The Flats of Vermont

There are bigger dog shows. There are fancier venues. There are shows with media hoopla and some dog world prestige. But the Vermont Scenic Circuit, dog shows held on the Tunbridge Worlds Fairgrounds in mid-July each year is still my favorite dog show.

You’ll be parking on grass, and walking a lot. It might get dusty. There’s no mobile phone coverage on the way in and out of the show, so make sure you’ve got your navigon programmed in advance.

It’s a bit of a drive to get there, so I loaded up the car with both dogs, flat buckle collars and six-foot leashes, dog food and treats, packable kennels, and some changes of clothes for me. On the way, I stopped for a grinder in Connecticut and tried to visit a fabric thrift store in Massachusetts, but they weren’t open.

Last year, I was unimpressed by the desolate lodgings I booked online, so this year when I found a gorgeous, dog-welcoming, old-school bed and breakfast called Hubble Shire Farm in Chelsea, Vermont, I snapped up a room. The innkeeper, above left, is an Australian shepherd named Tristan, who welcomes well-mannered people and dogs to this exquisitely decorated gem of an inn, and is, of course, supported by capable, hospitable human staff who will take your reservation on the phone or by email. And make breakfast and dinner.

There was another person, Doug, staying at the bed and breakfast, and he, too, was there for the dog show; we had most of our meals together. The food was expertly prepared, featuring seasonal dishes. I didn’t have wine but the inn has a full liquor license and some very nice wines were consumed. What fun to make new friends.

After my too lovely breakfast the first morning, I loaded the dogs in the white whale and started it up and got an ugly warning on the dash: one tire was low. I hopped out and looked and, in fact, that tire was almost completely flat. I called AAA. While I waited, I unstrapped the dog crates, took out one dog, removed the first crate, put the dog back in the crate, took out the other dog, took out the other crate, and put the dog in his crate. It had started to rain.

The spare tire in the white whale is stored outside, under the way-back of the car, but the cable that keeps it in place is loosened by a wrench that is stored in a compartment under the floor in the way-back, with the jack. The guy dispatched by AAA pulled up, unpacked the tools, and got to work lowering the spare onto the road. Soon enough he had the flat tire off, the spare on, and the bad tire loaded into my car, the tools re-stowed, and the compartments closed up again. I wiped down the wet kennels, removed one dog at a time, lifted the crates back in, replaced the dogs, strapped the crates back into place, and headed to the show.

When we arrived at the dog show, I checked in with the woman who tells everyone where to park, and she offered me one of the shadier spots on the property. I grabbed Eggi, left Fellow in his crate with a fan on, and walked and ran and walked and ran across the show grounds to the obedience ring to see if we had missed her class. We were just in time. The ring stewards asked me to take some deep breaths (which was impossible), told the slightly irate person who thought she was going in the ring next that she wasn’t going in next, and sent us in the ring instead. We weren’t great. But we managed to get a qualifying score so we were invited to return for the group sits and downs.

Now we had to wait for the rest of the class to go, including the sulky person we’d cut in front of, and the adrenaline that had carried us to this point had been used up and would take us no further. When it was time for the group sits and downs, we were lined up in catalog order, next to the first dog in, and though Eggi sat as asked, she spent the 60 seconds rolling her eyes around and looking every which way except at me, and when the judge said, “Back to your dogs,” she jumped defiantly to her feet, which was our moment of disqualification. It was a strange relief to be excused.

When we went outside, Eggi pooped immediately, which certainly explained why she couldn’t sit.

After a bit, it was Fellow’s turn, and even after he got his potty-business taken care of, he still seemed like he was on the verge of explosion. After a day of travel, a night in a new place with a genuine dog innkeeper, a flat tire, and a whole dog show to walk through, a Fellow was pretty fired up. I felt like he might jump out of the ring to greet a ring steward, or pee on the jump pile, or leap up and lick me in the face. But he stayed with me, and must have seemed obedient enough, despite barking twice, because in the end he had a 191/200 and won the beginner novice class.

