A month in the life…
I was writing this column in my head on the way home this week. The last of 28 days on the road. Twelve days of all-breed shows, two days of specialties and group shows, three days of National Specialty shows. Four thousand miles, literally, behind the wheel in a Sprinter van. Up at 5 a.m., collapsed at 10 p.m. Every day. Head cold, back seized up, bad tummy. Good hotels, bad hotels. Hot. Cold. Wind. Hail. Bad food, adequate food, no food. Gracious competitors and unpleasant ones. Skillfully run dog shows and confused ones. Two dozen dogs rotating in and out, two different assistants, 20 clients, and a handful of great friends.
Living the dream.
Yes, folks, this is what we do. We chose it over a desk job for a reason. I’ll admit, some days, while crawling on my hands and knees, gagging, to clean the bottom 400 crate at the very back of the truck at 6 a.m. after a dog had bad potty, I wonder why. It crosses my mind that if I’d stayed on my original career path, I would be making six figures, wearing Armani and have an office with a door by now. A secretary, even.
Then you look down at the twinkling eyes of a promising puppy and it starts to come back. You find the keys to unlock the problem dog and know the rush of success. The adrenaline flows when you are in total synch with your dog and you feel invincible. The tears of joy fall when that exciting young dog you’ve watched from puppyhood and coached through the early stages of the game — bred right, owned right — pulls it off and finishes in huge style. You have one of those “John the Wayne” days when the stars are aligned, everything clicks and the satisfaction of a job well-done keeps you keeping on.
Ah, yes, the dream, now I remember.
Whoever coined the phrase “the dog days of summer” clearly was not living our dream. It’s that time of year. The weather heats up. The points races start to mean something. Long circuits pop up across the country like mushrooms and national specialties sprout like weeds. Everyone is working harder and longer. Tempers flare.
In the midst of it all, I am regularly reminded of the strength of our dog show community. Competitors helping each other through really scary stuff. Rallying to get dogs shown or people to the hospital, whatever it takes. Going above and beyond for our “tribe” is part of the code of this sport. Just in the last month, people gave of themselves to help me and many others, for no better reason than they could. It gives me hope.
Three things I think will keep that hope alive: compassion, courtesy and consideration.
Compassion for the dogs we are asking to perform, often in brutal conditions, is an absolute. There is no wiggle room here. If it is too hot for you, it is too hot for your dog. As a handler, know your dogs. Know which ones can handle the conditions and which ones need to sit out a particular ring. If the ribbon or the paycheck is more important than the dog’s health and well-being, you need to take a long, hard look at your priorities. As an owner, remember the dog is the only one in the mix who doesn’t have a choice. Is that one win, maybe a slim chance at a $3 ribbon, really as important as your dog’s safety and comfort? Really? As a show photographer, think about the dog, never mind the judge and exhibitor. Shoot your photos in the shade. Judges are normally very good about using all the shade they can get, but I have been in rings when my dog and I were left standing under judgement for 10 minutes or more in direct sun and 80+ degree temperatures. I have many, many times moved between the dog and judge to provide the dog with the shade of my body. Whoever you are, no matter what, do not take chances. Do not assume the generator will work. Do not assume the power will work. If it’s hot, stay with your dogs! That nice dinner, that long nap, whatever it is, can wait. The dogs come first. Period.
Courtesy for show committees and all of the volunteers who enable us to have a sport in which to participate should be a given. They are all working unbelievably hard to put on a great event. I attended Woofstock again this year and am continually blown away by the gut busting effort expended by a very small cadre of people to put on a high class event. Kudos to these two clubs and their very dedicated members.
Consideration for fellow exhibitors would seem pretty basic. But, over the years, I’ve witnessed and even been dragged in to some pretty ugly scenes. And I can say with complete assurance, I’ve never seen any situation successfully resolved by public tantrums, yelling, name calling, belittling, threats and obscenities. It’s a dog show. Save the drama for the movie people.
On a final note, I’ve been toying with a column entitled the Seven Deadly Sins of Dog Shows. Send me your list at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can have our first “interactive” column. If you don’t want to be quoted by name, be sure to say so!
As always, this is JMHO….