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.
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.
October 14, 2021: We go on a long car ride to Virginia where I get to stay in a hotel. Maggie says it is the Vizsla National Specialty Show. Elevators are mysterious, but new toilet water is always worth trying.
October 15, 2021: Agility today. I get measured, officially. I am 22 3/4” so I will get to jump in the 24” novice division. I get loose during my warmup so I can say hi to some new vizslas. When it is our turn to go, Maggie is too slow after fence two and doesn’t tell me about the tunnel, and mis-cues me so I jump the fence before the weave poles backwards, and she needs two tries to get me into the weave poles the right way. Then I don’t want to hold still on the pause table. I run past the A-frame which is huge so I have to come back and climb it from a stand-still instead of running up. Everyone gasps. The teeter lands with a boom and I spring for the last fence. 60 faults, 75 seconds, no qualifying score, no ribbon. I win a fancy towel. Had a great time.
October 16, 2021: New hotel. Hundreds of vizslas here. Obedience and Rally today. Maggie seems tense. I try to be my best good boy. I have some trouble doing a sit in the right spot, but we have qualifying scores in both beginner novice obedience and novice rally, so we even get some ribbons. Had a great time. Watch several hours of HGTV in the hotel room because Maggie won’t let me watch anything with shouting or shooting.
October 17, 2021: Went for a long walk on the eerily empty college campus next to the hotel. Had a great time. Spent several hours selling raffle tickets, which made me whiny. My mother Lucy won best veteran in the sweepstakes class. We ran into Eli and his owner in the dark when I was supposed to pee. I felt like he smelled familiar and Maggie said he is the father of Eggi’s puppy.
October 18, 2021: Another day selling raffle tickets. Also watching home remodeling shows on TV. Saw some ducks. Had a great time.
October 19, 2021: Got a bath. Went in the show ring with a handler I didn’t know. Got to show with my mother and sister. She got second place for brood bitch. The wait for getting our picture taken was long. Still, had a great time.
October 20, 2021: Today we competed for the breed. We had to line up in catalog order, which Maggie said was numerical order even though the steward corrected her and said it was catalog order. There was such a long line of vizslas that it actually did go on forever. We go in the ring, they check our numbers and we go out again. Then we wait. I go in the ring with the new handler from yesterday and make the first cut. Then there is more waiting. I go in again with a different new handler and make the second cut. Then we wait some more. I go in for the third cut, and do not make it. Don’t care. Had a great time.
Maggie let me go to bed early. She went back to the show and watched Eli win the whole thing, even though he is 12 1/2. She says Eli looked like he was in it to win it. My sister Lolli went best of opposite, which is pretty impressive for being my boring sister.
They pin the Iron Dog competitors, who did two agility courses, rally, obedience and conformation and had their scores totaled. Maggie did not enter me in two agility classes, only one, so I have a zero in one column and I come in second to last. But I get a participant ribbon.
October 21, 2021: Today is the last day. There is a different judge, and more new handlers and I get cut in the second round. Maggie comes and gets me, thanks the handler and takes me straight outside to pee, and then we go to the car to drive home. I am so very happy to get into the car and I am so tired I sleep on top of the crate pad and not under the crate pad like I sometimes do.
So, like, back in June when I didn’t know when Eggi was coming into season or anything, I figured that if we were waiting to see if she was pregnant in July, we might enjoy the distraction of a dog show. The thing is, I’ve been doing obedience classes with Eggi once a week since she finished puppy kindergarten, so we were as ready as we were going to ever be. When the entries opened for the Vermont Scenic Circuit, I entered her in the first level of obedience, beginner novice.
Also who can pass up an excuse to go to Vermont? Not me.
Obedience used to be a popular event to compete in, but there are a lot of different things to do with your dog now (like Rally, Agility, Nose Work, Barn Hunt, and Dock Diving, just to name a few).
The dog shows in Tunbridge, Vermont are held in mid-July, and a popular event for the professional handlers, who all camp on the show grounds in their RVs.
There aren’t any hotels nearby, so I went with a dog-friendly Air BnB that was about 25 miles away.
The drive to Vermont was uneventful, and I would like to nominate the rest stop on I-91 just as you cross into Vermont as the Prettiest Rest Stop on the East Coast.
It was not quite dark when I arrived, and thought I’d eat at a promising restaurant recommended by the Air BnB owner, but my timing was poor and I pulled up just in time to see the last spot appropriate for a large vehicle taken by a car with a bunch of kayaks on a trailer. So I went back to the Air BnB and ate sandwiches and went to bed early.
