About an hour later, the next puppy was born, a girl. We cleaned her up, wrote down her weight, and put an adjustable pink nylon paracord collar on her when Eggi stood up and produced a third puppy, another boy. An hour and a half after that, another girl was born, and then, after another hour or so, another girl.
The snow turned to rain, the rain stopped, the roads were finally clear, and it was time for breakfast.
My breeder mentor, who had never seemed the slightest bit tired all night, congratulated us, had a bite of breakfast, and headed home.
Eggi was very attentive to her new puppies, and though in our sleep-deprived minds we thought differently, she had not, by our notes, passed all of the placentas. She was still having contractions when she nursed, so it was unclear to me if there wasn’t that sixth and last puppy working its way out. I monitored her, and kept both the vet and WhelpWise informed. I fell asleep when I was supposed to be monitoring her. By late afternoon, it was unclear whether she was going to deliver that sixth puppy, or even if there was a sixth puppy, and after trying a calcium injection and then oxytocin, the vet’s office said to come for an x-ray and possibly a c-section to try to save the last puppy.
We left the newborns at home, and headed out into rush-hour traffic. Things moved along quickly until we hit the last two miles, at the exit for the repro vet. I had called my brother to give him an update, and he helped me decide that this was the kind of emergency that warranted the kind of obnoxious, can’t-wait driving that the northeast I famous for. I drove the last two miles on the shoulder, girding myself for horns or angry fists. There weren’t any.
Eggi passed a placenta in the car during the drive. The vet’s office was closed for the day by the time we came in, and the maintenance guy was cleaning the waiting room floor. The tech who’d come back for us took Eggi in for an x-ray, and quickly came and got me. There was no sixth puppy visible.
We even pulled up the file from the x-ray from a week before, which the vet had described to me but not shown me at the time. I could clearly see the five heads and five spines in the image. There never was any reason to think there was a sixth puppy.
So we thanked the staff for the non-emergency, and they reassured me that it was better to know, and it was no trouble.
It had been some trouble, but the relief of knowing all the puppies were out and safe was enormous.
Every other day we were logging highway miles running bloodwork on Eggi, in anticipation of doing another breeding, and how could I not linger on the thought that if I opened the back door and just let her out with Fellow in the yard, they’d do the deed, probably on the right day or close enough anyway, without any intervention or involvement from us. Like they did it in the old days, when it was uphill to school both ways, it snowed from October to May, and you had to walk yourself to school starting in kindergarten. Really, anyway, on dog walks close to the right day, Eggi and I could hear dogs barking in yards where we had not known dogs lived before. They knew. As did she.
Fellow and I met a loose dog who slipped out from under the fence that was meant to contain him. He wasn’t unfriendly, but I couldn’t catch him. I had to tie Fellow to a bush and take a picture of the dog to read his name and owner’s number off his tag. I left a message and within a few minutes a yard guy came out and let him back onto the property. I’ve not seen him since. He knew.
Meanwhile, we bred Eggi, texting back and forth with the stud dog owner, exchanging contracts via email, paying via banking apps, shipping refrigerated dog semen with FedEx, and then doing the insemination trans-cervically, with an endoscope. Three and four weeks later the pregnancy was confirmed via ultrasound. It’s the 21st century, after all.
Dog pregnancies are surprisingly short, lasting nine weeks, and despite all that medical intervention, you don’t even know for sure for the first third of it. Ok, but Eggi? She knew.
Under ultrasound, they found four distinct heartbeats. Maybe even six. I had a couple of names of people who’d expressed interest in a puppy in the past, and called my breeder mentor to see if she had any more people looking for a vizsla puppy. Six meant a good chance of a girl or two, and it meant finding five perfect homes.
A few days before her due date, we received our package from the WhelpWise service, and started checking Eggi for contractions with a uterine monitor and finding heartbeats with the doppler unit. We could always find 4 puppy heartbeats. Sometimes we found 5. Now and then we found 6. The repro vet and WhelpWise calculated different due dates, so when the vet’s day came and went, we guessed the second date was right.
On March 14, Eggi started digging up her whelping box. We had it set up in the same spot as last time, along with several stacks of various sizes of freshly laundered towels, and a cart full of whelping supplies. We felt ready. WhelpWise registered some contractions. When I wasn’t watching, Eggi snuck into my bedroom and made a big nest in the pillows on my freshly made bed.
