On the last day of this show weekend the United States Kerry Blue Terrier Club will host its national specialty. This year the entry is small by our standards, only 93 dogs, but still a nice gathering of the best our breed has to offer. There will be thirteen dog specials and fifteen bitch specials. Not all of them will come, but among those that make the journey, only a few will not be lovely to look at.
The #49 dog will stand somewhere in the line up of dog specials. He will not be the biggest dog, nor the smallest. His small, very dark eyes focused on his handler and her warm brown ones focused on him, occasionally turning away to watch the judge. The handler will look a little tired, or maybe in some pain to those who know her well. Most will never notice. The young dog’s gray coat will be perfectly groomed. Covering his fit, lean body and making the most of his wonderful conformation. From ringside he will look like a contender, even if the judge overlooks him. The owners will smile and squeeze each other’s arms in pride.
In such a big entry there will be lots of time to watch #49 and the other dog specials. Comparison is inevitable. To some he won’t be enough dog, to others too much. His owners and one of the breeders will be the most critical. Is his coat shiny enough? Does he move cleanly coming and going? How is his side-gait? After several minutes, the gallery will notice a flaw in his grooming. Faintly visible on the inside back of the off-side front leg, the hair is missing. Just an errant slip with the scissors, surely. Or maybe he chews his leg-coat, the bane of all owners of coated breeds. The most discerning will notice another small spot on the outside of the off-side rear leg. Just a little hole, artfully concealed with back-combing and a little hairspray.
The handler smiles at the gray dog standing in front of her. They share secrets only the two of them know. The secret of the missing leg coat and the cause of her fatigue and pain. She worries about disappointing the owners of the dog, wishes these shows were just a month later in the season. Many people who know her wished her luck on her travels to these shows. But she has used up a significant amount of it just to be here. The dog maybe more.
With a surprise Best in Show the first weekend of the show season, the handler made her dreams come true. Another Best in Show followed a few months later with the owners sitting ringside. She put so much of herself into this dog. They were on the road nearly every weekend. Through a lot of hard work she put the dog on top of the stats. Handler and dog, as one in the ring. Coming home along a road she seldom drove, a flat tire was the harbinger of misfortune. Limping home on the van’s donut spare she was looking forward to some down time before the next trip out. It was a day she would always remember.
The large snake struck quickly, twice. The dog never saw it coming. The van’s donut tire lasted long enough to drive them both to the emergency vet nearly an hour away. Anti-venom did part of the work, but the spirit of the dog and his handler’s refusal to leave him did the rest. She tended him at home, willing him to recover. Then just a little more than a week later, her own body betrayed her. She was harboring an unfelt infection that could have killed her as surely as the snake could have killed the dog.
Staying home would have been more prudent, rest and live to fight another day. In this East Coast show with its East Coast politics, they will have only a slight chance to win anything. But maybe they have already won. She turns her full attention to the task at hand and fights through the pain to make the judge notice the dog. So many shows behind them, so many more to come.
From ringside, we will stand in silence, holding our breath as the judge makes her cuts from the dogs before her. We don’t have any faith in this judge. Still, it is our National and we come to show our peers in the breed what we have. Our eyes follow the #49 dog special around the ring. He looks like the same dog we have seen occasionally this season. Strong and fit. His handler patiently working him. We marvel that the two of them have survived their journey.
Later that evening, we will go to dinner with the handler of #49 and her husband. We will eat steak and talk about the weekend and make plans for the future. We’ll toast what has been accomplished this show season. We are the owners of the #49 dog, our Danny, and proud to call his handler, Odebt, our friend.