Little E at the Big E

When Cherry died in late November, we were still in the middle of remodeling our house. Captain was pretty lonely, but my plan was to get a puppy the following summer, after we would be you know airquotes-finished. But kitchens and bathrooms take frickin forever, and in March when a third person told me I had to go see S about a vizsla puppy, I did. 

I didn’t say yes, definitely on that day; I waited for the Bacon Provider to have the same experience lifting a perfect ten week old out of the puppy pen and snugging the little squirmulator because why waste words telling him about it? The litter was born between Xmas and New Years, and they were all named for toasts, so we named ours Egészségedre (Hungarian for Cheers!), and we call her Eggi.

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We’ve owned vizslas since 1992, but never shown one. Eggi looks exactly as I think a vizsla should, and is happy and eager and clever as clever and somehow because of these things it seemed reasonable and not ridiculous to show her. In addition to puppy class, Eggi and I did a few weeks of practicing dog show skills with a trainer (stopping and standing instead of sitting, trotting, being stacked, letting a person peel back her lips to show her teeth). Eggi thought it was fine, if a little boring compared to agility. I tripped over my own feet.

We went up to Massachusetts on a Thursday night on account of the early start at her first dog show on the next day. Eggi is a bit awkward about getting into the car, but once she’s in her kennel, she is a good traveller. Through the creepy intensity of dark Connecticut and late-night Massachusetts, we listened to Jack London’s White Fang. At the hotel, the hallway smelled of bleach. A solitary woman in the gym next to our room walked quietly on the treadmill until the midnight closing time. I gave Eggi a bath in the hotel tub.

Staying in a hotel with a young, reactive dog, you sneak in and out, peering into the hall and checking both ways before you leave your room.  It’s not because the dog isn’t allowed but because you don’t know what weirdness you’re going to run into. It could be another dog. It could be the housekeeping cart. It could be people with a lot of luggage. All of these things are frightening and/or exciting to an almost-8-month-old dog. The worst encounter we had was in the hall outside our room as we were coming in; someone’s tall, beefy nephew had the airquotes-hilarious idea of pretending to be very, very afraid of my dog. He shrieked and waved his hands in agitation above his head. Someone’s uncle needs to explain to this guy why he shouldn’t do this, to any dog, ever again. Not me, though. I gotta get up early.

West Springfield, Massachusetts has a giant fairgrounds surrounded by chainlink and barbed wire, called like the Great Enormous Northern American States Super Exposition Center or some-such-something, but anyway folks call it the Big E. You pay five dollars to go in, and then you drive all over the acres of pavement around many huge barns, past the midway, over on the other side of the apparently actual New England town this thing grew up around, and then circumnavigate seven huge buildings, each bigger than the last, looking for the Country Life Pavilion, or the Better Living Complex, or some such building. It was flanked by a several rows of RVs.

I looked for dogs, and Door Number 7.

I was instructed to arrive at 7:15, and I made it, despite my circuitous route inside the Big E. I parked and walked Eggi around for about 15 minutes, begging her to pee.  She would prefer not to.

Inside, it’s as big an indoor space as they make and had eight show rings surrounded by row upon row of dog crates and grooming tables.  It had the noisy quality of something big happening a block away, but you couldn’t hear anyone until they were right next to you.

Our handler T was easy enough to find (she saw me and waved wildly). I was told to go sit by the ring and wait. I got myself a large coffee and found a bench.

At 8 am, they played the national anthem. Folks turned and faced the American flag painted on the wall above the snack bar. I held my coffee in my hand. I watched one guy with his hand on his heart try to make eye-contact with another man so he’d see his take-off-your-hat-you-disrespectful-goon gesture. 

I wanted to yell play ball afterwards but I didn’t. I sat back down.

Tell folks you’re going to a dog show and they’ll say how much they loved that movie. You know the one. Yeah, yeah, the busy bee. The only people who don’t wanna tell you all about their favorite scene are the people who actually go to dog shows; I’ve never heard them talk about that movie.

Right away the handlers started bringing the vizslas that had gathered into the ring, and doing the trotting, and the stacking, and the bite-revealing thing I had tried to learn. In other rings there were other people with other kinds of dogs like beagles and French bulldogs, and spaniels and boxers and mastiffs. All the flavors of dogs. The people consisted of the judges and handlers all dressed in business attire, and a few straggling owners, some of whom looked like they just rolled out of their Winnebago in the sweats they slept in.

Each little group of competing dogs was in and out quickly, and the winners chosen rapidly. I kept my opinions about which vizslas I liked to myself. Some of the handlers were fun to watch because they moved well. The dogs lined up, the dogs trotting alone. The judge running her hands over a dog. The dogs trotting in a group. The judge pointing at one dog, and then another. You could look away and miss it. They go out, and the winning dogs come back in to compete with other winners.

Just like that movie.

Anyway, after some dogs there was Eggi’s group.

She is still a puppy and she was pretty wiggly but T made her look elegant and spirited instead of goofy and wild and of course I beamed at her and clapped when she won. Because of course she won!

Then T had to rush to another ring to go show some other kind of dog and she handed Eggi off to another handler who showed her in the next group and I guess she won again and then T came back and showed her a third time and I really don’t know what happened other than we came out with three ribbons and a lot of people being very excited.

“Do you know what she won?” T asked.

“Not really,” I admitted.

“Best of Winners for a major.” 

Dog shows are pretty stinking fun when you win. The handler even gets to take a picture with the dog and the judge. It’s validation that your dog, who is the best dog in the entire world, is known and admired for being the best.

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After that you go back to the hotel and have a nap.

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Dog shows are weird and boring when you don’t win. Some other dog who is not nearly as adorable or good as your own dog gets the blue ribbon from the judge the next day, and you go home feeling like you drove two hours to the casino and lost everything on a bad bet in the first five minutes. Fortunately, on the days that Eggi didn’t win, her sister did extremely well, so we can keep hoping about next time. 

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