The WhelpWise people told me to let her choose where to have the puppies. “She can shut her labor down if she’s stressed or unhappy,” they said.
I gently steered her to the whelping box I’d set up in my bedroom so we could have the puppies near us at night, and this was an acceptable compromise.
I began imagining a litter of puppies born on March 14, otherwise known as Pi(e) Day, and the extremely nerdy names I could give them. Yes, a dog registered under the name Thales of Miletus! Eggi labored through the night, shrieking with the emergence of the first puppy at about half past one on March 15, and it was a boy. We cleaned him up and gave him a blue collar.
All summer in Bedhead Hills, it’s been hot and humid with the promise of a few days of storms in the forecast, but tomorrow’s thunderstorms never come. We’re left with dry and drier grass, shriveled flowers, and withered shrubs. The squirrel are attacking the heads of the sunflowers before the seeds are ripe and in their water-starved state the sunflowers are brittle and easily broken.
Just to escape the relentlessness of August, I signed Eggi up for an obedience show in Amsterdam, New York, near Schenectady. The drive up on Friday was a little intense as it’s getting to the last weekends of summer and Schenectady sits north of Albany, out where New York State begins to be much bigger and wilder than many imagine it to be. The Friday highway scene was miles of cars loaded with boats and bikes and coolers and camping gear.
Eggi and I stayed at a dog-welcoming hotel situated between a popular seafood restaurant and a wedding venue , all sharing a nice view of the Mohawk River. She and I took many little trips around the building, through the parking lot, practicing our heel work and going potty, watching people wait for a table for four, or line up in matching red bridesmaid’s dresses to see their best friend get married.
Saturday morning we took our time. it was going to be just as hot here as it had been in Bedhead Hills. An email from the show secretary warned that GPS did not always find the venue, but we did, and parked the white whale in a spot that was not shady but might be, later. I used our reflective knitted aluminum blanket and rolled down all the windows and set up two fans, transforming the white whale into baked potato mode. In this set-up, it stays shady and nice in there.
Inside the show venue, I found a busy show scene underway. The dog training club was divided into three rings, all in a row, running simultaneously. Dogs in crates and handlers in camping chairs were packed into much of whatever space was left, with a corridor running along where exhibitors entered the show rings. Handlers and dogs at the ready were milling about, yet the mood was workmanlike. There was none of the barking or whining you hear at breed shows, as dogs left alone in kennels complain without result or reprimand.
While we were waiting to go in, we met another vizsla owner, who correctly guessed Eggi’s mother once I said who her breeder was. And with this new friend standing by, Eggi and I went in the ring and got 189 1/2 out of 200 points from the judge, looking not quite flawless, but definitely on the verge of perfection someday soon.
It was good enough for a 4th place ribbon in a big, competitive class. When I hung the ribbon from Eggi’s collar in the ring she seemed not to know what to make of it.
She got over it.
With this score, it meant we only had to get one more score above 170 for her novice obedience title, known as the CD, for Companion Dog.
I picked up some take-out from the restaurant next to the hotel, and we had a quiet night.
Eggi absolutely loves hotels.
Sunday we woke up pretty ridiculously early, having gone to bed super early the night before. We packed, ate breakfast, loaded the white whale, and headed up the road to the show.
Sunday’s judge was more efficient than Saturday’s, perhaps, and was further along with the classes when we arrived. I brought in a kennel and a chair so we wouldn’t have to stand the whole time we were waiting for our turn.
At dog shows, the handler wears a number under a rubber band on their left arm, assigned beforehand and distributed when they check in at the show. But in obedience, if it’s not, say, the Vizsla National Specialty, where all the dogs are the same breed, exhibitors are referred to by their breed. So on Saturday, I was told we were after the standard poodle, and on Sunday we were after the Berner.
Now a Berner is a Bernese Mountain Dog, which is a large, tri-colored, Swiss, fluffy, friendly kind of dog, mostly known for being self-confident and alert. Eggi and I were focused on warming up to go in the ring, so we weren’t paying any attention to the one competing, so when he erupted into loud, excited barking, and came flying out of the ring he was working in, nearly bowling over both Eggi and me, and ran loose through the competition until someone corralled him, we were extremely surprised (in my case), and frightened and upset (in Eggi’s). And suddenly the efficient judge was standing at the in gate with her clipboard, asking us to come in.
