Sunday, May 27, 2012

June is National Adopt-a-Newbie Month

(Bad cell-phone picture of the Beardie ring at the Southern Maine Coastal Classic. I only had time to shoot photos on the non-weekend days.)

Everywhere you look — especially if you look on Facebook — there's a post about it being National Something-To-Do-With-Pets Month. Obedient fans will Like and Share all posts about it being National-Something-To-Do-With-Pets Month until it's time to do the same thing for National-Something-Else-Pet-Related Month.

I thought to myself, Why not join in the fun, too? After all, the outdoor showing season has begun in earnest here in the Frickin' Arctic, and lots of people have new puppies just old enough to show this spring. You might have spotted a Dog Show Newbie at the local shows: Wiggly puppy on one end of the show lead, deer-in-the-headlights look on the other. These folks are the future of the sport, and it's up to us to bring them gently into the fold and give them the tools they need to enjoy being here.

(What about the juniors? you ask. Junior handlers are a precious natural resource, and we have far too few of them in the sport nowadays. We've lost most of a generation to XBox, and we need to encourage the ones who still get out there on the weekends with the dogs. One of our local kennel clubs offers a college scholarship to local juniors. Our local kennel club has exactly one junior. She's the great-granddaughter of one of our founding members, and they come to meetings together.)

The other local kennel club recently surveyed its members and determined that the average age of members is 60. 60! That's the average age! Next year, when it's time to set up for the shows again, the average age is going to be 61. If we're not bringing our kids into the sport, we're going to need to encourage young adults to join the fancy. Otherwise, at some point in the scarily-near future, all the old dog-show survivors are going to be hanging on to their walkers with one hand and pounding stakes with the other.

Back to the newbies. I'm happy to report sightings of a few at last weekend's show cluster, and I hope they had a great time and plan to return. One nice lady, who never stopped smiling all day despite the ohmygod look in her eyes, wandered into the club tent with her adorable Corgi puppy and was adopted by the show secretaries. She couldn't have made a better choice of mentors; between the two of them, they'll make sure she goes to the Cumberland shows armed with all the knowledge she needs to join the army of weekend warriors at the shows. Sure, you can show solo and have a perfectly OK time of it, but most people stay for the dog-show community. Everybody needs a hand to hold a leash, help setting up an EZ-Up, help making sure you didn't leave the area after getting 2nd in your class, so you'll be ready to go back in for Reserve if needed. If you received this kind of help when you were a newbie, then June is the perfect time to pay it forward.

Next time you're at a show, try to take a little time to play Spot the Newbie. Look for the person struggling to hold a puppy's leash with one hand while trying to set up a grooming table with the other. If you're able to at that moment, volunteer to hold the puppy's leash, introduce yourself, and introduce the new handler to folks you know who have the same breed, or breeds in the same group. With any luck, the new handler is going to see a lot of those folks, and she might as well get acquainted now.

If you're stewarding in the ring, try to keep an eye out for the newbies. They're generally pretty easy to spot, since the time in the ring is the biggest challenge of all. Do what you can — and give what advice you can — to help the newbie get into the rhythm of things, and to keep your ring running smoothly. If you're an exhibitor in that same ring, be patient with dropped leashes and struggling to stack wiggly puppies. Someday, that newbie might just hold your walker for you while you're pounding stakes.