Dog with a first place obedience ribbon on his crate is busy drinking water from a bucket

We went and found our friends‘ RV: Eggi and Fellow’s show handler T and her whole entourage. Nothing like having someone to show off your blue ribbon to! Fellow was rowdy and riled up, jumping all over me and barking and not letting me talk and looking like I’d stolen the ribbon from someone whose dog was not the embodiment of disobedience.

After that, I put Fellow away and went to watch my new friend Doug showing his dog in the groups. He has a rare breed, an Azawakh, named Ksenia. This breed, a West African sight hound, was new to the AKC hound group in 2019, so as a spectator, it is fun to watch the dog and the look of excited recognition on judges’ faces. Oh, they seem to be thinking, here’s one of these leggy and lean dogs that fits into a rectangle…what else do I remember? Ksenia is an exceptional example of the breed, of course, and through the weekend a number of people approached Doug to ask about her or to say that she was as nice an Azawakh as they’d ever seen. Of course, she is absolutely the nicest Azawakh that I’ve ever seen, and she carries herself with the polite, delicate, serene aloofness of a desert queen.

Doug came all the way from south Florida to do this show, and Ksenia had never been shown outdoors on grass before. The first day she seemed to think maybe Doug was confused about the grass and they were having a very strange potty walk. But every trip they took around the ring she got a little more relaxed and comfortable with it.

The next day, I woke up with a headache, so I tossed back a migraine pill with that deluxe breakfast on fine china. After walking my dogs, I loaded them in the white whale and drove up to Barre to see if I could get my tire repaired so we wouldn’t have to drive back home to Bedhead Hills on a janky-looking spare. It was another beautiful day, and the innkeeper’s human staff warned me that the way to Barre had potholes, so when the navigon sent me up a road called “Washington Turnpike” that felt suspiciously like a well-maintained dirt road I didn’t give it much thought until it narrowed and began to get winding and uphill. Then there was an entire loose herd of cows on the road and my state of anxiety in firm command and a quiet voice in my head saying well I could get a picture or even turn around. But, no. Onward.

In Barre, they patched my tire and did not return the spare to the storage underneath, but it was only $40 and they were very nice and I was so much happier driving back to the dog show with four proper tires again.

Arriving later at the dog show, there was no primo shady parking spot for me, but it was ok; I joined all the other late arrivals in the big grassy field to the south of the main action. I’d missed Eggi’s class but was in time for Fellow’s. The thing about migraine meds, though, is they sometimes take away my keener attention to detail, so when I left Fellow sitting and staying in the center of the ring to perform the walk-around, which is meant to be a neat, brisk rectangular walk ending with returning to my dog, what I did was a brisk perambulation of roughly 400° so that when I did recognize my over-rambling ways and return to my dog, he exploded with relief. It was my error and the judge informed me as much. So no qualifying score for us that day, which was just was well, because it was just for practice anyway. I thanked the judge, told Fellow he was a good boy, and went to find the group rings to watch Doug and his grand champion Azawakh.

We were in time to watch the terrier group, and to remember why we come to Vermont to show dogs in July: for the blue sky and green grass and pleasant breezes. There’s almost no place to stay nearby, so most of the professional handlers come and camp on the fairgrounds in their RVs, and everyone brings a chair over to watch groups, and no one rushes off for a dinner reservation. Every single day at this show feels like a party. Many days include ice cream.

And when I got back to the white whale, the tire that I’d paid $40 to repair was dramatically flat again. So I called Doug and he came back for me and my animals, because AAA was not to be summoned for love or money.

When I did finally get through to AAA later that night, it was by phone, and we arranged a service appointment for the flat tire the next morning between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.. I gave detailed directions for finding the white whale, owing to the lack of mobile phone coverage outside of the show grounds and the size of the fairgrounds. I handed the flat tire to the next day’s agenda.

We had another amazing meal, and a walk up the beautiful hill behind the inn.

The next morning, Doug got up early to give me and my pets a ride to my abandoned car at the show even though he didn’t need to be there until 1 p.m. Aren’t friends great? We were there a few minutes before 8, as arranged, and I sat for about 45 minutes, my quiet phone in my hand, while I watched the woman who tells everyone where to park at work. A few cars tried to park next to the white whale, and I told the drivers that I had a flat and was waiting on AAA and they all wished me luck and chose to park someplace else.

