Due to the largess of some good friends, I was able to attend the 2011 Eukanuba in Orlando. Watching the struggles of our friends and their young dog was heart wrenching. The thrill of the invitation to attend this prestige event overshadowed by old issues between dog and handler. So much hope, so little payoff. Such is the world of the owner/handler. Wandering around the show, taking in the sights and sounds of the AKC’s celebration of purebred dogs, I was struck by the familiarity of the venue. Three times we have had dogs entered in the AKC National Championship event. Only once were we successful in the sense of Xs and Os, but really every dog that qualifies is already a winner. Our win in 2006, arguably the last year these shows didn’t have an agenda, has slipped into obscurity in most people’s minds. Maybe that fact alone makes it even more wonderful in our minds’ eyes. We are free to remember that year’s show as we choose. Filtered only by sentimentality. The stage of our memories illuminated by The Light.
Sometimes people ask long-time exhibitors and breeders, “which dog was your favorite?” There is no one answer. The ones whose essence linger in the heart are not necessarily the biggest winners nor the most good-natured, but because they evoke an emotional response reminding us of milestones in our lives as dog people. We loved our Casey the best because he was an honest dog and our first show dog. His son and daughter because they were our first Best in Show winners, our Merry Kerry, a Corky daughter, with her beautiful head. Sunshine could be our favorite, our National winner and consummate show dog and her littermate brother, Desmond, father of Eva, whose head was full of quarrels but grieved himself to death when his Terra died. Mr. Leonard with his goodness haunts us over a year after his death. And then there is Honour.
Honour was our first dog to qualify for the Eukanuba . Barely out of the top ten, breed and all-breed, there was no question she would go. I went along to see the event. There were three shows hosted by local kennel clubs preceding the big event, beginning on Wednesday. Most of the Eukanuba qualifiers enter these and use them as a chance to warm up and vie for the last few points available for the calendar year. In what turned out to be a tremendous advantage, Honour was only entered on the last day of the weekend. Odebt, Bill and I spent the time seeing the shows and scouting the competition. They met all the resident Kerry Blue people who were cordial to us. Sitting ringside once during the weekend, Odebt watched the entry made up of the biggest winners in our breed that year and whispered, “I think we can get something here.” Poor delusional thing!
My self-appointed job on this weekend was to save Odebt the trouble of walking and eventually bathing Honour. When it was time to take her outside to potty I would leash her up and walk her out the back door to the little grassy areas. That was the theory. I knew I was in trouble when Honour would barely leave the set-up with me. I had to force her out the door. Once outside, she would run to the first dirt patch she saw, relieve herself and pull like the lead dog at the Iditarod to get back to Odebt. About two days into the weekend the security officer on the door was laughing at us every time we went out. On the third day two helpful agility competitors suggested I let the owner take the little dog outside for her walks. I informed them I was the owner and they just gaped at me. Walking to and from the venue through the building with Honour was another adventure. Honour insisted on walking on Odebt’s left side as far from me as possible. It didn’t matter I was holding the lead. One night as we left the building, we walked by the booth of the artist sculpting the dog pieces for the Eukanuba trophy. A life-sized German Shepherd Dog stood guard in all his bronze glory. Honour sniffed him and became terribly insulted when the dog wouldn’t respond to her. She barked and bit at the statue until we thought we’d die laughing. Honour never forgets a slight. The next day she saw a German Shepherd walking through the agility area with his owner. Honour launched into a rage at the hapless dog. Taking out all her fury for the previous night’s insults on him.
