A couple of weeks ago, in an email, a friend sent me a copy of an old ad. I think she found the picture on someone’s Facebook page and thought I would enjoy the ad and a trip down memory lane. Done by the indomitable Sunny Shay, the ad was for her remarkable Afghan Hound, Ch. Shirkhan of Grandeur, who was Best in Show at Westminster many, many moons ago.
Seeing his picture after all these years was a complete shock to my system. ‘Chewey’ was standing there on all four feet, and I mean standing naturally on all four feet, without being propped up or manipulated. This was way, way before Photoshop, and I was struck dumb. I’ve seen countless photographs in my life of that dog. I think what struck me was that, although I had seen photographs of him in the past, I hadn’t really looked at the dog. Here he was in all his glory, exemplifying “an aristocrat, his whole appearance one of dignity and aloofness with no trace of plainness or coarseness. He has a straight front, proudly carried head, eyes gazing into the distance as if in memory of ages past.” I could further quote from the standard in regard to this picture. I could go on and on about what I saw in that photograph. Suffice it to say that I spent a lot of time wondering, why does this picture matter?
As it turns out, that single 60-year-old photograph created in me a notion that I want that picture to matter to people in dogs. My beginnings in dogs afforded me the opportunity to learn at the feet of the sport’s giants. How can an education such as mine be repaid? The answer seems to be my own narcissistic and ego-driven need to share what I know with others by judging.
From Whence I Came
I’ve had several lives in show dogs. Some of those I’m happy to claim. Others, the ones that led to 14 years of weekly therapy and many years of self-enforced absence from the sport, I’d just as soon let fall away. For the most part I’ve led, by my own admission if you will allow, an enviable life in dogs.
It dates back to my start as a kennel boy for Rex and Leotta Vandeventer in Omaha, Neb. I was 15 years old. By age 18 or 19, I was licensed by the AKC to show dogs that were owned by a sighthound kennel where I worked in Omaha. At the time I wasn’t old enough to apply for a professional handler’s license. You had to be 21, so I applied to the AKC for what was called a “limited license.” This allowed me to show dogs that were owned by the kennel, and only those that were owned by the kennel, without running afoul of the professional handlers. In that era the handlers, who were required to be licensed by the AKC, looked on people showing dogs they did not own as something akin to crossing a union picket line. It just wasn’t done.
But having even a limited license was, at the time, pretty heady stuff for the young me. I was now in possession of a license that was personally signed by Len Brumby. The kennel that I showed for was blessed with many worldly goods, which allowed me great latitude regarding which dogs I showed. I skipped school as much as I could, until my parents discovered my subterfuge. I finished class dogs, showed specials and won Best in Shows from the left coast to the right.
After I stopped working at the sighthound kennel, I tried out the idea of being a professional handler. I found out that it’s not for the faint of heart, which I decidedly was when it came to showing dogs because I had to, instead of because I wanted to. I couldn’t make myself show dogs for money. I found handling dogs for money was sort of like being a defense attorney who is compelled by law to defend the seemingly indefensible. I could do neither occupation. So, I faded away for a while.
My second life in dogs, right after my wife and I were married 31 years ago, was as a breeder/owner-handler of Poodles. We were committed and fairly successful in a breed that is pretty much ruled by professionals, due to the rather draconian coat preparation rules. It is in Poodles that it appears that I’m actually qualified to judge, based on rules on the application for “New Breed Judge,” unless I am reading it incorrectly.
You Need What?
My third life in dogs will be as a judge – or at least that’s the plan. It appears that I will not be automatically crowned a judge by the American Kennel Club. I’m finding that you really, really have to want to judge just to complete the application itself. I’m sure that’s the point, right?
It’s been 20 years, at least, since my last life in dogs. Six judging assignments are needed to complete the requirements for the application. Fortunately, or unfortunately as you may one day see, they will count sweepstakes as two. So, it would take three sweepstakes to apply. I’ve tried to figure out the dates and club names of sweepstakes I judged, both in Afghans and Poodles. Honest I have, but it’s not as easy as it sounds when you’ve let as much grass grow under your feet as I have.
Google has become my constant companion, but after three weeks and at least 20 emails in the cause of completing this one task, I’m still at zero. It hasn’t helped that I have a terrible memory about the when and where of those sweepstakes assignments, although not the who. I remember all the dogs I’ve given sweepstakes to. But I’ve found it hard to ask a handler or breeder, or even the person that invited me to judge, let alone complete strangers, if they remember me. “Do you remember that time in the Midwest, 31 years ago, when you showed an Afghan bitch under me at that sweepstakes? She was a so-in-so daughter that had parvo as a puppy, and was bald when you showed her, but I gave her the sweeps anyway.” Or “Does your club keep an archive of specialties?” Or worse, “Do you remember what club it was? Do you even remember me?”
But I have asked. In response, I’ve heard from a lot of wonderful people from my past, but either the club has disbanded, there is no archive to speak of, or frankly some of the people I’m looking for are just plain dead. How am I going to even find information about where I’ve judged sweepstakes? I keep turning over in my mind the information I do remember. I flew to Chicago and judged Afghans at that huge all-breed match, and then went Best in Show the next day at the Wheaton Kennel Club. I think that was in January because it made the dog I was showing Number 1 for, like, five minutes. Who was there? Who can help me? Who would know? Do I even need to know all of those details?
I’ve sent in the application to attend a judges’ institute, which is a requirement. I’m hoping to get some answers to a whole raft of questions there. I know that I have to ring steward at least six times within the three years before I apply to judge. I won’t lie; that makes me want to kill myself. I hate stewarding. It’s impossible not to judge the dogs right along with the judge. And I’m usually thinking, “What? Seriously? That’s what you’re going to put up? Seriously?” Six times I’ve got to do that in the next few weeks.
I’m worried about what breed or breeds I qualify to apply for. My ego gets in the way when I think about my background and whether the AKC will play “Sophie’s Choice” with what they find me qualified to judge. Poodles, Afghans and Salukis are the breeds that I have history with.
I hope to have a few of these questions answered before next time. I’ll be anxious to share what I find out with you.