Sunday, May 18, 2008

End of a Dream?

Kathy and I have been repeating a little dream of ours to each other for the past several months. We stopped showing Dinah for the year after Thanksgiving, since neither of us wanted to show in Boston and attendance at the other wintertime shows is light in a good year. We'd email the dream back and forth to each other and console ourselves with it when shows we hoped to enter turned out to be miserably low in entries, or when we'd return in despair from another doomed weekend in Springfield. The dream kept us going through the winter, and helped us look forward to the spring.

Here's the dream that kept us going for so many months: We had really, really hoped to finish Dinah at the Ladies/Framingham shows this year. Not only do we both have soft spots in our hearts for those shows, but they were almost always guaranteed majors. Last year, Rosie finished there with a Best of Breed and a Best Opposite to Trav with Kathy on the lead one day and Brian (our favorite junior) on the other. This year, we had hoped to make the same triumphant finish with Dinah there, and with most of my family and a few of my high-school friends at ringside to watch. After Dinah's two BOS/BOW wins in the rain a couple of weekends ago, our hopes were high. Kathy remarked after the St. Hubert show that Dinah looked more mature this year. We were ready to live the dream, out in the sunshine, with everyone there.

Val emailed us the bad news when she first saw the entry breakdowns. Only 3 class dogs and 4 class bitches -- at Ladies! Even if Dinah went Best of Breed over the three male specials (there were no bitch specials, either), there would be no way in h-e-double-hockey-sticks that she could earn more than two points at either show. Even the boys, who now only need to field 4 class dogs for a major, couldn't get that many together -- and for a show that everyone speaks of fondly.

It took me a few minutes to react. Could the dream be shattered so quickly? Could the one guaranteed weekend of majors in New England be so easily un-guaranteed? What could Kathy and I hope for now?

We knew entries were down; it's all anyone talks about at shows and show committee meetings these days. Most of us in my local kennel club don't yet know whether the club broke even, since our entries were down by 200-something dogs from the previous year -- and that even before the rain kept the spectators away. People have been talking about the decrease in entries for a year at least, since the unconscionable increase in gas prices has forced everyone but the oil company executives to re-evaluate their travel priorities. The fact that the economy is in the toilet hasn't helped. If you try the "Odds on a Major" function at the Infodog site, almost all of the shows within 250 miles return results of majors from 2006 and 2005 -- only one or two of those had majors in 2007.

But... Ladies! Surely we could have fielded enough dogs for Ladies! If we can't get a major together there, then where in New England will we be able to do it? The AKC did us no favors by not lowering the number of Beardie bitches needed for three points this year, but even if they had, what would the magic number be? We couldn't even find 5 class bitches. Could we get 4? Do I hear 3?

I don't want to have to face the very possible fact that there just might not be any majors for Dinah this year. She now has 16 points and still no majors. How much longer do we have to pour our time, money, and hopes into chasing the impossible? Even our least-favorite venue, Springfield, never holds any guarantees. Some shows will have the requisite numbers, but we've never done well there. Some shows will have just a couple of bitch entries one year after majors the two previous years. You won't even know until after you've flushed another $30 per entry down the toilet. That same $30 could buy us two runs at an agility trial, or a herding lesson, or even most of a tank of gas for my 5-year-old Subaru.

Kathy and I have been evaluating the other shows this year to try and determine where our next next chance is -- if it lies anywhere. We know we have to come up with another dream to replace the one that just disappeared. That's going to be the hardest part of all.

Flying Solo and My Bag of Rocks

Vacationland Dog Club, 5/17/08

Something strange is afoot in the universe. The world has tilted on its axis, and the stars are aligned in curious configurations. The weather at Vacationland this weekend is absolutely gorgeous, and it poured mercilessly on the York County shows. In a normal year, Vacationland is six inches underwater, and the mud in the rings has been known to pull shoes from exhibitors' feet. Apart from the Great Monsoon of 2005 (about which the club old-timers still speak in hoarse whispers), the YCKC shows generally take place in halfway decent weather. This year, everything turned upside down.

It wasn't because of the weather that I didn't enter Dinah in Vacationland this year. The chances of there being enough Beardies for a major -- or even one point -- hovered between zero and negative infinity. My friend Nancy, one of the deans of the local ring steward SWAT team, recruited me to join their ranks at Vacationland for my first solo adventure in stewarding.

Between them, Nancy and Susan (another long-time veteran ring steward) trained me to steward last summer. Nancy brought her famous "Ring Stewarding 101" class to one of our local kennel club's meetings, and then I observed Susan at the Topsfield shows after Beardie judging was done. I worked the ring with Susan and another trainee at the Lakes Region shows last July, and then worked my own ring at our club's fall B match. Nancy and Susan agreed that I'd served enough of an apprenticeship, and that it was time for me to run a ring of my very own. While standing in line to use a ladies' room at a function in Augusta this past winter, Nancy asked me to work a ring at Vacationland -- so the initiation began, and I received my ritual bag of rocks.