Thursday we woke up early, ate a quick breakfast, and hit the road. I knew there was no mobile coverage between where we were staying and the dog show, so I had to pick my route and stick with it. The fairgrounds in Tunbridge don’t really seem to have an address; I used the town as my destination and was counting on the dog show judging program for more details; it said that RVs needed to follow the signs due to a low overpass. The navigon offered three routes, and I gave little thought to which I picked, other than it was supposed to be the fastest.
As soon as we turned onto Route 113, I regretted it. There was construction for the next 15 miles, with flaggers, many large construction vehicles, and long stretches of road where they are repaving and have taken the surface down to corrugated pavement or dirt.
We stopped many times. I wasn’t in a hurry . We made it eventually.
Once at the dog show, I could see the big breed show tent and row upon row of RVs, but I had no idea where my handler was parked. There is a Parking Authority Person who decides where you park if you’re in an RV, and I guessed she’d know where my handler was, but she was nowhere to be seen. So I drove past her station hoping I’d get lucky on my own. After discovering several dead ends, I threaded my back and waited for the Parking Authority Person. She knew just where my handler was, and as it turned out there was enough room for me to park the White Whale and even stay out of everyone’s way.
Thursday was hot. Fellow’s entry got messed up and so when someone went to his ring to get his number there was no number for him. Annoying. As a result, Fellow did not show and had a very boring weekend.
Eggi and I walked to the obedience ring and watched for a while and got our number. I counted entries and tried to estimate when we would be going. We were the second to last entry in the very last class in the obedience ring, and the judge was methodical. We talked dogs with various people, hung out, walked around, and eventually had our turn. I stopped and talked to the guys setting up the beer garden. They offered me a beer; I said I would wait until after I competed. They took our picture. I promised I’d come back when we were done.
Finally, it was our turn. I was nervous, and Eggi was inquisitive and excited. Every time the judge asked if we were ready, which is the judge’s cue for letting an exhibitor know that they are now about to be judged for the next element, Eggi jumped to her feet. She was ready. Really ready.
So we did not start from sitting in heel position on the heeling pattern, but by the time we halted at the end of the pattern, she sat promptly and looked eagerly at me and I knew that she knew what we were there to do.
We muddled through, with about 15 points of deductions, but ended with a score good enough to qualify for one leg towards our beginner novice obedience title. Not too bad for our first time in the obedience ring at a show, ever.
For dinner we stayed and had hamburgers and brats with the neighbors. I left the dog show and drove back the exact way that I had come, because in the excitement of the long day I had forgotten to look for another route. In reverse, with all the contstruction paused until the next morning, it wasn’t so bad, maybe just a little rumbly for the extra length of dirt road.
Friday, I got up, made myself a sandwich for lunch, and fed the dogs in the car. I forced the navigon to take me a different way. It was easy to pick since there was obviously construction on the other two routes.
Of course, a few short miles into this route revealed construction, and once again the pavement ended and I drove a number of miles on a dirt road. But, there was a covered bridge, and several cute, tiny towns.
At the show, they had saved me a parking spot, and I parked. We had another hot, humid day, with a similar schedule and a lot of waiting to go in the ring. The judge was more efficient, and very kind. I was a bit discombobulated by being cued by someone who wasn’t my normal trainer, so I had to have a couple of do-overs, but Eggi was spot on and this time we won the class. Two legs done in two days.
Saturday, the hot, humid weather finally broke and we had drizzle, the threat of rain, or rain all day. Bliss! As I told the guy at the smoothie truck, while he made my $6 Mocha Madness, with whipped cream, our water cycle is part of the miracle that sustains life on our planet. He wanted to know what kind of a vehicle a water cycle is. Earth science is cool, kids; you won’t catch me being unhappy about the rain.
Fellow at this point was terribly bored and neglected having spent most of the last three days sitting in his box. I took him for a walk across the fairgrounds to check the progress of my ring, and came to a blocked off road with a piece of yellow caution tape strung across it. As I stepped over I told him to jump it. Now, Fellow knows ‘jump.’ We do agility. He loves to jump. But right at this moment he was not thinking agility, and decided to go under the tape, and I had committed to stepping over, so I fell in the mud in front of a couple hundred dog show spectators. If any of them saw me, I bet they laughed.