So instead of having Eggi all perfectly focused and concentrating on me, she was staring bug-eyed, hackles raised, ready to take on whatever just scared the wits out of that huge dog, three times her size.
We did not have the kind of trip around the ring that we had had the day before.
We did keep going, however; me, grinning the most encouraging smile I could muster, especially between exercises, doing everything I could to regain Eggi’s attention, and Eggi, still twisting to see what was happening on the other end of the room. Our heel work on leash was rough. The figure eight was so weird, I felt like I had someone else’s dog. I may have given up some points talking to her here, just trying to get her to concentrate on me.
The stand for exam marks the moment where you take off the dog’s leash, give it to the steward, tell the dog to stand, step away about 6 feet, wait while the judge quickly touches the dog’s back, and then you go back to your dog when the judge says, “Back to your dog.”
When I got back to Eggi, she was back in the game. Our off-leash heeling was better. The recall was great. We made it to the group sits and downs. Back to your dog, indeed.
There were 12 dog and handler pairs asked back to the groups sits and downs. We were lined up in two rows, about six feet apart. Eggi looked around during the sit, which is only a minute long but of course seemed like at least three, but stayed sitting so that’s what matters. During the down she was perfectly good this time.
Which meant we qualified. No ribbon, but the third leg of our title.
We will need to do a bumper leg or two, so she doesn’t think dogs explode and run out of the ring all the time. But now that I know we can get a 189 1/2, I’m wondering if we get get an even higher score.
And then, after this, the next levels we get to start working with fetching dumbbells.
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.
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.
The last legs of our Iron Dog competition would be in the breed ring, but since both Eggi and Fellow are Grand Champions, we would not compete until the last day. We had two days to kill.
Getting gas in Bloomington, Minnesota, I looked up to discover that we had found a wild game butcher. Not only did they have wild game bones, but they had smoked beef tendons that served as an afternoon snack every single day until we ran out, and they had sausages for dogs that I would like to order a case of.
I went to a member’s lunch for the Vizsla Club of America and heard about some of the ways the breed standard will be available to judges, and I now know more about vizsla teeth and coats than I did before.
I took a field trip into a beautiful neighborhood of Minneapolis to visit the bookstore of one of my absolutely most favorite authors, and bought an armload of books.
We went for a walk to forget about the show.
But we also watched a lot more dog show.
One of my goals of going to the Vizsla national specialty was to make some new friends, and I did, and when one of them was trying to be encouraging about showing in the breed ring, she said that showing dogs in the conformation ring is just like showing lambs.
When the time comes to compete for the breed at the national specialty, a few hundred people have to line up in show clothes, with dogs on show leads, wearing numbers on their left arms, arranged in catalog order, and check in, and then get called back in to show in groups of about ten. I timed the judge and found he took about 12 minutes to judge a group. Time stretches out as you wait, and suddenly, I had to hurry because it was Eggi’s turn. I felt I didn’t have time to think. We walked in the ring, I set her up, and we waited. The line moved. We were next. I set her up, I showed her teeth and had her stand stacked. The judge told me “straight to the TV camera and back.”
I had forgotten about the live stream. It helped me feel silly about being nervous. Anyway, the fun part is when you get back to the judge and free stack (or not), and then they ask you to run around to the end of the line. The dogs love it. I could feel that Eggi was having a blast. My tights were slipping, and there was nothing to be done about it. If I pulled them up, it would be live streamed to the whole world. Let them fall.
We spent our 12 minutes in the ring, and made no cuts. I certainly didn’t expect to. I put Eggi away and went back to watch.
When I entered this show, I intended to leave for home after the national specialty, not staying for the regional show the following day. But when I get my receipt from the entry service, they had entered me anyway, and I didn’t bother changing it. I had so much fun showing my dog in those heart-pounding minutes that I figured I’d stay and do it again the next day. For practice. When would I get a better chance?
So on the last day, I packed up our room, dressed for showing, loaded everything up once more and practiced showing both dogs in the conformation ring. Again, we made no cuts, but had fun, and when I put them in the car the last time, packed up the show crates and hit the road for points south and east, we were all very tired.
