Monday, October 13, 2008

No Show

The most thoughtful of the people who are not embarrassed to call themselves "fanciers" of dogs -- and even "in The Fancy" or "part of The Fancy" -- meet critiques of the disastrous institution called a "dog show" with a sort of half-hearted, but still stubborn, defense:

Well, yes, so many of those people are terrible, win at all cost, and the judging is all political, and so many unsound dogs with bad temperaments get championships, and working ability is not respected there ... but this is where we breed fanciers get together. This is where we see other dogs of our breeds, and pick out mates, and sell puppies, and 'educate the public' about our breed. And it's where I get to see my friends 'in the breed' -- it's my social life. And the dogs get socialized, the chaos is good for the puppies to learn. And it's the breed club through AKC dog shows that educates us breeders about genetic defects and health problems and how to breed better dogs. Plus, how else would a puppy buyer find out about the good breeders out there instead of just go to a pet shop?

We drove over 900 miles this weekend, and came home with no championship points, no ribbons, no "legs," no silver loving cup.

Near as I can tell, nobody here is disappointed. Rosie is disgruntled, but she is always disgruntled -- everything vexes her.

Pip and Rosie got long-overdue new collars for the occasion -- burgundy for Pip, leopard-pattern for Rosie -- but they were rarely snapped to leashes, which were never used to string them around in a circle or restrain them for "inspection."

I did give Rosie a bath on Thursday night. This had nothing to do with enhancing her pretty white ruff to catch the eye of judge, and everything to do with whatever reeking black foulness it was that she rolled in Thursday afternoon. Pip's pre-trip grooming was limited to our usual evening burr-picking session.

Not one of the fifty-plus English shepherd owners who gathered at a horse farm in western North Carolina had occasion to whisper to another about the fix that "put up" the obviously inferior dog of a third one.

No one screamed "loose dog."

No vendor sold stacks of t-shirts reading "The winning dog was professionally handled ... and so was the judge." (Real shirt. Saw them selling like Eskimo pies in Hell at a show in 2003.)

Nobody jumped in the car early and headed home after losing in the "first round."

No one paid a fee to cover the overhead on Madison Avenue offices or a new tux for the judge.

There was no gatekeeper verifying that each dog's paperwork was in order.

Nobody got disqualified.

If anyone was being paid to be there, I didn't hear of it.

What did happen was this ...

A large group of owners, and wannabe owners, of a rare kind of dog came together on a glorious fall Saturday.

A large group of dogs of a rare kind wandered about, most of them off-leash most of the time, socialized, played, threw a few snits, went swimming, fetched sticks and frisbees, barked, flirted, checked in with their owners, and sometimes shadowed them with the commitment of one of Pullman's daemons.

Humans looked at dogs and inquired about who was the Momma and the Poppa, and did that stolid fellow still possess a full pair of cojones, and what about them hip scores?

A representative of the ALBC spoke to us about our shared project of heritage breed conservation.

Puppies were passed from lap to lap for cuddling and spoiling.

Pedigrees were passed from hand to hand for scrutiny and discussion.

We had a raffle, and bought books and things, to benefit breed rescue. Rescue and the breed club are not at odds, with one party screaming "neuter them all" and the other sniping about unbalanced humaniacs. The boards overlap. Breeders are active in rescue. I am one of them.

Online friends got to meet in person, and old acquaintances were renewed. Club members from Texas, Vermont, Idaho and Montana had come.

Breeders got a good look at pups they had sold, all growed up.

We included part-bred dogs and their owners as a matter of course. (Imagine the welcome extended to a "shepherd mix" at, say, a GSDCA specialty show.)

We watched agility competitors demonstrate their craft; the regular dogs also played with the jumps and tunnels.

We commented on how great it was for our guys to to relax and socialize with other dogs and humans who "get them."

We remembered those who had left our community this year, canine and human, and shared our sense of loss.

We ate wonderful potluck food.

We took pictures.

We talked dogs.

We gathered up our folding chairs and serving bowls and drove home, each and every one of us with the grand prize: The same great dog we had brought with us.


  1. I'm learning so much about the English Shepherd just from what you've written! Thanks for your wonderful blogs about them and your awesome gang of pups.

  2. Wow. These gatherings sound heavenly. Exactly how breed enthusiast gatherings should be.

    Are there any upcoming gatherings? I realize this post is now two years old... I am looking to find an English Shepherd when we start our small Pennsylvania farm in Summer 2011.

    I was directed to this post by Jean & her Chandler.

    Thanks for taking the time to blog about these awesome dogs, and their people.

  3. Jen, what a timely question!

    I will be hosting a Pennsylvania Gathering on June 11-12, 2011, here at Brandywine Farm and in the adjoining park and community center. Just set the date this week.

    This is Harmony, Butler County, 16037, so you can get an idea of the geography.

    Details on the blog soon.


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