...it's time to observe another historic ritual of the dog-showing season: the Eating of the Entries. At least entries don't have any calories, dammit.
Our latest $60 snack comes from the Springfield shows happening the first weekend of April. Last year, there were majors both days. We knew going in that most of the big guns would be showing in North Carolina at the regional down there instead, but we had hoped there would be more stay-at-homes than there actually were. I'm genuinely happy for the nice folks in the Carolinas Bearded Collie Club that they're drawing people for their show -- and it should be a very nice show indeed -- but it does mean that those entries had to come from somewhere.
Now that Dinah has 14 points and needs her two majors, it's likely that we'll be eating a lot of entries this year, or not entering shows where the likelihood of majors is iffy. Last year, we'd enter if there were a slight possibility of enough bitch entries. This year, not so much. If we're not reasonably certain that enough dogs will show up, we won't enter -- and if we do enter and there aren't enough entries, we won't go.
In a way, it's a shame -- the shows least likely to command majors are the ones we really enjoy. Those include the smaller outdoor shows put on by our local kennel clubs, most of the shows in Fitchburg (where Dinah shows well), and pretty much anything that we can day-trip to. With the cost of gas and the cost of entries and the cost of freakin' everything else, we're going to have to rethink the concept of "entering just for the fun of it."
(Not that I myself will be missing out on those shows, mind you. The local stewards all know I'm not showing at the smaller shows, and already I'm starting to field requests to play ring steward anyplace where we're not entered. I fly solo for the first time at the Vacationland shows in mid-May. If you're in my ring, be gentle with me.)
I'd much rather enter a show where we can have fun. Some of my friends who have been showing for a long time speak wistfully of days when everybody would group together to build majors in their breeds, and they lament the lack of esprit de corps among exhibitors these days. I'm not sure it's so much that people are only in it for themselves as that gas was under $1 a gallon in those "good old days" of fairly recent memory. People could afford to enter more shows, even if just to do a friend a favor.
For Dinah and me, this also means that we'll be doing much of our showing this season in Springfield. Springfield has never been good to us, and my heart sinks just a little every time I enter a show there. Dinah doesn't like it there, and even on the days when she shows well, we have never, ever, ever won. Really, I don't think it's my attitude -- even when we're excited, happy, and she's doing well in the ring... we always, always get skunked. After last Thanksgiving's cluster, I'd be happy if I never saw the freakin' place again, and she showed as well as she ever has there.
The hardest part for me about signing up for an inevitable disappointment in Springfield is that it's easy to throw away $300+ on a single weekend. Even when trying to travel on the cheap, you still have to enter the show at close to $30 a pop, feed the car and yourself, pay the turnpike tolls, get a hotel room for the weekend (and we can't really share; Dinah just wants to play with the other Beardie all night -- especially if we room with Traveler), pay for the parking permit or the daily fees, pay the groomer or buy the supplies to do it yourself, and pay the handler or do it yourself. I have a good job, but we're not rich. When we don't come home with anything, we have essentially just blown hundreds of dollars and a weekend's worth of time.
Sometimes it makes you wonder whether the people who go to casinos and gamble for fun are really all that much crazier than we are. Dog showing even makes golf look like a bargain-priced sport. Some days I think that maybe a crack addiction would be cheaper.
The fun doesn't end with a dog's AKC championship, either. Know all those Multiple Best in Show winners you see strutting around the ring on TV? See all of the camera cuts to the wealthy celebrities sitting in the grandstand? It's not a coincidence that those fantastic winning dogs belong to people who are oozing money. It takes a lot of that old ooze to get a renowned handler for a well-bred dog and to send that dog on many, many road trips. Some dogs live with their handlers until they retire from showing, and don't think for a minute that the in-between-show conditioning/grooming/feeding/boarding is exactly a pro bono on the part of the handler. That's overtime work. Even though most handlers are careful to keep the financial outlay at a reasonable level, a small expense here and a small expense there do eventually add up to a bankroll. That's why the top show dogs have sponsors, whether corporate or simply a cooperative of individual co-owners who share the financial part of campaigning a winner. There are top-ranking dogs who belong to middle-class owners and owner-handlers, but the percentage is definitely lower.
Now, just consider how much fun it is to enter a show against a well-financed dog and a well-known handler. Dog showing is a democratic sport; you can show against that handler and beat him or her, but just as easily (or, arguably, a lot more easily when you're showing to a "face judge"), you can flush another few hundred of your own harder-earned bucks down the drain. I've waved bye-bye to my share, and then some.
Some friends of mine, with a great dog and a modest income, have decided to campaign their dog themselves on a limited basis, simply because their handler isn't as famous as the handlers she's competing against, and they're having trouble voluntarily flushing extra money down the drain for essentially the same results. At a certain level of competition, the dogs themselves cease to matter, and the "face judges" would be more honest if they would just examine the handlers' teeth instead. (If you don't believe me, watch a televised dog show sometime. When the winning dog gets picked, just listen to who gets the glory and the credit. "What a great day for handler Highpower Fancypants!") Small wonder most people stop showing after their dogs finish.
Will I campaign Dinah after we reach the magic CH? I'd actually like to, in spite of all my ranting above. Once the almighty quest for majors is over, we no longer have to limit ourselves to those few shows where we might see the requisite number of other dogs. We can stay the heck away from Springfield if we want to. We can even just show at all of the lovely, local, congenial outdoor shows that we have to pass by while we're still showing in the classes. At that point, we really can go to dog shows for the fun of it again. Kathy and I can get a little sun, enjoy the fresh air, and enjoy freshly charred fairground food for lunch instead of microwaved fairground food.
Conformation showing is not the only money sink in all of the dog world, though you rarely see bejeweled celebrities gathered in the mud and the rain to watch their dogs herd sheep. I was talking at an agility trial with a teacher who planned to delay her retirement as long as possible because she knew she wouldn't be able to afford to trial once she left full-time work. Don't even get me started on herding. When I was new to showing, I was thrilled to discover that a conformation entry cost about half the price of a herding trial entry, and you were guaranteed a spot in the show if you entered by noon on the closing date. "Luxury!" I thought. "Conformation people have it soooo easy."
I've had another freelance column in the works for quite a while now with the pets area of MaineToday.com, the online version of the Portland newspaper (no link because my stuff isn't up yet). It will be called "Dog Showing 101" -- yeah, I know that's not exactly an original name, but you wouldn't believe the number of search engine hits this blog gets for that very phrase. Anyway, at some point, I intend to publish a column on the subject of dog showing for cheapskates, in which I share some of the ways fellow exhibitors try to pare down the costs of dog showing.
If you have any cost-saving tips you'd like to pass on to a Dog Show Newbie, please leave a comment or send an email. You could end up in the funny papers!