I took three days to drive back and I did it knowing that had I been willing to push myself, I might have done it in two. With only one driver and two dogs to walk at rest stops, I felt our slower pace was the better choice. The pandemic has taught me that I can take my time. I can wear a mask doing almost anything. I will keep doing it, maybe until I’m the last person who hasn’t had Covid.
I had plenty of time to reflect on what I felt successful about this time: making new friends, doing the trip alone, finishing Fellow higher in the Iron Dog ranking, a Novice agility leg and first place ribbon, three titles completed. But I am still wondering about what it’s like to show lambs.
After wrapping up at the agility venue, we packed up and drove across town and checked into our hotel for the rest of our stay in Minnesota. We even had enough time before it got dark to find our way to the convention center where the competition would be held starting the next day.
I finally took all of my suitcases into the hotel room, and hung up all the show clothes. I set up the travel crates for the dogs, leaving a set of wire crates in the car that I would be setting up at the show in the morning.
The dogs think hotel bathrooms are great and the lid is always up.
Now, one thing that those of us who travel with our show dogs and stay in hotels are asked not to do is bathe our dogs in the hotels that still allow us to stay there. I’m sure that it would be a drain catastrophe. So, if I post pictures of my dogs being bathed here, know that I carefully wiped out the tub afterwards and left a generous tip for housekeeping.
The next morning, I had crates to set up at the show, and then four classes: Beginner Novice Obedience with Fellow, Novice Obedience with Eggi, and then Novice Rally with each of them. This is the day I really could have used a hand moving stuff, holding dogs, making sure I got lunch, and most of all, getting pictures.
Most shows organize the obedience classes starting with the most advanced and working their way to the most basic. So, Eggi’s Novice class was before Fellow’s Beginner Novice. Eggi and I did a good enough job for a qualifying score, so we were asked to come back for the long sit and down, which is held in a group with the whole class. Finally, we had a qualifying leg.
I feared that I would have a conflict with the Rally ring, so on my way to train Eggi for Fellow, I told the steward there about it, and she cheerfully said it wouldn’t be a problem. So, I traded dogs, Took Fellow out to pee, brought him in to do his Beginner Novice Obedience round, where he was exuberant if not wholly obedient. At the time, I did not realize we had a qualifying score, and someone would come and find me with our green qualifying leg ribbon later, asking, “Aren’t you the woman from New York?”
I barely managed to make the course walk for Novice Rally, and dashed back to get my dog, and when I arrived with him I was told I had missed my slot and I would have to go last. I looked at the steward and said, “But I had a conflict.”
She replied, “You should have told me in advance.”
I said, “But I did tell you.”
She stared at me blankly. Now the judge, and everyone else waiting to go, all turned glaring in irritation at the public disagreement in their midst.
“Fine! Fine! Just go next!” said the judge, throwing up her hands.
The steward asked the woman who had thought she was next if it was ok. And she said it was.
This is why I have nothing to say about the Novice Rally I did with Fellow, with tears drying on my face, except that I did it as quickly as I possibly could, thanking the judge and walking directly out of the room to put this dog away and get the other one, line up, and do it again.
Both dogs had qualifying legs in Rally.
Postscript: about a month later, their Novice Rally titles arrived in the mail from the AKC.
This was the day I was probably the most worried and excited about.
Eggi jumps a lower height than Fellow. In the FAST, I tried to start her off on things she would be confident in, like jumps, and move on to the bigger, scarier equipment, like the dog-walk, A-frame, and teeter. She was happy to go through tunnels and do weave poles and jump jumps. She would not even try any of the equipment that might creak or shake. There was no working through it. Still, I told her she was a good girl for trying.
When it was Fellow’s turn, the dog ahead of us did not even break the timers; Buzz ran around the first fence, grabbed the nearest yellow cone, which had a large 5 on it, and ran around the ring in a celebratory frenzy, unwilling to be caught, as everyone laughed at him, calling his name. After several hilarious minutes, the show secretary came out of his office, shouted a suggestion to the owner to try sitting down on the floor, and when she did, the run-amok Buzz trotted to her with his head down, game over, dropped the cone, and having by some obvious measure already become the clear winner of the day.