At the start of each of the different obedience levels, the judge had a walk-through for competitors (without dogs). Most people parked their cars at that end of the fairgrounds, so they left their dog in a nearby crate and got their instructions from the judge. I handed Eggi’s leash to a different handy stranger each day, and she was relaxed and calm about it. There were many so called pandemic puppies at the show, looking overwhelmed and out of sorts about the change in routine, and all the people, all the dogs, and all the noise. Of course, the pandemic puppies will be fine, in the end, with patience and persistence, but had they the chance to see and do more as puppies, they wouldn’t need to spend so much time on it now, and could move on to more interesting challenges.
Our third time in the show ring, Eggi was flawless. She heeled consistently, sat crisply, and came when called. I made a handler error, telling her to stay one more time than necessary or allowed, and had a four point deduction. We won that class and so have a new title.
Early in the evening between the first breeding and the second, I was sitting in the hotel restaurant eating half of a Kansas City strip steak that I intended to share with the dogs and I jokingly pointed out via text to the Bacon Provider that I could just drive down and see his mom in a quick trip of about 7 hours.
Shortly, we put together a real plan. He would fly down, I could meet him at the airport, and we could drive back together.
I was the big winner, because after driving 900 miles straight through by myself, a second driver made the drive sound easy. Ok, maybe not easy. Easier. So, Friday I did a little shopping (I had left Bedhead Hills without my toiletry bag), packed up my stuff and my sleepy bitch, and checked out. The Bacon Provider’s flight was expected at 9 p.m. in Tampa.
The question of the trip down to Tampa was Where will We Pee, and the answer was Not Here.
I hit the same trio of delays: traffic, construction, and storms. The storms delayed the Bacon Provider’s flight as well, so in the end, he was an hour and a half late, and I pulled up in front of the airport just as he stepped outside.
From Tampa we hopped down to Sarasota, closer to his mom’s. We stayed at the Westin, which is next to the Four Seasons, pretends to be almost as nice, and half the price. Currently, the Westin’s rooftop bar is a popular spot, and a sheriff was on the premises, riding the elevator, both evenings we were there. As Eggi and I looked for something like grass for her to pee on, we witnessed a bar patron berating a parking valet (who barely looked old enough to drive, rattling about in his hotel polo shirt and khaki shorts) for not being willing or able to sell him drugs.
I have been going to Florida irregularly and/or regularly since I was in high school, and some of the nicer parts have been prettied up, so they no longer really look like Florida. The crummy, run-down bits are fewer and probably worse, but the jay-walking guy with no shoes and no belt, holding up his pants with one hand, hopping over some fire ants and disappearing into the bushes by the vacant bait and tackle shop isn’t as sorry a sight as the gently swaying guy in the elevator, cradling a big bag of take-out Red Lobster who smells so strongly of Kahlua you wonder if he’s been bathing in it.
Despite the catastrophic collapse of a Miami condo, Florida is, at this moment, enjoying a frenzied real estate boom; they’re unmasked, unvaccinated, sunburned, and don’t wanna hear none of your nonsense about climate change, rising seas, ocean acidification, or worsening storms. They want all-cash deals, 20% over asking, and where’s that bartender I need another mojito. It’s ok, though, because it will all be under water by 2061.
It was good to see the Bacon Provider’s mother, anyway. She is dwindling, to be sure, and did not know me, but she said my husband’s name, and laughed some. It seems particularly unfair that someone whose life has been filled with trials, is, at the end, an enormous responsibility to her youngest daughter, who shares the job with a rotating team of carers. We can hope to see her again before the true end. The Bacon Provider hasn’t been able to visit since the pandemic began, and I guess this is another thing returning to normal, if visiting your ailing mother before she goes is ever normal.
For her part, Eggi was pleasant with the nurse, quiet indoors, and discovered lizards in the backyard, and so had a fine experience. To life, Eggi! To life!
We left the next morning hoping to outrun Tropical Storm Elsa, that was swirling into the Gulf of Mexico and preparing to make landfall on our heels.
The day we left Florida was, in fact, the Fourth of July, which is a holiday celebrated by Americans out of doors, with parades, sunburns, barbecues, and fireworks. Any excessive displays of the American flag these days should probably be met with suspicion, and this holiday doubles down with American public drunkenness.
We wanted to stay someplace interesting and break up the next leg before our stop in Virginia, and settled on Charleston, South Carolina, which wasn’t much out of the way. Charleston turns out to be difficult with dogs (there is essentially no grass anywhere in the old, interesting part of town where you might stay). But we had a nice long walk and eventually Eggi peed on a slim handful of weeds growing in an empty gravel church parking lot.
