning in a stellar performance when the tenth person asked us if he was entered! No matter, I had given up the chance to once again entertain the ringside gallery with my too young dog, in favor of judging the future of our breed in the Futurity/Maturity.
Before anybody says it is an honor to be chosen to judge this event, I will say I was a last-minute fill-in. The board selects three people to judge this event, each one from a different part of the country. All must be club members and have bred at least three litters. This year, the club had chosen a judge from California to take part. However, she dropped out to be able to show her own very nice puppies. As a board member, I was adamant that the replacement judge must come from the West. I am one of those people who believe the dog show world is tilted to the right! After exhausting all the remaining possibilities, I volunteered for the job.
The day of the Futurity/Maturity was cool and we took our time getting over to the venue at the Hatboro show site. When we arrived, everybody was getting the puppies and young dogs ready. The show sight is somewhat controversial among club members who exhibit at these shows. It is a covered, pole barn/shed-like structure that has an asphalt floor and is set away from the other rings. Our club used to use one of the outside rings at the end of the show grounds. It was beautiful to look out from under one of the big tents and see the large entry of Kerries blue grey against the green grass. You would arrive at the show sight and scramble for a space under the tents. If it rained it was a mess, and the constant noise from the generators was obnoxious. A few years ago some members of the Philadelphia Kerry Blue Club befriended the man who runs the show site during the Montgomery weekend. A deal was struck between our club and the show-giving club and we now have exclusive use of the shed. Our club paid part of the cost to upgrade the lighting and we now set up, and show our dogs in this building, without stress or fear of the weather. However, many people in the club long for the days when we were in the outdoor rings and not squirreled away in the dimly lit shed. I don’t miss the outdoor setting in the least. Where we show our shows, except this weekend, are indoor events. I am not twenty-two, and my aging knees appreciate the more predictable surface an indoor venue affords. At any rate, this is the location of our club’s marquee event for young dogs and it won’t change any time soon.
The other two judges were both veterans of the breed. One, a past club president, and the other a “real” judge and Kerry breeder of long-standing. Her son is also a licensed judge and second generation in the club as I am. The three of us approached the assignment from different perspectives, but we all tried our best to use the breed standard as our guide. I spend a lot of time criticizing judges, both their procedure and lack of breed knowledge. After walking what seemed like five miles in their shoes, I have a little more understanding of what makes their job so difficult. After the third class, I no longer looked at the handlers, just the dogs. I quit trying to guess what lines the dogs came from and just judged them. When people ask a judge why their dog was not picked, I understand why the judge has no idea which dog is being discussed. I also realized that it would be so much easier to pick people you know since it would be a lot less tiring. This was a bigger entry than most judges get to see all year and the three of us hung in there making decision after decision, class by class. We were consistent within our own interpretations of the standard. For a judge to default to picking whoever has the best know face, or most seen advertising campaign or who called you the night before, seems to me now even more insulting. What I saw was a bunch of people doing their best to show their dogs to their peers and the pride they had in the dogs was clear.
So how were the dogs in the Futurity/Maturity this year? Is our breed “in trouble”? As I examined the dogs in my rotation, I saw better coats than on many of the dogs in the Best of Breed ring, heads were representative of what is seen in the breed today. Not as many were as clean as the standard calls for. Shoulder layback is still not what it was even ten years ago. That being said, there were no shoulders found up in the neck. While a few dogs had poor front movement, and a few had really great movement, overall it was acceptable if unimpressive. The phenomenon in many breeds now, that of being balanced, even if that means a mediocre rear matching a mediocre front, was present in our entry. There were very few dogs that lacked balance.
Size was something we considered. Our breed does not have a disqualification for size, either under or over the stated ideal of 18.5″ for dogs, slightly less for bitches. The dogs in the Futurity/Maturity were generally over the 18.5″ idea, which I believe to be too small for a dog special, but well under any measurement that would make them too large to fit the standard. Our eventual winner was on the tall side, but did not lack breed type. The bitches also had decent size. There was consistency among the young girls, keeping them between 17.5″ and 19″. Our Best of Opposite Sex in the Futurity was on the smaller side of the standard, but was probably the most typey bitch in the entry with a great show attitude.
While the standard doesn’t specifically state our breed is supposed to be square, as the Soft Coated Wheaten standard calls for, the general description implies a square dog. The young dogs I examined were mostly correct in proportion for what the standard calls for. There were only two or three dogs that struck me as being too long. Color was all over the place. I am never concerned with a young dog being black as most of them will turn. My preference in color lies with a dog possessing a medium grey with a distinct blue cast. There were no dogs like this in our entry. This color takes more maturity to achieve. Color is far down on the list for me, taking a back seat to structure and movement, but it is still important. There were two or three of the males with very light color and more open coats. They were well-groomed and the coats had decent texture which ran contrary to the old breeder myth that early color produces cottony coats.
From my perspective, inside the ring at our Futurity/Maturity, the breed is not in the best shape, but far from facing ruination. Clearly the breeders behind these youngsters care about our breed deeply and are producing puppies that reflect well thought out breedings. You could see movement toward a more moderate dog with balance. Nothing extreme. This can be both good and bad. Only time will tell. I loved judging the earnest young dogs with their breeders and owners who chose to enter to our panel. I was impressed by the good temperaments and easy-going natures. Nearly all the exhibits greeted us with wagging tails and that wonderful Kerry Blue look. Most of the participants took winning and losing well also. There were a lot of congratulations, delivered sincerely. Judging was a great experience. One that I hope more people will agree to if asked.