Of course, I had to spend every second of those wacky minutes asking Fellow to sit and look at me and feeding him the tiny crumbs of the last bit of dog treat I had in my pocket, and when I ran out of that I gave him pieces of a treat I found on a shelf and when I ran out of that I gave him pocket lint and when I ran out of that I gave him the ends of my fingers to nibble, all the while maintaining as much eye-contact with him as I possibly could. The last thing I needed this day was for Fellow to see the super fun cone-grabbing run-amok game.
So, Fellow got his turn at last. Our go in the FAST was a little rough, but he hit all of the equipment, did the send, and got out, feeling like it was worth our time to try. We did not have a qualifying score, but it still felt successful. And soon enough, we’d be back for the standard novice and then the novice jumpers with weave.
What can I tell you about Eggi’s standard novice run? She was fast and intense. She was still afraid of the big equipment that moved at all. We were not going to be able to address her concerns that day because it was a show; we needed seriously good treats and plenty of time in the ring, with the opportunity to repeat elements. So she did what she could, and my job was to tell her she was a good girl.
And what can I tell you about Fellow’s standard novice run?
We had to deal with the same shenanigans with the run-amok cone-stealing dog ahead of us while we waited to go. This time I had more treats at the ready, so I didn’t have to feed Fellow my fingers. He had a bad entrance to the dog-walk, so we started over. Other than that, no mistakes. What fun!
We took water breaks and potty walks and came back to discover that Fellow had a qualifying leg and won that class.
Our third course was jumpers with weave. Now, Eggi could finally show how quickly she could work. No intimidating equipment; she just had to be fast and clean. She was so fast that I managed to trip over her and step on her foot on the way into the weave poles. Poor Eggi! Again, no qualifying score.
Fellow ‘s go was once again preceded by the dog ahead of us going on another cone-stealing romp, and the judge explained for all who cared to listen that if you don’t touch the dog or the cone you could actually complete the course without penalty. We did not watch.
Our trip wasn’t quite as smooth and fast as we needed for a qualifying leg, but we had so much fun it really didn’t matter.
It was going to be a three day drive: 1,200 miles, and Eggi, Fellow, and me, the only driver, because you know what? Dogs don’t drive. Without them, I could picture maybe, like, I dunno, doing it myself in two days, but, ok, the dogs were the point of the trip. So, a three day drive, with regular stops to smell the grass.
There is also the issue of wanting to be two states away the first night, because you aren’t making progress across this enormous country of wackos if you can’t get two states away from home the first day (sorry, Western/Midwestern America), so I simply had to get through all of Pennsylvania the first day. I don’t make these rules, they just are.
Something I brought plenty of: dog kibble.
Something I should have brought more of: familiar-tasting water from home.
Packing for the dogs: grooming stuff; two crates for riding in the car, two portable crates for sleeping in hotels, two wire crates and crate pads for the show; leashes and collars for walks, slip leashes for agility, show leashes; treats, poop bags, toys.
Packing for me: overnight bag for travel days with sneakers and clothes to compete in agility; two choices of outfits for obedience ring, plus shoes; three choices for conformation ring, plus boots; dress for banquet, plus other boots; raincoat, down vest, sweater, parka. Food, colored pencils, pens.
There used to be things to say about road trips across America. Regional sodas. Billboards for miles exhorting us to See Rock City. Now, we drive thousands of forgettable stretches of highway, following the blue line on the navigation app of the thousand dollar Chinese-made mobile device, hooked up to the car with the special white cord that always frays in the same place, jammed mindlessly on cruise-control between enormous trucks full of toilet paper and game consoles, great long reaches of endless pavement interrupted by exits for towns still named for native tribes long ago chased off the land by whites, but today a couple of streets, some potholes, a few sad but familiar fast food chains, and a drab purveyor of fuel and plastic-wrapped snacks as unmemorable as any other town on the way.
My traveling companions need to visit the rest areas to do their business, and we gain efficiency at every stop. Sometimes other people at the rest areas want to tell me things (my shirt matches my dogs), or ask me things (are they hunting dogs? is he a stud dog?). I walk them one at a time to control the chaos. But I wish I had found time to practice walking them together more, and I wish Fellow wouldn’t try to pee on his own legs or on Eggi. I say things to them about it. You could aim that, I say. Remind me I need to scrub those legs, I say. No one wants you to go there. Ok, good job, thank you for that, let’s go.
