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As the Wheels Turn: The Seven Virtues Applied to Dog Shows

“In the Catholic catechism, the seven virtues refers to the union of two sets of virtues. The four cardinal virtues, from ancient Greek philosophy, are prudence,justice, temperance (or restraint), and courage (or fortitude).

The three theological virtues, from the letters of St. Paul of Tarsus, are faith, hope, and charity (or love). These were adopted by the Church Fathers as the Seven Virtues.” — Wikkipedia

The beautiful part of this topic is it strikes to the core of why so many of us have stayed loyal to what can be a tough sport. I know there are folks out there who have never experienced some of these aspects of the fancy. It makes me sad. I can only offer the input of long-time fanciers. And suggest that, as in anything, we get what we give.

Courage
From reader Maryke Nau, Ridgefield, WA:

“One of the seven virtues that struck me for the dog show world based on many of the conversations I have been having with breeders was Courage, from a few different perspectives:

*Merely taking your beloved pet, the hours of time and money and raising, and asking somebody to give their objective opinion is courageous, especially when the “judge” rarely has to give any reasoning, you just have to suck it up and take the opinion.

*No other sport has amateurs competing against professionals. These owner-handlers who do this as a hobby and compete against someone that makes it their entire life is nothing short of courageous.

*Many breeds face challenges with clearances and health issues, but it is the courageous breeders that are public for the sake of learning and willing to address their issues, even it means starting over. When somebody says they don’t have any health issues, it merely means they haven’t been honest and courageous enough to look.”

Charity
From reader Linda Ercoli, Southern California:
Take the Lead Foundation

This organization is perhaps the quintessential “heart” of our tribe. For every story of people helping people on a purely personal level, and they are legion,TTL multiplies the effort and takes it to a whole new level.

In the 20 years since it’s inception, TTL has paid out $3,879,017 to members of the fancy who were desperately in need.

From the TTL website:

“Take the Lead was founded in 1993 as a not-for-profit foundation under Section 501 (c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code dedicated to provide direct services, support and care for all qualified participants in the sport of dogs who suffer from the devastating realities of life-threatening or terminal illnesses.

The AIDS crisis opened our eyes to the many ruthless illnesses that were
challenging us to our very core. Though we came together week in and week out to compete at shows and trials, to participate in club activities, to share knowledge and common interests, we had inadequate resources in any one place to take care of those in our community who so clearly needed our
help…….

In 1995, we established a permanent restricted fund and determined that up to one half of each year’s net income would be placed in it. Already we have seen this seed investment become a substantial asset. It is our goal that one day the interest earned on this endowment will provide more than enough income to cover the expenses of everyone in our sport who qualifies for assistance.”

Learn more at http://takethelead.org/

Prudence

A reader emailed me early on in the publication of this column with commentary on the topic of professional handlers being too chummy with judges. One of the statements in this missive completely floored me. “We don’t know any judges.”

My first thought was, why not? They aren’t aliens! Volunteer for your all-breed club. Ring steward. Help with hospitality. Join a committee within your national or local breed club. Get involved in something larger than just yourself. When you have that background, inevitably you will wind up being judged by someone you know personally. Use common sense and be polite but reserved in your public interactions. Everyone has lines they won’t cross. My rule is, I will not show dogs to my close friends or former clients. It invites bad juju. On the other hand, I know lots of members of this tribe — from casual acquaintances, to breeders with whom I regularly interact on club business or have known for years, to former colleagues and competitors who have “aged out” of handling and are now judging. I have to respect that these folks will judge the dog on the day or I would be left with a very limited pool of people to whom I could show dogs.

Hope (and Faith)

Perhaps there is nothing more hopeful in the world than a new puppy. Years are spent planning a breeding. In the best of all worlds, you are creating dogs specifically designed to make the next breeding. Without fail, there is a flutter in your chest, a glimmer in your eye, a catch in your breath when they start opening their eyes and forming their own little personalities. Every step of the way, from the second the sack is broken at birth, through evaluation and placement, weeding out, testing, watching and waiting for the ONE, there is hope. I know a few denizens of the sport who bought the ONE, some even by accident. But as a breeder (long before I was a handler), the hope, faith and joy involved in a litter of new puppies is unparalleled. Hope, often as not crashed on the rocks of some fault, small or large. Faith that the next “twist” will do the trick. Joy when all those plans and blueprints (ie pedigrees); all the blood, sweat and tears of pain and happiness; all the anguish and anticipation, finally gel and you get, almost, the ONE. Then, you try, again, to perfect it.

Justice (and Temperance)

Never let it be said there is no justice in this sport. I see it every weekend. The underdog wins far more often than the popular myth would have you believe. They just don’t talk about it as much. I love to watch talented
breeder-owner-handlers. People who have studied and perfected the art of their breed. People who have bred, trained, conditioned and groomed their dogs to the nth degree. They routinely beat me. I find those people and learn from them! These are competitors who practice temperance. They do not follow fads and trends. They doggedly (bad pun) breed to the standard, whether it fits with the current fashion or not. These people avoid excess in their breeding programs, in their advertising and in their behavior. It matters not whether the breed is Basenji or Pug or Clumber Spaniel or Akita. Patience is part of this virtue. Breeders, owners and handlers who are building on a solid foundation for the future they envision, even if it is different than the one I would choose, will always be my heros.

As always, this is JMHO. I’ve enjoyed our interactive columns and look forward to more in the future.

Written by

Our family always had dogs. Mutt dogs, purebred dogs, but always dogs. I grew up with dogs everywhere. My mother eventually enrolled me in dog care 4-H because I was “shy and retiring and lacked people skills”….. I am the living testimonial to the success of the 4-H program! I continued into AKC shows as my family transitioned from “dogs” to the wonderful world of Purebred Dogs. I showed all of our family dogs in conformation and participated in Junior Showmanship competition. I went to college, earned a degree and worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer. Today, I am an AKC Breeder of Merit and a member of the Professional Handlers Association.
Comments
  • Pat Leone July 2, 2014 at 12:35 PM

    A very well written piece with much truth to it. I enjoyed reading it!

  • Sheila Walker July 2, 2014 at 2:04 PM

    Marvelous column. As someone who has exhibited for over 50 years this all rings very true!!

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