Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Another Westminster Come and Gone

What? A show-dog blog without a report on Westminster? Talk about behind the times — or maybe I'm just early for Crufts. The show is old news now to most people — the newspaper stories about it are languishing in the recycle bin — but it's still February for another day and a half.

I can explain, though. My two favorite February events collided this year: the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York and the Mystic Krewe of Barkus parade in New Orleans. When my friend Jody (Charlie's breeder and a traveling buddy of many years' standing) suggested we return to New Orleans for the Barkus parade, some gumbo, and a change of scenery from northern winter, I was powerless to refuse.

More about Barkus later. Let's talk about Westminster!

Congratulations to CH Palacegarden Malachy, a 4-year-old Pekingese who has been a contender for the top honors at the Garden for a couple of years now. Yes, we've heard all the "footstool" jokes — but he won, and that's that.

The Best of Breed-winning Beardie, GCH Daybar Blew By U, is a handsome bluey who has done well for himself, winning at least one Regional Specialty that I'm aware of. He was at the 2011 BCCA National but, like Dinah, was dumped early on. (It was not our winningest show ever, but at least Badger Blue got his HIC.)

Our buddy Beanie (GCH Highlander MacBean) made a good showing, and folks had better watch out for him. He's coming back again, and he's going to shine!

Big Changes for Westminster 2013

Next year's Westminster will take place on February 11-12, 2013. Because of ongoing construction at the Garden and expanded entries, next year's show will be split across two venues.

Breed judging and benching for both days will take place at Piers 92/94, located at 55th Street and the West Side Highway. Groups, Best in Show, and the finals for Juniors will be held back at the Garden in the evenings.

This sounds like a tremendous pain in the tuchus, but this should free up some breathing room in the benching and grooming areas. With the expanded number of entries (increasing to 3200 dogs from roughly 2000), it probably still means that you'll have to leave the above-ground pool and BBQ at home, but things should be much less cramped.

Yes, More Dogs! Maybe Even Yours!

You might have heard old-timers in your breed wax rhapsodical about the days when you could finish a class dog at Westminster. "Now THAT was a finish!", they'd say. Westminster has been open only to Champions of Record for a number of years now, and having your entry accepted in the first place is like winning the lottery (unless you're lucky enough to have finished in the Top 5 in your breed, in which case you're invited).

If that sounds like a story you dream of telling someday, you're in luck. Westminster 2013 is expanding entries to include class dogs and bitches who have won at least one major. You'll still need to enter and keep your fingers crossed that your entry gets picked, but at least you can try. Winners of a breed's National Specialty will be invited to enter along with the Top 5.

The official Westminster press release that details the changes can be found here.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A PSA and a Very Good Idea, Too

Because I live in Northern New England, I usually try to limit my PSAs about local handling classes and events to this area. However, this morning I received a notice in my email box with one that was too useful not to share. If you live in southern MA, RI or northeastern CT, listen up...

(snipped from the announcement of the Providence Kennel Club's upcoming shows and trials)
...We want to make this a grand event, and we would love to have you come and steward for us. We will have a stewarding clinic on Monday evening, May 14 at 7 PM at the Rocky Hill Grange on Rt 2 in East Greenwich, right off of Route 95. It is right near Ocean State Vet if you know that location. You may work with either or both OB and breed stewarding

As all of you know, capable stewards make a trial a success. SO I would be hugely grateful for your participation.

For more info, contact Jenny Dickinson.
(end snippet. I removed Jenny's phone number, but you can click her name to email her.)

All kennel clubs and obedience clubs should borrow PKC's idea and run with it! Experienced stewards are in short supply, and you'll see more and more pleading announcements on the email lists on the Thursday before a weekend of shows: "Stewards wanted. Any shape, size, or species. Breathing optional. Pleasepleaseplease!"

Time was when gas was so cheap that people would hop into the car and drive a few hours to help steward at shows, so it was easy to ask a favor and get the real stewarding diehards to respond. You'd get breakfast, lunch, and a $20 bill for gas and tolls — and then, when it was your club's turn to need help, you'd call in favors from all of the clubs you just stewarded for.

These days, you still get food and sometimes get paid, but the $20 bill just barely covers the cost of the gas you burned to get there. Show-giving clubs' budgets have shrunk, so they can't really afford to be more generous. You can still call in favors, but people are less apt to drive long distances to steward. Clubs increasingly have to rely on more local talent.

The problem is, you can't get local talent until you train the local talent. Sure, you can offer on-the-job training, but unless your ring is reasonably calm, yet diverse enough so your stewards-in-training can see a variety of different ring scenarios, they'll all be so busy focusing on one task that they'll never have a chance to observe the whole shebang. They'll need to help out with different tasks in different rings at least a few times until they've acquired enough experience to take on rings of their own. Not that this is a bad thing, but you won't get newly-minted, take-charge stewards right away. This process takes time, so you can't wait until the Thursday before the show to get started.

If you combine on-the-job training with a clinic, though, you have the time to explain all the many tasks, rules, equipment, points of etiquette, and so on that every steward should know. You can show a sample steward's book, explain how to mark it so other stewards can take over for you during rest-room breaks, and even run through some simple exercises without the stress of needing to keep things moving at all times. "Okay, I'm judging. The dog who went Winners Dog just went Best of Breed over all of the specials. What ribbons do you lay out for whom, and how many Selects do you add?" (Trick question. If a class dog goes BOB, none of the Specials get Selects.) If you're an obedience steward, you'll learn simple-sounding, but very important, concepts such as what to do with your hands when acting as a post in the Figure 8. (Not in your pockets. It might look as though you have a treat in there.)

When I was an actual newbie, my local kennel club offered the best of both types of training. The chief conformation steward from our neighboring club attended one of our meetings and gave us a lecture and demo on stewarding. She and the chief conformation steward from our club took on some apprentices (including me) for a few shows' worth of OJT... and then one day, we were turned loose to run our own rings, with experienced stewards at the tables on either side of us. It was scary, but we got through it. Both kennel clubs received educational credit, and our clubs had more warm bodies to man the rings. I was awarded my very own bag of stewards' rocks (try stewarding outdoors on a windy day, and you'll see why rocks make a valuable gift!) and welcomed into the fraternity.

This year, I'm the chief conformation steward. It's my first time wearing the big hat, but our club's chief steward is now the show chair. I have my list of local talent, thanks to my counterpart in the neighboring club. The next thing I'm going to recommend is that we borrow PKC's stewarding-clinic idea and hold one of our own. I'm going to need to start collecting rocks, too. If you're experienced and not too busy on the third weekend of May, I can offer you a very nice hot lunch, sandwiches, and a breakfast groaning board inside the club tent — plus camaraderie and the undying thanks of not one, but two kennel clubs. If you're not a club member, you'll get gas money, too.

Stewarding is the perfect way to get a judge's-eye view of the ring. You'll get to meet some truly nice, hard-working experts in their breeds — and if they have time, they'll happily talk dogs and process with you. You'll gain experience in managing the smooth running of the show, and you'll be initiated into a special group of diehards. If you think you might want to be a judge someday, stewarding is a required part of the training you'll need to apply.

Most of all, stewarding is a great way to give back to the dog show community by taking on a demanding — but rewarding — part in making sure that everything runs smoothly. It's not glamorous — you'll meet more than your share of ungracious people, and you might have to double as in-the-ring ceanup crew — but the nice people you'll meet and the good karma you'll create will be more than worth the occasional craziness.

If your kennel club needs stewards, go to a clinic, or start one for the newbies in your club so you'll have a new "generation" of diehards to help out. That's good karma, too.