Titled Deed

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.

Celebratory Beer

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.

The drive home I did not even stop for gas. 

Still the Best Dog at Westminster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I parked left of the castle.

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

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

Then it was time to go to the ring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Dog at Westminster

During the pandemic, many dog shows were cancelled, but show organizers, working with the AKC, quickly regrouped, figuring out what it would take to keep people safe. Soon, shows were rescheduled, sometimes moving to outdoor venues, but everywhere requiring masks, having more rings or bigger rings, limiting entries, omitting spectators, and adding the concept of show and go. So the dog shows resumed. In the capable hands of our professional show handler, T, Fellow was able to complete his grand championship in 2020, and even qualified to show at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club Show.

Some conformation show dogs stay with their handlers and live mostly on the road, touring from show to show. Our handler, T, typically comes home between shows, and lives near enough to us that we can send Fellow with her to a show about once a month. T takes excellent care of him, sends me pictures of him hanging out with his fancy show business dog friends, and tells us how he loves riding in a golf cart, and if he hears T up in the night in the hotel room, he thumps his tail happily in his kennel. Fellow thinks T is awesome. We agree.

Sometimes Fellow comes home from a show with no ribbons at all. He doesn’t care. When he gets home, there’s a lot of excited barking, some Eggi-chasing and Captain-wrestling: all normal goofball Vizsla stuff. Vizslas need to do quite a bit more than just lie around the house and go for an occasional romp in the yard. Our usual routine includes agility classes, once a week for Fellow. He is famous there for his occasionally extravagant leaps over the fences, for how he sometimes climbs backwards onto the pause table, and, yes, sorry, he still sometimes runs off course to say hello to the other dogs in the class because he is only 2 1/2, and a Fellow has priorities. Fellow thinks agility is awesome.

Fellow also goes to an obedience class once a week, and when he isn’t forging or lagging or bumping into me, we are making progress with heeling. He sits. He stays. He downs. He’s gotten the idea of fetching dumbbells, and needs to work on waiting to be sent. I have to remember to move across the ground faster with him than with Eggi. He’s a little less food-motivated than she is, too, so with him it’s more “good job!” and less cheese. Fellow thinks it’s awesome being told he’s a good boy.

Speaking of cheese, Fellow is happy to pose for pictures, and quite willing to balance things on his nose or head. He also likes to sit in a chair. Fellow thinks climbing on top of things is awesome.

Fellow was born in the car on the way to the veterinary hospital; he was the biggest and boldest in his litter and when we met him at three weeks he climbed over his siblings to get to my husband and demanded to be picked up. At the time, I was not sure that getting a second puppy just a year after getting Eggi was a good idea, but that didn’t stop me from visiting him several more times. We brought him home right after Xmas.

Fellow has been a lively addition to our household. He is ready for anything, at all times, and never, ever wants to miss out.

We feel very fortunate to have found our breeder, and Fellow, and to work with T, Fellow’s show handler. Qualifying for the Westminster Kennel Club Show this extraordinary year is a tremendous privilege.

Vizslas may not require much in the way of grooming to be ready for the show ring, but there are a lot of nice vizslas out there showing. A number of astute judges had to pick our Fellow out of the crowd of lovely, lively, Hungarian russet pointer-retrievers. Miles and miles of travel and hours of packing and unpacking dominate the lives of professional show handlers, punctuated by many, many trips around the ring with a dog on lead. Every dog showing at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Show got there because of effort, organization, perseverance, good luck and some real expense.

The show is being held outdoors, this weekend, without spectators. Owners and handlers in attendance have to be vaccinated or provide proof of a passing a recent covid-19 test. The venue this year happens to be a short drive from our home in Bedhead Hills. Vizslas are in the sporting group, and are showing Sunday at 9 a.m. in ring 3. There will be 36 vizslas competing for best in breed, and Fellow’s handler will be wearing armband number 21. Watching vizslas trot around the ring can be dizzying; all are pretty much the same shade of red-brown. If you can’t see armbands, you might look for the wagging tail. Fellow thinks showing is awesome.

Is it obvious that we think Fellow (GCH CH Suzu & Shannon’s Charming Fellow) is the best dog going to the Westminster Kennel Club Show this weekend? Of course we do. Is he going to win? He’s going to have a great time, trotting in a circle. I asked the Bacon Provider what his favorite thing is about his dog, and he said Fellow’s enthusiasm.

Little E at the Big Show

There are dog shows, and then there is the one that everyone has heard of, the one in that movie about dog shows, the big one in New York City: the Westminster Kennel Club Show. Eggi qualified her very first time in the show ring, by winning a major, and I didn’t know that when it happened, and really didn’t know what that meant. 

Eggi arrived at Westminster and was the only open class bitch in the vizslas. Her sisters both finished their championships about ten days before and would move up to compete for best of breed. Vizslas are in the sporting group, and their classes were Tuesday. 

733A2406-x-MaggieA snow storm was forecast to begin around 8 am that day, changing to freezing rain in time for the evening commute. We decided on Sunday to book a room for two nights at one of the hotels served by the dog show shuttle. Monday afternoon I drove up and picked up my friend S and her bitch, Vivva, who is Eggi’s sister. At the hotel the sisters rode the elevator, used the artificial turf potty balcony on the 12th floor, and chased each other around the room.

Our show day started early. We caught the second shuttle which left from the front of the other dog show hotel, the Pennsylvania, which I had been warned to avoid.

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Eggi shivered most of the ride. At the show I took her to the exercise pens to pee several times but she wouldn’t even smell the situation. She stayed in her kennel until it was time for vizslas.

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S had hired a professional handler to show her bitch, but did not want to sit in the front row of spectators lest her dogs spot her.

733A2401-x-MaggieA woman in the front row turned and said to no one in particular, “I don’t know why anyone would bring a class dog to Westminster!”

Eggi had no competition for the open bitches, so all she had to do was beat the open dog to take the best of winners ribbon (and the point). I’ve watched Eggi do enough showing to witness the losing. We’ve lost to dogs with pointy little heads, and bitches that misbehaved. The class dog was scrawny and small, with a shrimpy pelvis and a pointy little head.  Did that guy even feed his dog? I got that surge of adrenaline that you get when you really really must not lose. 

733A2395-x-MaggieAnd then, it was over.

Eggi got her winners bitch rosette and took best of winners. Her sister V got an award of merit.

I watched pointers and akitas and a little of the Nova Scotian Duck Tolling Retrievers after that. The thing is that what the put on TV (the groups and then best in show) skips over the bulk of a dog show, which is what happens in the breeds. Every dog you see representing their breed has beaten a bunch of other, winning dogs and bitches to get there. This is the real meat of any dog show sandwich. If all you ever see is the best of breeds and the best in show, that’s just the pickle and toothpick; you’ve missed out on the unique pleasure of a dozen of the same breed of dog, prancing or lumbering around in a big circle, being halted and stacked, having their bites examined, and the judge making their choices with the pointing of a finger or hand. It’s all over in an instant if you don’t pay careful attention. 

More Losing

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 from  here 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.

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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.