Sat, 07/16/2022 - 12:55am

Candy Man

Michael Faulkner basks in a dog-show sugar high

The English word “CANDY” – in use since the late 13th Century – derives from Arabic gandi, meaning “made of sugar.”

My maternal grandparents operated a country store in rural Western New York in a small hamlet called OBI. As a child I marveled at the various selections of candies offered in the store. They included: Candy Necklace, Candy Paper Dots, Pixie Stick, Candy Cigarette, Good & Plenty, Sugar Babies, Tootsie Roll, Candy Cigar, Teaberry Gum, Starburst, Cinnamon Toothpicks, Root Beer Barrel, Caramel and many others.

During the ’60s, my perception of sweets was that candy was a unique creation for only children. A clever tool used for behavior manipulation, created by my grandparents to get us to follow orders, stay out of trouble, and keep our mouths shut. At the tender age of 61, I now know that CANDY, in its simplest form, is created by dissolving sugar in water or milk to form syrup, with the final product depending on the different levels of temperature and sugar concentrations. I also know for a fact the pleasure I acquired from CANDY as a child has not completely faded. 

My adult relationship with sugar bliss is something I control with an iron fist. But sometimes I do partake in the ritual of releasing dopamine and endogenous opioids in support of that wonderful surge of pleasure you feel when eating CANDY. I encounter candy often at a dog show, in my ring. Yes, like my grandmother, kennel-club committees intentionally provide copious amounts of sweets to insure a positive show environment for both judge and exhibitor. Normally, I can resist the sugar-high temptation, unless the strategically placed judge’s candy dish contains Tootsie Rolls, Milk Duds, Caramels or dark chocolate. 

My personal dog-show sugar highs are a genuine phenomenon, and like my childhood memories, they make everything better and have the power to make even the less-than-quality entries appear to have more virtues. You see, it’s all tied to that part of the brain linked to reward, novelty and motivation. 

CANDY Dog Show Happiness is a real thing! We all know that CANDY/SUGAR is directly linked to our most positive dog-show memories and events. Krispy Kreme donuts early in the morning, celebratory Best in Show cake, chocolate vendor, ice cream and the endless supply of goodies that usually awaits you at the ring. Win or lose – CANDY is going to reinforce your victory or help soothe the agony of defeat.

The weekend prior to the start of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, I had the pleasure of once again judging at the Bryn Mawr Kennel Club dog show and experiencing pure SUGAR BLISS! A remarkable show site, amazing club members, five-star lunch/dessert spread, endless hospitality, in-ring candy and custom-made ball caps provide all with various levels of euphoric endorphin release. 

And when I thought it could not get any better, two things occurred on Saturday – one during lunch and the other during my judging of Best in Show. On both occasions I thought I was self-inducing out-of-body-experiences (OBE) and came to quickly realize that both were real and directly tied to my childhood, my life in purebred dogs and CANDY. 

Occurrence Number One (during lunch): “You’re not having any of the wonderful desserts?” MS. FLORENTINE inquires.

“I only wish! Unfortunately, this little thing called Celiac disease keeps me from partaking,” I respond while taking another sip of lemonade. 

“I see, that makes things a bit difficult,” she replies.

“It’s all manageable. However, my favorite dessert of all time is rhubarb pie, and I have yet to master the art of a good gluten-free crust.” Ms. Florentine smiles and joyful shares: “Me, too, I love rhubarb!” 

We continue for at least 20 minutes discussing our lifelong history with rhubarb, various recipes, growing techniques, etc. “Tomorrow, I am going to bring you a real treat! My homemade rhubarb simple syrup. Mix it with your lemonade and it will put a smile on your face.” The thought of rhubarb-infused lemonade triggers the release of the appropriate level of dopamine, giving me the pleasure and motivation to complete my assignment with the awarding of Best in Show.

Occurrence Number Two:  With rhubarb syrup on the brain, I patiently wait in the hospitality tent for the various group judging to complete. When I am signaled to come do my dance in the ring, I proceed to the entrance, greet the ring steward, unwrap and pop a small square piece of Hershey’s dark chocolate in my mouth for back up, and ask for the various group winners to come in all at once according to size and go around the ring. 

The first thing I do is walk the line for an overview of the Best in Show lineup. After examining all the ground breeds, I move to the table.

“Michael, Michael!” I hear a voice coming from ringside to my right.  I assume they are calling for a different Michael, as it is a very common first name. “Yoo-hoo, Michael – over here!” The calling continues.

This time I look up, scan to my right, and seated ringside is DOTTIE THE CANDY LADY (DOTTIE DAVIS). 

I am overcome with joy, stop the task at hand, walk over and acknowledge a lady who dedicated her life to the sport and who brought pure joy every weekend at the dog shows by passing out CANDY to all. No one is ever excluded – whether DOTTIE THE CANDY LADY was ring stewarding, observing judging, exhibiting or just traversing the show venue, there she would be, always CANDY in hand and a smile on her face.

I return to the exhibit waiting on the table, and continue judging. The euphoria I feel before awarding Best in Show is based on history, moments in time, family, friends and the opportunity to participate in a sport I truly love. I am mindful and grateful at this particular moment for the kindness and generosity offered by club members: Sam Houston McDonald, Colleen O’Brien, Jan Ritchie Gladstone, Allison Rosskamp, Karen Florentine and many others.

I return to the judge’s table to identify the Reserve Best in Show and Best in Show winners. Unwrapping a small Tootsie Roll, I place it in my mouth, look over and give DOTTIE THE CANDY LADY a wink before walking back out to the center of the ring to make the awards – it’s pure sugar bliss.



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