At dinner a large we were told the hotel restaurant wouldn’t have a table for us at such late notice but in fact we were able to eat early and see a large group of partiers emerge from the elevator where they had been stuck for a good twenty minutes. When the shrieking was over, half left and the other half stayed to get real drunk.
We soaked our feet and went to bed quite early and did not hear the fireworks at all.
In the morning we hit the road early Eggi even peed in the street like a proper urbanite. As the trip continued, Eggi became more expert with elevators, and could even use the “ding” and the light to predict which doors would open in a bank of elevators. Only once in a week did she try to defend the space from other people getting on.
We hit afternoon traffic coming into DC even though it was a holiday for most people. I guess it was everyone else coming back from the holiday weekend. And, so, another several hour stretch of bumper to bumper stop and go highway miles, and once again it fell during my driving shift. After so many days of this kind of driving, I had a cramp on my right leg.
Living in Bedhead Hills, which is served by a commuter train to New York City, I can imagine a scenic and relaxing high-speed rail system, with stops in New York City, Washington D.C., Atlanta, and Tampa. It could even be based on green technology, and on the 4th of July we could toast to our Independence from fossil fuels.
Ok, ok, but, like, ok, so, the first person who said anything about puppies was the vet, who, holding Eggi at her first exam, and having exclaimed the she was perfect (which she certainly was) went on to ask if we thought we would ever breed her. She was a baby at that point, and the thought had not crossed my mind, but we’d only had her for a few days at that point. Sure, I’d owned vizslas since the early nineties, and now found myself in possession of my first show dog, but it had always seemed to me that there are plenty of dogs in the world (uh, I guess, you know, there are probably more than enough people, too), and I’d never had a bitch I intended to keep intact indefinitely. Anyway, we went on to show Eggi in the conformation ring, and she finished her championship and her grand championship in a timely and orderly progression. As a matter of doing what one does when one is told to do so (whatever that is), we had her eyes checked and then her elbows and hips and thyroid and heart and at the end of all those tests you send the results to a foundation that gives your dog a number and then you have official approval to breed your dog.
Another vizsla person put it this way: the decision to breed a dog really comes down to whether the dog has something the gene pool needs. There are plenty of other considerations that go into the decision, of course, and I am very grateful to have other breeders and trainers in my life. I have plenty of questions, and I’d rather take in the opinions of people I know and trust over random shit I read on the internet. Even when those opinions differ.
Dogs come into season twice a year, and when you own an intact male that you don’t want to breed to, life gets complicated for a few weeks, keeping them separated. My dogs are related through Eggi’s grandmother, who is Fellow’s mother, and this would be a tight line breeding, which is something people do, to maintain the qualities of their line, but for me, the right approach seemed to be maybe breed Eggi to a stud dog out of the line, and if that was successful, maybe breed one of those puppies back to Fellow. But wait, suddenly the possibility of breeding one dog, one time, now also includes breeding another imaginary future bitch another time?
Anyway, dogs go into season twice a year, somewhat but not entirely predictably, and if you are planning to breed to a stud dog that’s far away (or dead), you really need to track not just progesterone, but you need to look for the LH surge.
So the recommended veterinary reproduction specialist (who I chose after attempting to talk to two different ones, but one was so busy I was left on hold too long, and I got bored and hung up) gave me written instructions for bloodwork, every day for about a week. My usual vet could do it during the week, and I was counting on the local vet emergency hospital to fill in on the weekend. The emergency vet is actually the first vet I saw after we moved to New York, in the fall of 2011, when Captain scratched his eye. We have seen them over the years for various other memorable and forgettable things. I tried and failed to speak to someone there on Friday to try to arrange a visit Saturday that maybe worked with everyone’s schedule, rather than being a true emergency, but the first time I called about it the person on the phone said, yeah, sure let me check with someone and call you back, and never did, so when I checked back, I was told that they couldn’t, or wouldn’t. Anyway, the next day I called and spoke to new staff who could and would fit us in, but, in the end, after lecturing me about how we might have to wait if there was an actual emergency, they failed to follow the written instructions past step #4 and they charged me $300 and gave me an incorrectly handled vial of dog blood. Sunday, I saved myself the frustration of throwing more money at ineptitude. But by the time we did bloodwork on Monday, the LH surge was imminent, and I didn’t know until Tuesday, and then I was told to send all the blood via Fedex to the reproductive specialist who would see them first thing Wednesday morning.