They get good at jumping in and out of the back of the big Ford, at waiting to pee until I encourage them to, at pooping every day at around 11 a.m.
The gas in Ohio is a dollar cheaper per gallon than everywhere else.
The dogs are good in the hotels and I didn’t do such a bad job of picking places the first two nights.
On the second day we arrive early enough to look for a park in Beloit, Wisconsin and actually go for a walk. The dogs are wild and hard to keep up with.
Anyplace I wear a mask, I am the only person in a mask. I am relieved to find that people are less likely to talk to me if I am wearing it.
The first day of showing will be agility. I have each dog signed up for three classes, two which count towards their point totals in the Iron Dog, novice standard and novice jumpers with weave (poles), and a third, which is called FAST, an acronym that means something like Fifteen and Send, where you do obstacles for points and have to send to a required element. The FAST event will be held first, and I intend to use it to familiarize the dogs with the venue and the equipment.
Fellow and I went to the Vizsla National Specialty last year, and he and I took an agility class at a big, new, unfamiliar place with strange (endlessly barking) dogs, a different instructor, and regulation mats and equipment for a few weeks in preparation. So, I am pretty confident he will get around the courses ok. He is game. Eggi is a year older, but is more sensitive, and has not had the experience of classes outside the supportive, familiar backyard place where we have been going since she was a puppy. I wanted to take her to the same class as Fellow, but I hadn’t been able to get it organized.
But, anyway, I make it all the way to Minnesota, and it’s still cold and windy at the end of April, and I marvel that I’ve signed myself up for this, and come all this way by myself.
Because of the Covid pandemic (which continues unabated), last year’s Vizsla National was postponed from April to October, so while it was held only a few months ago, it’s already time for this year’s, in Minnesota. And I hear it’s way out west next year, so I’ve been pretending oh, sure I’ll go again this time. Why not? I don’t have anything better going on. Who does?
Besides, Eggi and Fellow and I have been working pretty hard at obedience and agility, going to twice-weekly classes with our trainer who teaches in her backyard when the weather allows and in a classroom above her garage when it doesn’t. My dogs love the classes, indoors or out, and whether I wear a mask or don’t, they’re used to both by now.
I thought it would be good to do some practice shows locally to get ready for our big trip. I did a couple of conformation days handling my own dogs in the breed ring, and while they know what to do, I understand it like a child playing dress-up, wobbling around in high heels and a party dress that doesn’t fit, miming doing cheers with an imaginary glass of champagne. Eggi was so surprised I was in the breed ring with her she watched the handler next to me. Fellow had the grumpiest judge I’ve ever seen, and I strangely enjoyed watching her find fault with him. No ribbons. Who cares? They’re both grand champions, and I’m not chasing more breed titles with them.
Now, in the obedience ring, this is where we might stand out. Novice obedience is easy for Eggi, so I felt Eggi and my trips around the ring would be confidence boosters; she and I already have a beginner novice title that we completed last summer in Vermont. Fellow is younger, less experienced, goofier, and easily excited, so I was hoping I would be able to use my time with Eggi in the ring reinforcing the calm, positive efficient way I need to work with Fellow. I signed up for the two dogs to do two different classes each of the days, Saturday and Sunday, one of obedience and one of rally. I had four numbers to manage between the two dogs, three judges, and three rings over two days. It was for practice.
We arrived early as one must. The drive had been unremarkable. I had brought a pair of travel crates and a chair which I took inside and set up. I also had to check on and change the classes I entered with Eggi, so I had to find the superintendent to do that first thing. There are A sections and B sections for novice levels; A is for the Novice handlers with no previous titles and B is for Novice handlers with any previous titles but if you read the rules carefully you might come to the conclusion (as I had) that being a beginner and working on your first titles might be reason to put you in the A group, but any title at all puts you in the B group. Anyway, I managed to get myself switched into the correct class, by trying to be polite and apologetic, or maybe they’re used to nitwits like me, begging for mercy. In any event, by doing so, Eggi and I would show in the B group, and we would have to be last to go.
Walking into the Better Living Center at the Big E, I could tell something was wrong. Like, if you showed up at a high school party, the music was loud and unfamiliar, and you could smell something burning, a couple of kids looked like they were already puking, and all before you even made it inside. The Better Living Center was crowded (13 rings), and it was loud. And it wasn’t fun and happy loud; it was tense loud. Eggi stopped to smell every pillar like it had just been peed on. Fellow turned to me and just barked in my face.
