Now that Peyton has been home since November, and his show days are behind him, he is once again our strange and wonderful pet dog. He has no purpose in our house except to be our dog and go with us as we occasionally travel to see his brother, Danny, show. It has also been long enough that the bad memories of his season on the road are fading and we have all recovered our sense of humor and some of our positive attitudes. Packing away the vestiges of the last show season we came upon his Grand Championship certificate. Soon, we were both laughing and recalling the story of how he finished his title and how a chocolate sheet cake played more than a small role in the last two points.
For weeks before the shows we had deemed Peyton’s last ones ever, we waited for his certificate to come in the mail from the AKC. We knew he had finished his title at the shows in Georgia. We had added up the points many times and were sure he had the requisite 25 with three Select Dog majors needed to be called Grand Champion. The pursuit of this title had become the redemption for a show season far too lacking in rewards. Even this was no slam dunk for Peyton. We were also proud that he was surely among the first ten Bedlingtons to earn the title, thereby giving us a little more to brag about and at the same time, reassuring us that some judges saw in him what we did. The AKC has a running tally of the lifetime Grand Champion points earned by every dog shown. It is listed by breed and in Bedlingtons last year it accurately ranked the dogs in the order in which they earned their title. We waited anxiously by the mailbox every day but nothing came.
Finally, in a fit of pique, we called the AKC department that deals with this new title and holding back a tirade, asked with some politeness if there had been some mistake. The AKC and the IRS are very similar. They are overseen by nobody but their upper management and since each body writes its own codes, they are always in compliance. In short: they never make an error. A representative of our sport’s governing body not so patiently pointed out to us how we had mis-calculated the point tally. She went on in her best east coast tone to explain how the points were correctly added. By the time she relinquished her verbal death grip on me, I had seen the error of our ways. The AKC didn’t make an error. Not this time, not ever.
The sinking feeling in my stomach was matched only by the look on my mom’s face as I broke the news that Peyton was not a Grand Champion at all. He was two points short! Two points. It might as well have been 200. There were only two shows left for him where there would even be one Grand Champion point available. Those shows were the Southern Colorado Kennel Club shows in the middle of November. There he would have to face his nemeses. The dogs he lost to more than he won. We would not show him on, even if he didn’t earn those last two points. Like marathon runners, we could not run one more step. We could not ask our handler, Odebt, so kind and patient with this dog who might suck up a testicle in the ring or pout at any moment for some imagined slight, to travel one more mile with him.
The judges were not people we had a lot of faith in. So little in fact, that we did not enter Danny in these shows. These judges were mavericks, picking what they liked on the day and usually not what we liked. In the owner handled world of the Bedlington Terrier, neither would be looking for a familiar face. It would be a head to head match with the dogs standing on their own, our naked desire exposed to our rivals who were sure to stick around to revel in our nearly certain disappointment. If he won Best of Breed he was home free, but if he didn’t, he had to be awarded Select Dog both days and hope all the entries showed up. We broke the news to Odebt and it was then that a kind of sad, desperation filled our hearts. All the hard work of the season and it still wasn’t enough. The race course had been changed, the finish line moved just a few yards further away. Then there was the matter of the cake.
In the midst of our excitement over Peyton finishing his new title, we had ordered a sheet cake from a local bakery. The plan was to bring the cake to the shows on the last day and celebrate with Odebt and as many people who cared to swing by the set up. The cake was chocolate with a butter cream filling, frosted with a white butter cream and emblazoned across the top with the words: Congratulations Odebt and Grand Champion Peyton. When we realized our error the first thing we did was call the bakery and change the inscription on the cake. The young woman I spoke to assured me there would be no trace of the dreaded words “Grand Champion” on the cake. If he made it, so much the better, but if he didn’t we could still celebrate the season’s successes and our disappointment would be hidden. We settled down to wait out the week. We would pick up the cake on Saturday. As I left the salon that afternoon I dialed the people who were at the shows to find out what had happened in the Bedlington ring. At the gas station near the bakery I was finally able to learn a few sketchy details. It seemed that Peyton had been chosen Select Dog. One point. One more chance the next day. However, the Sunday judge was the most unpredictable of the weekend. I raced home to break the news. We dared not feel too optimistic, after all it was not over.
We entered the bakery slightly more upbeat than we had a right to be. Confidently, we presented our receipt and waited for the cake. We stared in horror at what we saw. The words “Grand Champion” were still there! Nothing could be done to remove them at this late date so we took the cake and left with our darkening mood. This was either a great omen or the harbinger of great embarrassment. As we drove the two and a half hours to the show grounds the following day, we were quiet. By one o’clock it would all be over. We left the cake in the car. We told ourselves that since it was a surprise that’s where it belonged, but really we were silently debating whether to bring it in at all. Ring time came and we filed over to the show building. I couldn’t watch the judging so I cowered in the vendor area talking to some dog show friends. Time crawled. I crept to the entrance of the ring room but could barely see the Bedlington ring. After twenty minutes I walked into the room and headed toward the ring. I had to face the outcome. It was just a dog show after all. Nobody had been diagnosed with cancer or awaiting the outcome of micro surgery. But this season has been uncommonly personal and we wanted to go out winners, even it was just winning this one point. Some of the exhibitors were leaving the area and they didn’t look happy. I scanned ahead to see Odebt and finally located her. She wasn’t smiling. She just looked tired and maybe a little happy. Then my mom appeared in front of me. Relief and happiness spilling from her eyes. She hugged me and said, “He made it.”
Sitting around the cake, sharing its sinful richness, we could relax and truly celebrate. We did have faith in our dog and handler, but often in the world of dog shows faith and a good dog aren’t enough. Sometimes you need an omen: a big, chocolatey one.