Wednesday I got up and did pilates with the cat and my phone rang as I got out of the shower. The message was, best days to breed were yesterday and today and I needed to get Eggi to the stud dog by the end of the day.
Of course, because if I’m gonna do this, I want the very best stud dog for Eggi that I can find, the one that is just as perfect as she is, but in his own way, maybe has something she doesn’t have so that the puppies might just be even more perfect than perfect, right? And since she’s a maiden bitch, don’t we want a live breeding? And, of course, there are so many good vizslas, but the stud dog I want is in Georgia.
So when the vet’s assistant on the phone said to do a breeding by the end of the day, I had to get to Georgia, with my dog, as fast as I could.
Oh, it felt a bit like Smoky and the Bandit. My bags were packed; the car had a full tank of gas. I had been anticipating the go signal. I just hoped that it would come Friday, when it was convenient.
Eggi and I hit the road, hoping to make it to Georgia in the middle of the night.
The Bacon Provider had Things Going On that he couldn’t miss, both Wednesday and Thursday, so I was really on my own.
I made a navigation error straight off the bat (never, ever take the George Washington Bridge if you can avoid it), so we spent the first two hours of our drive sitting in stop and go, New York traffic. Then we drove through New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and made it to Georgia by the crack of dawn the next day. We stopped for gas and potty breaks, hit multiple hours long traffic slow downs, many construction projects, and a number of heavy rain storms. We checked into our hotel and slept for about 2 hours.
The stud dog’s owner brought him by our hotel on the way to work. The dog knew just what he was there to do. Eggi was like, hey, ok, but, actually, no, maybe she could rip his face off.
Thanks to an experienced stud dog and stud dog owner, a breeding was accomplished, in the hotel room, with some help. Eggi napped all day and we did it again after dinner. When I checked out the next day, I left a very, very nice tip for housekeeping.
So is she pregnant? We won’t know until 28 days past the LH surge, when we can do an ultrasound. If she isn’t, we can try again in January. If she is, puppies are due 65 days after the LH surge, in the beginning of September.
So when Eggi won a major, she qualified for the Westminster Kennel Club Show, and about 10 days before it we had planned to do one last weekend at the Big E. I drove the truck because the Bacon Provider had taken my car to Vermont for a meeting. Eggi and I set off after dinner on Friday night, and it was a cold, dark drive, but the pickup seemed fine. In the morning we had an early start, since were first in the ring at 8 am. I started the truck early to let it run and warm up,. It was only 2F. I loaded Eggi, checked out of the hotel, and hit the road.
We’d gone about a mile when the engine died. With no engine the behemoth had lost its power steering, so I had to throw everything I had into the steer to pull over into a parking lot . I had no trouble restarting, and assumed the problem was the extreme cold. Or, like, it was an alternator thing. I still had time to make it to the show, and it was only about 15 minutes away. I let the truck run about 15 more minutes and hit the road again.
The engine died again.
I wrestled it into another parking lot (this time it was a veterinary practice that wasn’t open yet).
It was clear I was not driving even the few miles fromhere to the show. I texted all the interested parties (my husband, the breeder, my handler). No one could make it to me in time to get us there. The Bacon Provider suggested I get an Uber. I sent him a photo of the corn field I was looking at.
My handler suggested I call AAA.
AAA said they’d have a tow truck to me within the hour. Not in time to get us to the show, but I didn’t have another option. I texted my son and his GF and they said they’d come get us.
An hour passed. The truck was running, with warning lights about the battery not charging. I felt like I was right about it being the alternator. We were warm enough, and out of the way of traffic. The veterinary practice opened. Techs arrived, followed by patients and pets. No one asked if we needed help.
I checked with AAA. The time of arrival had changed. Another hour passed.
I heard from the breeder. Eggi’ sister Vivva had won enough points to finish her championship that day. My kids texted that they were an hour away.
Towards the end of the third hour, the truck started to get cold. It was still running but the fans weren’t blowing. The temperature outside had risen to the mid-20s. The gauges on the dash were no longer lit. I got Eggi out and walked her around. The tow truck finally arrived.
We climbed into the cab. Eggi sat on my lap. The shop was a six minute drive from the spot where we waited. The Graduate and his GF arrived to pick us up while I was giving the shop my contact info.
The next day I took Eggi back to the show, where she took second in her class. Her other sister finished her championship that day.
One of my new friends, a very successful breeder of pointers, told me that even with a really great dog you lose more than you win.
On Monday we went back to pick up the now-repaired truck. The shop said it was a frayed serpentine belt.