“At bird shows, you look up,” he said, pointing up to rafters filled with imaginary avian escapees.
“At dog shows? You look DOWN!” And everyone chuckled.
I didn’t get the joke until later, when I narrowly avoided a fresh canine surprise–eeeuw!–while trying to retain my dignity by not saying stuff like “uzzums wuzzums GOOD BOY, uzzums wuzzums DOGGIE?” to every furry face I saw.
Mom and I were at the Rose City Classic Dog Show, drowning in dogfur. It’s a kind of three-ring circus of dog shows, one of the bigger in the western US, with a craft fair, a bunch of different dog breeder shows, and heaven knows what else going on for blocks and blocks and blocks.
We needed the relief because it’s been a challenging couple of weeks, with friends dying, friends in crisis, and a neverending supply of tough-ish decisions. My horoscope helpfully suggested that “Mercury, in your creative sector, will receive shimmering beams from Uranus…” which my creative sector found positively depressing.
Dog shows are the opposite of depressing. We strolled aisles of Pomeranians and Kuvascz(es?), watched the finicky poodle-primping, and chatted up a lady with a beautifully dark, furry beast that reminded me of bears.
“Bouvier de Flanders,” she corrected, carefully trimming his ear hair, “These are Belgian farm dogs. They work the farms right alongside the farmer. As far as I can tell, their favorite game is rolling in the mud.”
My mom, who regularly bathed Toby and kept him looking like a snowflake, grimaced at the heap of fur surrounding a lolling tongue, “I’d hate to have to wash all THAT fur.”
“Not at all,” smiled the owner breezily, “I just hit it with the hose. It’s like going through a carwash, only hairier.”
We sat for awhile, watching butterfly-eared Papillions skitter past the judge, anticipating their rewards for looking like so many animated toys. One by one their owners would lift them onto the judging table, carefully pressing a finger just under their tails. The dogs would stop dead, staring straight ahead while the judge peered and stroked and examined.
The whole finger-in-the-rear thing is apparently how owners make the dogs come to attention. (It would certainly make ME come to attention…)
“Her name’s QT,” said a jovial dude in a buzzcut, clutching a smiling mass of golden fur, “and that’s ’cause she really IS a cutie.” His dog, not much bigger around than his head–furry fluff and all–had the proverbial shoebutton eyes and a wide-open grin. An undersized Pomeranian–“I’d never breed her, she’s really far too small”–she snuggled contentedly in the crook of his arm and watched her big brother compete for the ribbons.
“These shows get into your blood,” he told us, “You get to know everyone on the circuit, you make friends, you know the good dogs, the great dogs, the good judges…and the bad. It’s crazy, but it becomes a part of your life. I might do it even if I didn’t have these little guys.”
I stopped, entranced, as a woman brushed out her sheepdog; the neutral color play in his fur reminded me of one of my favorite Jessica Loughlin pieces. As I approached, he turned and smiled, licking his chops.
His owner sprang into action. “Help, help!” she called, laughing, “I’m a poor doggie being brushed to within an inch of my life by a crazy lady! Save me, save me, kind stranger!!”
I smiled and approached but, mindful of cat show etiquette (this was my first dog show), carefully did NOT try to pet the dog. Petting a cat at a catshow could lose you an arm–the owner is liable to chop it off–because cat-to-cat-to-cat petting can transmit disease.
This seriously bugged the sheepdog–he wanted to get a good lick at my face and some nice rubbing in return.
A woman moved past the sheepdog, pushing a stack of yipping, caged Chihuahas. Another four Chihuahuas tripped along behind her, on leashes. We were checking the ground for more than just steaming canine surprises; the Chihuahuas were all over the place.
“Taco Bell,” said the sheepdog mama, “has a LOT to answer for.” Apparently the fast food chain’s mascot, which later went on to appear in multiple movies, spawned a craze for chihuahuas that continues to this day, and has resulted in some serious overbreeding issues.
“It always happens,” she sighed, “Poodles, collies, dalmations, fox terriers, bulldogs…whatever shows up on TV or in the movies, everybody wants one. Who cares if it’s the right dog or not?”
Mom and I clambered into the grandstands to watch the agility trials. We’d intended to only stay for the first dog’s run…but once the competition started, we were mesmerized. For those of you who haven’t seen one, agility course competitions for dogs are sorta like show jumping for horses…except the whole course is miniaturized, the owners run alongside the dogs, and it’s 95 percent border collies.
The owners came out first and traversed the course, fixing the obstacles in their mind and doing a kind of dress rehearsal in their heads with commands and hand gestures. Then the dogs started their runs, moving so quickly my little iPhone camera couldn’t keep up. The best I could do was capture the back half of the agility poodle.
The border collies had the obvious edge, lightning-fast and eager to please. I personally rooted for the ginormous German Shepherd as he picked his way flawlessly through the course, but the winning collie shaved his time almost in half.
And there I was, in the stands, clapping and grinning and cheering them all on, like my life depended on it.