Then, around 8:45, the woman who tells everyone where to park came over and hollered at me at some length, saying that I couldn’t tell people not to park next to me, and that anyway AAA wasn’t coming because they came earlier and couldn’t find me so they left.

While she was scolding me, I thought about what I might reply to the woman who tells everyone where to park, and decided that there was no reply that could improve my predicament at the moment. So I said nothing to her, stared at her dumbfounded, while she drove off in her golf cart to tell some other people where to park.

When I called AAA again, they were eager to connect me directly with the person who had been scheduled to deal with my flat that morning. This irritable man in Montpelier has no business doing roadside assistance for AAA, and had apparently shown up before our appointment at 8 a.m. that morning, and was now claiming he’d tried to call me repeatedly, that he’d spoken to the woman who tells everyone where to park, that she said she knew me and had searched the grounds for me, that she hadn’t found me, that she knew where I was staying and had called the manager of my hotel and had been told they didn’t know where I was. I unexpectedly terminated his telling of this ridiculous story because the man had escalated to shouting at me in addition to lying to me. My phone never rang; I had no missed calls or voicemail. If the woman who tells people where to park knows who I am I’d be very surprised and if she spoke to Tristan at the inn, well, I hope she wasn’t as rude to the innkeeper-dog as she was to me.

So, I started over with AAA, feeling pretty emotional about the heaping helpings of verbal abuse I’d had to take this morning and all before 9 a.m., and having had to explain that my tire had been flat since the day before, asking if they’d expected me to sleep in my car, and pausing my narrative to cry quietly but somewhat dramatically and making them wait.

Once I was able to finish telling what happened, and they pulled up my account and saw the details of my calls and scheduled appointment on their end, I could hear the change in pitch as true, righteous indignation crept into the voice of the AAA person on the phone. My call would be expedited, to a different shop, and I was told not to worry.

Actually, it was a nice day, I was at a dog show with my pets, I could go get a fruit flip soon and maybe there’d be time to show Fellow.

The new guy AAA sent from Rutland was nice, though his jack wasn’t quite up to the task of lifting the white whale, so we had to get out my jack, which was in the compartment in the floor in the way back, under the dog crates. So, once again, I unstrapped the dog crates, took out one dog, removed the first crate, put the dog back in the crate, took out the other dog, took out the other crate, and put the dog in his crate. Once we got the white whale up, the new guy was able to get 5 of the 6 freshly tightened lug nuts loose in good time and however he got the sixth one off is between him and his gods. I couldn’t watch.

I asked him to check the pressure on the spare, explaining that I was driving all the way back to New York on it, and he did, saying that it was full size, and it would be fine; it was just dirty.

Then I removed one dog from a crate at a time, lifted the kennels back into the white whale, replaced the dogs, strapped the crates back into place front and back, thanked the guy, hung a bucket of water and set up the fans and the reflective blanket so Eggi would stay cool while I showed Fellow.

Fellow and I had our best day of showing so far, with 192/200 points, which was good enough for a second place ribbon.

My friend Doug and Ksenia got a judge who was really digging seeing such a great example of an Azawakh, and gave her a nice owner-handled Group 2. Then we had the barbecue to go to, with great food, a real good band, and good fun.

When you went to summer camp as a kid, your counselors also made up songs to entertain you while you ate ribs and corn on the cob and baked beans and drank lemonade, and for this group of dog professionals, the fact that these handlers show up every year with a new song, which they’ve written and practiced just for this event may be one of the highlights of their year.

Last year, we came for a title. This year, I came to show both dogs in obedience, but mostly hoping to finish Eggi’s novice title. Fellow’s beginner novice title is finished, and he isn’t quite ready to compete at novice. Eggi managed to be just close enough to coming into or going out of season that she couldn’t quite keep it together for good scores in obedience. Or maybe it’s my nerves in the ring. So we will have to keep going.

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