It was too crowded. It was too loud loud. There was a puddle of pee by the obedience and rally rings that I watched dry slowly over two days, turning from a wet puddle to a sheet of thin, faintly yellow crystallized urine. No one came and cleaned it up. The first dog to go in Eggi’s novice obedience class stepped 15 feet into the ring, stopped, squatted, and took a dump. His handler picked it up, the ring steward rushed over and dabbed at the spot with a couple of squirts of hand sanitizer (yes, hand sanitizer), and the judge moved the cones for the figure 8 away from the place where it had happened. This pair was disqualified for pooping in the ring.
When Eggi and I entered the ring, the judge commented that mine was the third vizsla in the class. I replied that one of them was Eggi’s grandmother. The judge may or may not have said anything else. In retrospect, I think she may have tried to say something nice to set me at ease, which was hard to do, and became increasingly more difficult as we moved through the ring, because from that moment onward I’m pretty sure I misunderstood most of what she said, at least at first.
Eggi had her good moments, and a few, unexpected moments of sightseeing. Her automatic sit while heeling was absent. She came when called but finished herself and never presented herself in front of me. It was a bit like showing a dog that already had a novice title but I did not know how to handle. Nevertheless, we got a qualifying score, and were called back for the group long sit and down.
And that might have gone ok had the judge not lined us up so that one dog had to sit in the spot where the disqualified dog had pooped earlier. And of course, one dog was instructed to sit there, and it was mine. The sitting actually went ok. But for the down stay, which lasts a minute, Eggi started by hinted to me that there might be a problem when she lay down diagonally away from me rather than straight. And after about 35 seconds I could see that she was thinking about doing something with one hip. Was she going to roll onto one side? That would be ok. But, no. At 45 seconds she popped up into a beautiful square sit, with a satisfied smirk on her face. She surveyed the other, obedient dogs, all good, lying down dogs for the full minute, Eggi clearly thinking, “All y’all are doing down stay on the dog dooky floor mat like a bunch dog dooky chumps.”
So we were disqualified. With 15 seconds to go. No score. No qualifying leg towards her title. Not the confidence booster I was sure it would be.
Fellow’s turn was pretty typical for him. He was boisterous, bumping into me on the heel work and popping up whenever I returned to him, costing us a qualifying score as well.
Then we took a couple trips around the rally ring, which is the miniature golf of obedience. It was reasonably fun, as I believe it is intended to be. You go in the ring and follow the signs. Both dogs had qualifying legs. And then we went home, ran around the yard and ate ramen
The next day, all the obedience judges traded places. Fellow’s ring worked very efficiently that morning, so I showed him first. He kept himself together better, and bumped into me less. The judge told me twice how beautiful he was and asked about his breeding. He had a qualifying score, and that was his second beginner novice leg so when he shows at the Vizsla National he could possibly finish his title.
Eggi and I had practiced everything she’d had trouble with the day before, so I went in feeling confident it would go ok. Alas, the sightseeing during off-leash heeling was even worse on Sunday. The overall noise level was less, but a work crew arrived during our turn and started dismantling the ring next to us. When I left Eggi to do the recall (where the dog sits and stays and the handler crosses to the other side of the ring and calls the dog on the signal of the judge), there was a tremendous crashing noise behind her. Eggi did not get up, but she did turn her head to look, and she did not turn back to look at me. The judge signaled. I was in a situation I had never practiced: my dog was not even looking at me. Normally, I say, “come!” brightly and clearly. Some people say their dog’s name and then “come.” I decided, given that she was looking out of the ring, that I would say, “Eggi! Come!” as loudly (and brightly and clearly) as I could manage. So I did.
Slowly, she turned her head towards me. She sat, still stuck to the spot where I had told her to stay. She had stayed through a loud crashing noise. She had been extremely good, hadn’t she. Had I just said her name? What were we doing? Still she sat.
I called again: “Come.”
She came. But we did not have a qualifying score. Again.
Did I sit in my chair and cry while I watched the work crew who ruined my obedience competition roll up the mats and take the ring away? Yes.
Wasn’t this supposed to be practice? Wasn’t Eggi actually very good, under very hard circumstances? Isn’t this just a dog show? Yes, yes, and yes.