I have to admit I held no hope of Honour winning anything. With a fresh bath and more coat than I had seen on her in a long time, Odebt set to work trimming the little dog. Odebt had not touched her in all the time we’d been at the show. Honour was crazy for the attention and needed the comfort of the show day routine. Due to our place in the agility room we had gone unnoticed. She was the only dog nobody had seen. Nobody likes to see one dog entered to one judge only. It becomes a head game with the exhibitors. It becomes a distraction when focus is needed the most. On this last day we were found by a little spidery woman who came and pretended to be talking to Odebt about shampoo. She scuttled away when she saw me, spreading the news about our dog. Honour stood motionless on the table, tail up, moaning softly as Odebt revived her beauty. Nearing ring-time Bill and I walked over and fought for a place around it’s perimeter. We ended up about three rows back but with a little elbowing we got a good enough spot. There were thirteen dogs entered that year. Everyone ranked in the top 25 of the breed. In those days you qualified by being in the top 25 in breed points or winning an all breed Best in Show. Entered that year were the great Aran Ferbane and the lovely, Rollick’s Riverdance, the bitch we had shown against in Louisville that March. I had been on the end of the lead that time. Odebt and Honour entered the ring and immediately I saw our unfortunate position. We stood directly behind our breed’s number one, Rollick’s Riverdance. River’s coat was beautiful and her easy-going movement made her hard to beat. She had won Montgomery that year and we knew she would win this day, too. Oh, well, maybe an Award of Excellence, maybe. Mrs. Elaine Young was our judge and we had not shown Honour to her. I distracted myself taking pictures ringside, but stopped to watch the judging. Mrs. Young kept all the dogs in the ring but judged the bitches first. Honour’s eyes never left Odebt’s face. After days of waiting, something Honour is not happy to do, she was excited to be in the ring. It was a dance they had done many times. The melding of their spirits evident in their fluid motion and unspoken communication. The bitch in line behind Honour kept edging up, and challenging her slightly. Odebt let it go on a few times until finally she allowed Honour to turn and warn the other bitch off. This set the other bitches off, too. The instigator’s handler seemed miffed, but I had seen Mrs. Young smile slightly.
When you’re in the ring with a dog you often get a sense of your chances by subtle things the judge does. Throughout the bitch judging I had no idea if we were being considered. Mrs. Young finished judging the seven bitches and took one last look. She sent each one around. River moved like a dream, but as Odebt moved Honour she seemed to reach out just a little farther. Mrs. Young only made one gesture to one bitch to come forward and stand apart from the others: it was Honour. She moved the other bitches back. Odebt and Honour stepped into a pool of light, coming from somewhere above the blue carpeted floor. Mrs. Young proceeded to judge the six dogs entered. Honour kept working for Odebt the entire time. The light seemed to move with them. A well known handler with Aran Ferbane, a favorite in the judging, was sent around the ring. This man is known for his over the top handling. He barreled through one corner and ran directly toward our little bitch. It was clear he knew more than we did about the eventuality of the outcome, and it was equally clear he meant to intimidate. He veered slightly, avoiding impact, but the sleeve of his jacket brushed Odebt’s jacket and the dog’s leg touched Honour. Ringside gasped, but dog and handler stood their ground. I remember Honour adjusting her feet slightly.
In the end, Mrs. Young picked a dog special, Tontine’s Everyday Hero, as her Best of Breed, but Honour was Best of Opposite Sex. The light still shone on her until she moved to the place markers to get her award. I glanced up to see where the light had come from and saw nothing. Maybe I missed it through some tears. Somebody later told me there were no lights, but I know what I saw. If every dog has her day, this Sunday was Honour’s. She showed for the pure joy of it, for the person she loves most in the world. It was probably the first time I realized that a dog could really love the ring.
We returned home and I was amused to see the relief on Honour’s face when I told her she had to stay with Odebt. She had hidden from me as much as possible on the trip. Honour showed a few more times the next year, but we realized her time was over, she would have shown on, but we wanted her to go out a winner. In the spring of 2007, Harmony’s Pursuing History came back to us. I won’t say she came home. She never regarded our home as hers once she had been on the road. I put an RN title on her and we did our best to make her happy. But, it became apparent that her home was a hundred miles south and east of us. When we dropped her off in Yoder she never looked back. She was home.
Please visit: http://pawsativelyhandling.com for more about Honour and a more pawsative outlook on dog showing.