Monday, November 27, 2006

Thank You For Playing Our Game

South Windsor Kennel Club, 11/25 - 1st, 12-18
Springfield Kennel Club, 11/26 - 2nd, 12-18

There are lots of things I truly enjoy about conformation showing. I've run into people I haven't seen in 10 or 15 years. I get to hang out with my friends and their dogs, have some fun at ringside, and maybe go home with a ribbon and/or a point. It also never fails to impress me how easy it is to enter a conformation show. Unlike agility or herding trials that fill up months before the actual event, you can call up the show superintendent the morning of the closing date for a show and still get in. (Okay, invitationals and Westminster don't work exactly that way -- but practically all the other shows do.) Compared to herding trial entries at $60+ a pop, show entries are Bargain City.

All the same, I'm more comfortable doing performance events. When you show in a performance event, of course you can shoot for a placement and High In Trial, but you are mostly competing against yourself. You always hope to qualify, but the better you do, the prouder you can be of achieving a personal best that day. At some trials, everybody qualifies. At some trials, no one does. If you qualify in a performance event, no one else can take the Q away from you. You might not place, but if you qualify, you still win. A CD with three 170 scores is exactly the same as one with three 200 scores -- it's still a CD.

That's the thing about conformation events that I find hardest to adapt to. You can do your very best at everything, from training to conditioning to grooming to presentation -- and still, you can get dumped by a judge who simply likes another dog better than yours on a given day. You can actually lose at dog shows. That's a hard realization if you're not used to it. A couple of my friends have a great phrase they use to describe those days: "Thank you for playing our game."

These Springfield shows were the biggest all-breed shows we've ever entered. It seemed like a good idea at the ime -- majors both days and a chance to see and be seen around Beardie folks who don't normally visit much farther north. A bunch of my friends were going, so there'd be fun and fellowship -- and cider and cranberry bread. There would be lots of vendors, and plenty of shopping for everything from raw knuckle bones to agility equipment. What did we have to lose?

Well, I guess we had the dog shows themselves to lose. Neither of the judges really paid much attention to Dinah this weekend. Dinah herself looked lovely, behaved nicely for Kathy, and moved beautifully in the ring. This happens more often than not at large shows, but I had kind of hoped for at least a glimmer of recognition from either one of them. At least one friend's beautiful little black girl Spirit went Winners Bitch on Friday, and Dinah's buddy Traveler took Best of Breed on Sunday.

Kathy told me afterward, "I'm sorry we couldn't have been more successful." She has nothing to apologize for, though, and neither did we. We acquitted ourselves well enough out there among all the heavy hitters, and some people whose opinions I value got to see the little princess in action. I had kind of dreamed of her getting her first major at this show, but there will be other majors and other shows. Judges who won't put up anyone from the Puppy class aren't that much more likely to do so from the 12-18 class -- so we'll just pay our dues until we move to the Open class.

Next weekend's Fitchburg shows are the last ones for the year -- and for us, for the season. The show season in thsi latitude doesn't really start up again until next spring, except for a couple of shows in the middle of January and February. I'm looking forward to being able to take a break from showing, actually. As fun as it is to go, it can get to be a grind when you're going to a couple of shows a month, leaving four days a month in which to have a home life.

Not that we're going into complete hibernation or anything. Dinah and I can still go to handling classes just to keep in practice. I've also entered Seamus in three rally trials in March and April, so we're shooting for our Advanced title. We have a lot of training to do between now and then, but we're looking forward to it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Now We Are Two

Kenilworth KC Show, Uncasville, CT 11/5/06

1/BOW/BOS, second point

This weekend's show took place at the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, CT, near New London. I had entered Dinah there with the express purpose of meeting up with a handler who came highly recommended by a friend of mine. Kathy showed a number of my friend Judy's Beardies and finished them. Judy's male wasn't quite ready to be a special yet, so Judy recommended that Kathy and I get together and get Dinah finished in the meantime.

(I am feeling a little funny about going over to the Dark Side of hiring a pro after all my fine owner-hander speeches, but the truth is, I haven't had the heart to show Dinah myself since the National Specialty. More on that when I finally get around to writing about that show.)

Anyway, back to the casino. We navigated the long beltway around the place until we came to the lighted signs directing us to the AKC Load-In area. Anyone wishing to bring show equipment into the casino had to go through a security check at the loading dock. The casino even had teams of people assigned to route people through, and they issued passes good for a certain number of minutes of unloading time.

I called Kathy from the load-in area to let her know we had arrived. Because she had everything she needed except Dinah, she suggested that I just park the car and bring Dinah on the shuttle. We left all of the equipment and the crate in the car, and rode on a shuttle bus from the parking lot to the casino with lots of other dogs and their handlers. Dinah thought that that was just the best part of the adventure. She usually travels in a crate, but she got to sit up on the seat with me and watch everything going on (and say hello to all the other people and dogs).

The bus brought us into the loading area. The grooming areas (such as they were -- good thing this was a small show split over 2 days) were to either side, and the center entrance brought you right into the arena. Judy (the Beardie buddy who introduced me to Kathy) showed there last year, and described it to me as a smaller, cleaner version of Westminster. It had the bright lights, the silent blue carpeting, the banks of arena seats... plus it was much nicer-smelling than Westminster. (I watch that show on TV every year instead of going for a reason -- the air in there is enough to gag a water buffalo!) The people at the check-in tables gave us all colored "hospital bracelets" to wear to signify that we had already checked in at the show, just in case we decided to go gambling in the casino between times in the ring.

Dinah and Kathy hit it off right away. Kathy's a Newfie breeder, and I grew up with Newfies, so we had a lot to chatter about in addition to Beardie stuff. She got Dinah combed and sprayed early, and then spent some time gaiting her and getting used to her. We made a big show of saying goodbye at one of the gates so Dinah could see me leave (but I sneaked behind the big forest of potted plants at the Best In Show display and watched from there. Sadly, no photos -- I'd forgotten the camera in the car, plus I was hiding in the potted jungle the whole time.).

This was Dinah's first entry in the 12-18-month class. She was the only entry, so of course she took First. She then went on to beat the class bitch (a beautiful brown) for WB and BOW. After that, she went BOS in Breed to the male special (who was out there with a very well-known handler, though he wasn't that impressive himself). Dinah got only one point, since there were only four dogs entered, but she did beautifully for Kathy.

I have to mention that the owner of the brown bitch did a very nice and sportsmanlike thing by coming to the show this weekend. Her bitch only needs a major to finish, so she could easily have stayed home and reduced the number of points to zero -- but she didn't. She didn't need the single point, but she came anyway. She had as good a chance to win Breed as any of the rest of us did.

Here's the best part: After I rejoined them outside the ring, Kathy raved about Dinah and then asked me to gait her around so she could see how well Dinah moved. She said, "I couldn't believe how she just floated on the other end of the leash. I had to see it for myself."

I'm not too heartbroken about not taking BOB yesterday. Like Westminster, the club scheduled group judging and BIS for nighttime on the second day of the show, so we would have had to have stuck around there for about 9-10 more hours before getting a few seconds' worth of time on TV and then leaving the show at some ungodly hour. Kathy and I both have day jobs; we were glad we could get out of there early.

Anyway, Dinah now has twice as many points as she did before we went in there, with only 13 to go. Kathy and I are talking about the shows on the weekend after Thanksgiving out in Springfield, MA (November 24-27), and I have a couple of days left to decide what we want to do. It's a 4-day cluster, but I really don't want to show on Friday after driving all over Massachusetts for the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday -- and I can't imagine who would stick around to show on Monday. Not us folks with jobs, anyway.