In the waning weekends of the 2012 show season we anxiously counted down the days. Looking to salvage something from an abortive season fraught with disappointment and the lingering feelings that we no longer recognized our sport, we jumped at the chance to make one more show trip. Enough clothing, food, bedding and hope for eight dogs outbound and eleven dogs inbound packed with prayers the dry weather would hold. While chatter on the social media sites centered around the upcoming Eukanuba show in Florida, our gypsy road show left Yoder, Colorado, on a Tuesday bound for Dallas. We would go no further than those shows this season. Four shows in Florida held no interest for us this year. We knew the outcome already. Instead, our destination held much more uncertainty. The chance to be made a fool of in public in front of each other and our peers: showing six month old puppies. Six months and one day old.
Only new owners, starry-eyed and giddy with the prospect of winning majors with raw recruits, show puppies this young. Most reputable handlers discourage their clients from such folly and in fact, refuse to be seen in a sweepstakes ring at all. Puppies and their hair-brained antics make them look bad. Somebody might mistake them for amateurs. Hooligan terrier puppies are probably the worst. Fighting one minute with each other, the next with you and threatening to either bite or pee on the judge, most sane exhibitors leave them at home. But, what fun would that be? Especially if the breeder/owner was a hander. Puppies level the playing field. Everybody is at a disadvantage. A sort of gallows humor had descended upon both of us making this trip in the red box truck and its ironic Pawsatively Handling logo of a serene Pointer on the side. It was Pawsatively dog show suicide. We could have hedged our bets by training our puppies. A few handling classes or matches would have been prudent. But, training in the ring has its own rewards, after all.
This was my first trip in the box truck. I liked the feel of riding in it immediately. Sitting at the level of long haul truckers and FedEx drivers initiated into a club known mostly from songs. Sitting in my seat, fighting the arm rest for the seatbelt after every stop, I hoped the truckers thought I was capable of piloting this behemouth of a vehicle. All the while being grateful I never actually had to work a shift behind the wheel. The red beast carried us across the plains of Colorado and Texas without incident. We stopped twice for a break for us and the dogs and three times to gas up. This was no quick event. We set the Chihuahua pen up first. Buckie and Raisin handed out and placed inside their portable exercise yard. The three puppies followed. Each of us walking one at a time. Hoping the third one would wait until one of us could get back for her. The other dogs followed in an order based loosely on age and experience traveling in the truck and who would be faster than who. We were on the road when we returned the last dog, usually Danny, to its crate.
The Dallas Market Center is a big, clean, well-lit building. We had 200 sq feet of grooming space and we barely fit. The amazing thing about dog shows is that most people show as a hobby. Hobbies should be calming, relaxing and generally easier than what most of us get paid to do during the week. There was nothing easy about this weekend. Three quarters of the first day we devoted to grooming the five Kerries we’d brought. Standing all day on the hard floor, the unloading, bathing, walking and more standing were taking their toll. I could have entered a wet T-shirt contest by the time every dog was bathed. My hair lacked any semblance of style and my pantyhose were wet to the knee. There was little time for personal rehab. We had a deadline: the North Dallas Terrier Club show and Sweepstakes, starting at 4:30.
By the time the show started I was barely able to walk. We were all tired. Too much work, too little food. And finally the showing. I was mainly responsible for one small bitch for this first show. Ultimately my mom’s pick from nine puppies, she looked almost benign sitting on her table. All the dogs were ready and a pride and excitement replaced fatigue in the setup. I was proud to be part of this machine. At shows, you estimate when you will be in the ring. The better an estimator you are, the less standing ringside you have to do. Standing is a double-edged sword. If you are young, are approaching middle age or even squarely middle-aged you can grab a ringside chair and sit, waiting for your turn. But if you are on the back side of the best years of your life, ringside chairs are not your friend. They look so pleasant. Inviting almost. They beckon you to linger on their curved metal seats and convince yourself you really aren’t that tired and you will be able to spring up and show your dog easily. Well, as the rational part of your brain knows, you may never be able to get up. Your legs will cramp and the blood will pool in your calves and feet making it torture when you have to move again. A crippling stiffness will invade your back and lower body. I continue to learn this lesson every show season. I have also learned that several Extra Strength Tylenol, taken about an hour before ring time, mitigates this somewhat. But on this day it wasn’t enough. Looking wistfully at the chairs, I remained standing.
The steward called our breed to the ring. Shifting on my feet, I had managed to recirculate some of the pooling blood from my legs to the rest of my body and believed I might be able to hang in for a lap or two around the ring. I was too tired to care if our puppy made a fool of me. If she raced around the ring on her hind legs or refused to stand for the judge. One trip to training class does not a show dog make. Sure, I was excited to show the little bitch. And there had been a little trash-talking in the box truck on the way out and in the set up about which of the three littermates would do the best. Just good natured competition between friends and littermates. This first show weekend they would have to do it on their own. Training and real winning would come later.
We entered the ring and the puppy stood quietly where I stacked her. Standing was one thing moving was another. In the dog show world, confidence is sometimes everything and that was the one thing our puppy had. She became the bitch we all fear. Typee, cute and full of herself. Many times we have stood behind such a phenom, graciously accepting our red, second place ribbon. We have watched from ringside at our National while this same type of puppy takes home the hardware. We have never owned that puppy and after such a long day I didn’t care who owned one. The judge asked us to go around. Our puppy took off like she was radio controlled, me racing after her. Reaching the end of the lead she never broke stride. I caught her midway down the far side of the ring, her front legs reaching, rear driving. My rear movement was not as smooth but I had no choice except to hold on and keep going. Maybe she had snuck out to training class by herself. Maybe she wanted to see me sweat as we returned to the ring for Winners Bitch comepetition, Best Of Breed competition and the Stud Dog class. The wait for the final competition of the day, Puppy Sweepstakes, seemed intentionally cruel. With no points at stake, why were we here. Our puppies seemed ready to go another round even if we were dreaming of dinner so we stayed. I’m sure more than just the puppy was laughing as I gasped my way through the Sweepstakes group. When we finished that first, interminable day, she had two points and a Puppy Sweepstakes Group 2.
By the time we loaded the box truck for the trip home three days later, our puppy had a major and a total of five points. She was one-third a champion and I knew we had a show dog.