Still the Best Dog at Westminster

Two days before the show, I planned to give Fellow a mani/pedi. I usually do all three dogs’ nails once a week with a Dremel micro-tool. Captain went first. Now that he is old, he is very good about having his nails done. Also, he likes the treats. Having a lot of treats is how we get nails done. I recommend keeping your dog’s nails nice and short, sitting on the floor, and giving them lots of treats when you do it. Usually Fellow wants to be second, but this time he just stood there and looked at me, so I did Eggi next. She is very sensitive about her nails, and takes the longest on account of all the unnecessary flinching and wrestling. When Fellow saw the inexorability of the nail trimming, he sat in my lap of his own volition.

The afternoon before Fellow was to go to the Westminster Kennel Club Show, I gave him a bath. Now, he just had a bath for the show he went to last weekend, so he was a bit incredulous. I sat on the edge of the tub and put my feet in and he acquiesced. He will not sit in the tub, and he sometimes jumps out when you don’t expect it, but otherwise, he stands there pretty well.

After his bath, I rub him with a towel, and let him rub himself on the towels on the floor. If you skip this step, he will rub on the curtains, your legs, available chairs, and the walls. Then, I dressed him in his doggy bathrobe, and put him away to dry. I have heard from other vizsla owners that they don’t bother giving their dogs a bath before a show. I wonder how their dogs know they’re going to a show.

When it was time to deliver him to T, I took him straight to the car, still in his robe, and took it off once I got him in there. Eggi, being extremely food-motivated, was pretty easy to teach to jump into the car. For Fellow, who likes treats but thinks he might miss out on something if he’s in the car, a treat isn’t always enough to get him to jump in.

I met my handler at a Park N Ride just off the highway. Fellow went home with her and the plan was to meet up the next morning at the show. I went to bed early and dreamed I was on a ferry to Canada.

The next morning, I got up early knowing there might be a line to get through the gate. This year’s event was held at the Lyndhurst estate in Tarrytown, about 30 minutes from Bedhead Hills. There was a lot of staff checking us in; everyone had to submit test results or proof of vaccination in advance, fill out a Covid questionnaire on the day, and present exhibitors’ tickets. My car got a badge and I got two wrist bands (one for the Covid status and the other for being an exhibitor). I was directed to park in a grassy field. It went so smoothly I now know what it takes to make a safe and successful event in the pandemic times: lots of planning and lots of staff.

As I left my car, I looked around at the expanse of rolling, grassy hills and neat rows of parked cars and wondered how I’d know where I parked. It was a bright and beautiful day.

I parked left of the castle.

I headed towards the tents and began to wonder how I would find my handler T, but then I saw her on my way to the bathrooms.

I followed T back to where she had her van set up, and stood around awkwardly while people groomed dogs on tables with generators blasting away so nobody could really talk at all.

Then it was time to go to the ring.

American dog shows start with the singing of the national anthem. I could not see the singer, nor could I hear her, and I could not see the flag we should be facing. For a moment I thought about singing. I taught at a Catholic girls high school for a few years and if I learned anything from going to mass it was that it is improved by singing along. At the end, I may or may not have said, “Play ball.” I often do.

I stayed where Fellow couldn’t see me even though I always swore I wouldn’t be one of those people. There weren’t any spectators allowed at this year’s show, so everyone milling around or idly watching was an exhibitor; people were surprisingly amenable to my hiding behind them and peering into the ring.

If I was nervous watching him, it was out of love; for me, in my desire to see him do well, for my family, who know him, for my handler, who works with him and has gotten him to this point, for my breeder, for my friends (in real life and online), cheering for him, from homes all over the world. The pandemic has kept us apart, and for a few minutes on Sunday, we were all together, pulling for this sometimes goofy, always joyous dog, trotting around at an extremely competitive event, wagging almost every step of the way.

When he did not make the cut, it was ok because it was an honor just to qualify, but it wasn’t ok, because he’s such a good boy, and it should certainly be obvious to everyone. But it’s just a dog show, and there will be more of those. I greeted him outside the ring, and he was so happy to see me I let him jump up on me and knock off my sunglasses.

I stayed and watched the vizslas. In the end, I did not know any of the dogs that won the ribbons. I also watched Newfies, and pointers, and boxers, and Lakeland terriers, and cairn terriers, and Rottweilers. I caught up with my friends who are pointer breeders, and got to hear a happy story about a pointer that was placed as a service dog. She was thriving, and so was her teenaged owner, who was there at Westminster, capably showing the animal who had done so much for her. Of all their many decades of accomplishments breeding dogs, my friends are proudest of this.

The show felt so much like the pre-Covid days that for a few hours I forgot about it. It was such a relief to just be outside with dog people, doing dog stuff, on a nice day. When I’d had enough, I rose and turned and began walking out of the big tent. I passed an exhibitor, with an Airedale, about to go in the show ring. I looked at the dog and before I could stop myself, I gasped. It was as fine an Airedale as I had ever seen. I said as much. The exhibitor smiled gently and said he’d bred it in England. I told him that when I was a kid, an Airedale was my dream dog.

This is true. I don’t know how I even heard of the breed as a kid, since I didn’t know one.

Back at home, I found my cat and my most cat-like dog being cats in the living room, and I went to take a picture.

Fellow inserted himself into the peaceful scene. He never wants to miss out.

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