Nearly everyone who sees Nancy or Susan working a show ring remarks upon the cute bone-shaped stone paperweights they use to keep the various ribbons, armbands, books, programs, and other articles from flying off the table when the occasional breeze kicks up. Occasionally Susan has had to reclaim one of her paperweights from a judge who mistook them for trophies and was about to award them to a winner. Anyway, Nancy awarded me my very own bag of bone-shaped rocks as part of my stewarding kit. She arranged her stewards so that my ring would be next to Susan's in the event I needed expert help.

My very first judge was Ruth Zimmerman, who was unfailingly kind and encouraging to newbie stewards and exhibitors alike. Some of our breeds -- especially the toys -- had multiple dogs entered under one owner or handler, and we gave the exhibitors a chance to breathe between frantic dashes from the ring to switch dogs. Mrs. Zimmerman frequently gave me encouraging comments along the way: "You're really catching on," and "You're doing great at this." The show committee members came past frequently, offering up hot cups of Tim Horton's coffee and donuts. I owe Nancy one for pairing me with a patient and kindly judge for my first trip out -- and for making me my very own set of Official Stewards' Rocks.

After our duties were completed and our ring disassembled for Groups, I caught up with Val, Pat, and Traveler back at their booth. Val reported that Trav had seen me going back and forth to my ring, and had been concerned that I hadn't come in to see him. (Trav and I have a special relationship. We like to wrestle and talk like pirates together: "Arrrrrr. Arrrrrrr. Arrrrr.") I visited with Trav and reviewed his favorite letter of the alphabet ("Arrrrrr") before he went into the group ring. He made the first cut, but not the Final Four. I'm hoping he does better in Groups today.

I didn't have a lot of time to socialize yesterday, but Vacationland was just a nice, fun, intimate show with some very nice vendors. The show committee switched things up a bit by putting the show itself in the area where the parking had been in previous years, and putting parking where the show had been (and which we affectionately called "the swamp"). The rearrangement suited the show well, I think. The weather wasn't an issue this year and the swamp wasn't swampy, but the new layout worked nicely. I hope the club decides to stick with it for future shows if they go back to that venue. (Actually, I'm really hoping they'll cluster with our club at our site, but that remains to be discussed.)

Shout-Outs and Stuff

A quick shout-out to Steph and Bowie the Brittany: Did you guys make it to the show? I only saw two of my Brittany buddies there, but I was busy in my ring right up until the time Groups started.

Another shout-out to Barb Rimoshytus and Rio, whom I ran into just as Dinah and I were leaving the St. Hubert show in CT. Barb's been going through some stuff, so think good thoughts for her. Rio did magnificently -- I'm bad at quoting people, but I think he had at least one group placement that weekend. (Dinah got 2nd, not even Reserve. She was very, very uninterested in showing that weekend. Since she'd been showing the two weekends previous, she was feeling a little burnt-out. We had a nice little reunion with Auntie Kathy, Auntie Deb, Jake, and puppy grrrrl Diva, but that was about it. Dinah's never going to be one of those dogs on the dog show circuit, and that's fine with me.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New Point Schedule, Same As the Old Schedule

The new point schedules always come out the week following the York County shows. I was just checking them before entering Dinah in the Penobscot Valley KC shows (our other supported entry this year). Here they are:

Bearded Collies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1 point: 2 dogs 2 bitches
2 points: 3 dogs 4 bitches
3 points: 4 dogs 6 bitches
4 points: 5 dogs 7 bitches
5 points: 7 dogs 9 bitches

Good news for anyone showing the boys these days. I can't believe we still need to field 6 bitches for a major, though. I wish AKC had noticed how totally freakin' hard it was to get 6 Beardie bitches of any age anywhere last year, and would have cut us a break. At least for the boys' side, since there were hardly any boys showing in our area last year, at least they're making things easier for the crop of new puppies coming in this year.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

What Not to Wear, Dog Show Edition

Junior handlers, avert your eyes now!

(Thanks to Dinah's breeder for sending me this one and making me almost spew my morning coffee.)

Monday, May 05, 2008

So Close, and Yet So Far Underwater

Dinah's other Auntie Kathy and Dinah romping in the swamp at YCKC

York County Kennel Club of Maine, 5/3-4, 2008
1/WB/BOW/BOS both days, 2 points

This business of chasing majors is as much an exercise in humility as it is an exercise in futility. Just when you think everything's in place and things are going to work exactly as you thought they would, the universe always finds a way to intervene and teach you a little lesson about excessive attachment. If there is a God, He must be a Buddhist.

Our kennel club was sooooo prepared. We had everything set up/swept/cleaned, the fairground plumbing had been fixed, all of our trophies and supplies had been collected and placed in the correct locations, and all appeared to be well. Even the local weather report called for partly-cloudy weather with sun in the afternoons -- not too hot, not too cold.