Did I go and learn the miniature golf rally course and stick around and do that with both dogs? Also, yes.
Fellow was first of my two goes in rally. I like to get those rally courses over with, so we marched through it very efficiently, and on our way out the judge said Thank you, which is kind of weird because usually they tell you if you qualified or not. But I thought we nailed it. Whatever. It’s only practice.
So I put Fellow in his box and grabbed Eggi out of hers and got her walking around warming up and I saw someone getting ready to go in the ring ahead of us who was practicing a specific sign, the 5th one, which was down your dog, walk around them, and proceed, and I’m thinking….wait….I didn’t dooooo that
But what did I just do? because I did the whole thing so fast I didn’t even remember…
I grabbed my map just to make sure, and oh boy, howdy, I just skipped it? Or made something up? Or had him sit instead of down? I still don’t know.
Anyway, Eggi did do that sign correctly, but Fellow never did. So Eggi had a qualifying rally leg that day, but Fellow didn’t. Which means that she, too, could perhaps finish a novice rally title at the Vizsla National.
But the goal of going is to enjoy it. We leave in the morning.
It felt like Tuesday (it was Thursday), and I saw my shadow, so I thought I should sit outside (it rained and snowed) and enjoy the (brief moments of) sunshine but the dog came in and just opened his trap and puked as if only to remind me that though he was sicker before and now he was a bit better (so much better, really). But really, he could take another turn for the worse. At any minute.
When we hit the middle of February, our Captain reached the age of 14 1/2, and celebrated with some dog tummy trouble. I made the old guy a batch of dog stew (sweet potato and beef), and when he wasn’t better by the time we’d used up the first batch, I took him to the vet.
The vet pulled some blood, gave him some fluids, gave me a pep talk, and sent us home.
Captain rejected the second batch of the same stew. I made a third batch–heroically cancelling Zoom pilates, and rushing to the store as soon as they opened–out of grated white potato and gently simmered chicken breast; he rolled a tiny nugget of chicken over his teeth and pushed it out again, and vomited in my lap.
We made another trip to the vet. A bowl of dog stew fell out of the fridge on me and I wore the splashed pants all day. We added sub-cutaneous fluids, and several medications, one for the sour stomach, one for the nausea, another to coat his esophagus.
More times than I can count, I sat alone in a quiet corner of the house where I could hear none of my husband’s work meetings and cried. I despaired that he seemed to be on his way out.
Eggi and Fellow took turns sleeping next to him, and not because it had been especially cold.
My internet friends like to tell me that Captain is their favorite, and they noticed the absence of Your Daily Captain photos. I posted that he was “not eating,” and had to reply “pancreatitis,” two or ten times, which was as much as I knew. Veterinary medicine makes it possible to do an ultrasound and discover what horrible thing is causing the funky blood levels and vomiting. Or we can guess (that it’s cancer), keep him as comfortable for as long as we can, and when it’s time to let him go, let him go.
There was a day when I could get no food into him and no pills. I settled into the familiar, bitter feeling of how completely shitty the past couple of years have been for me and for everyone, of the losses on top of losses, and of course this was what was going down. I set up Captain’s fluids out of a resigned obligation to him, even though he wouldn’t eat. I accidentally stabbed myself with a used needle and laughed because it hurt like hell, bled everywhere, and I felt like I deserved it.
About an hour later I offered him a bite of chicken and he actually ate it. I fed him a bit more, and even tricked him into taking his meds. The next day, I got more food into him, more meds, and picked up more fluids. He wagged his tail at known visitors. He wanted me to feed him, one bite at a time, so I did.
He rallied. He had a few more good days and a couple of rough nights lately. He sleeps most of the time. Fellow still tries to get a game going.
Today he is still here. I can hear his light snores as he naps on the heating pad. We bought that heating pad for Cherry, who lived to be 15.
Cherry was a fantastic dog who guessed what I wanted, and who, in the way of good bitches, really never put a foot wrong. Sure, she disliked the vet and barked at little girls she was suspicious of. Her passing opened the door for new dogs and new friends and learning new things like agility and obedience. Cherry is always right behind me when I go snowshoeing, perfectly careful not to step on the back of my snowshoes, unless she needs me to see something, or slow down, or think of her.