Our local Beardie club was similarly ready to get out there and have a good time. Our grooming area was staked out and set up, the Beardie Parking signs mounted, and the food and drinks and silent auction items were all ready. The Weathervane was prepared for the post-show onslaught of hungry exhibitors seeking lobsters and beer. Val had outdone herself painting piles of gorgeous trophies for both days of showing. Everybody baked cookies. We were primed.

However, the Weather Chair for the event must have fallen down on the job. Although nothing can equal the sheer, abject, freakin' shin-deep sucking misery of the Great Deluge of 2005, the stuff that Mother Nature sent us made us seriously question the entire concept of outdoor shows in Maine before Memorial Day. If this doesn't make us move our show date to later in the year, nothing will.

Saturday was the better of the two days. It rained most of the time, with a few brief periods of letup that enabled us to show between the raindrops (mostly). However, the clammy temperatures managed to get to us all eventually. Everyone who could do so sported extra layers of clothing, including hats and gloves. The husband of one of our out-of-state exhibitors kept nudging his wife and saying, "So this is that beautiful Maine weather you were raving so much about."

Worse still, just when we thought we had everything set up for our major in bitches, one of our out-of-staters admitted sheepishly that she'd forgotten her class bitch at home and had brought along one of the dogs instead -- and she'd only realized her entry mistake when she arrived at the show. It was too late to call Barbara down in Massachusetts and advise her to turn back, and there was no answer at her house when I called to ask for her cell number. Barbara arrived at the show after beating feet for 100 miles to make it in time, and I had to break the news to her.

I'm afraid that my initial response, upon hearing this news, may not be published in a family blog. The exhibitor in question was so sorry that we really couldn't beat her too hard for slipping up. After all, her bitch missed out on a chance at a major, too. It would have been Dinah's first, but it proved to be an exercise in letting go instead.

Not that we let that get in the way of our having what fun we could in the midst of a freezing swamp. After all, we had coffee and home-baked cookies and all of us together. With enough EZ-Ups and the semi-shelter of the barns over our heads, we were about as well set up as anyone at the show (except for the toy breeds showing indoors).

My friend Kathy had offered to show Dinah for me, since she said that her bitch special really wasn't into showing and was happy to attend as a retiree. I might otherwise have passed on entering Dinah in this show, since I had so many hats to wear as YCKC trophy chair/show committee member/BCCME member/cook and bottle washer that I don't think I sat down for more than 10 minutes both days. At least I kept somewhat warm that way.

Dinah and Kathy made a great team. It must be because she was born during a howling rainstorm off the west coast of Wales, but Dinah has always enjoyed showing in bad weather. If she were a horse, they'd call her a "mudder." She looked lovely, behaved beautifully for Auntie Kathy, and took Best of Opposite both days to Lucy's magnificent Christopher. Chris went on to get group placements both days, and Lucy's daughter Anna got Best Junior in Show on Saturday. I felt terrible for Val and Pat, though -- Trav didn't get any love from the judges, and they went home wet and discouraged. (Rarely do Dinah and Trav do well at the same shows. The judges who like his type don't like hers, and the judges who like her type don't give him any joy.)

On Sunday, the skies just opened, and the day consisted of one long downpour punctuated by short bursts of light rain. Our ring had been moved indoors to one of the barns -- fortunately, within Beardie-lugging distance of our grooming area. Although the ring was so small that only the puppies had a chance to take more than two strides at a trot, at least we were out of the rain and the cold for a few minutes. (The EMTs kept good-naturedly inviting us down to hang out in the ambulance, where it was nice and warm.)

There will be pictures -- fortunately, those were taken semi-indoors as well, since the nice outdoor area that the photographers had picked ended up being unusable fairly early on in the show. Dinah was not happy about having to stand still and be brushed, but we're hoping they come out. Kathy and I kept doing a Chip-and-Dale routine of "you first -- no, you." Eventually we managed to get everyone into the picture who was supposed to be there -- including Dinah.

In spite of the stinkin' weather and the busted major, quite a lot went right with the show. Our caterer for the staff and the judges, bless her heart, served hot soup and hot entrees both days -- and there was always plenty of coffee. Everybody held it together, and the post-show dinner at The Weathervane was convivial -- and dry. The judges had such a good time at their dinner that (as I heard it) most of them just didn't want to leave. The one thing I know I got right was that the two Best Juniors were tickled to bits to have won grooming tackle boxes instead of more stuff they'd have to dust. Sometimes it pays to ask actual juniors what they want to win, and not just the girls.

I have yet to hear whether we made any money, or even broke even. The couple of vendors I talked to actually did an okay business on Saturday, but were eager to beat it out of there on Sunday. At least we can all brag about having survived another year.