Now Is the Time
In his 1776 pamphlet, “The American Crisis,” Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Never have these words held more truth than they do today.
Watching the news on a daily basis is not only depressing; it is frightening. The screen attacks our eyes, our minds and our hearts with horror. We see natural disasters that are destroying homes, towns and taking lives. It is hard to understand the hate being spread by our supposed leaders, attacks on our police and the FBI, so-called patriots attacking our Capitol, racism spread by those who are supposed to protect us, and the lack of respect and accountability throughout our nation and around the world. The world watches as a war is being fought that kills innocent children and rips families apart. And as if all of this was not enough, our supposed leaders reach for our votes by using the media – including social media – to tell lies and preach more hate. I can hear Yoda calling on us, saying, “Winning is the Dark Side. Band together and call on the Force we must.”
I am so very thankful when I can leave this ugly “reality” and immerse myself in our dog community. Although I hate the stress of travel, being at a dog show is one of the two times I can move this ugliness from the forefront of my mind to the back recesses for a while. (The other time, of course, is when I am home with my wife and dogs.) There are too many times that I think we don’t appreciate enough what we have in our dog community. Quoting a dear departed friend of mine – Og Mandino – “I will love the light, for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.”
What is it that we have in our dog family that I think is so special – or should be? Obviously, for some this is an occupation. But it is much more than that. How many occupations do you know where someone “works” 24/7/365 and loves it most of the time? There are very few “jobs” that require the physical, mental and emotional stress that professional handlers (and breeders) face – and yet they love it enough that many of the children in their family follow in their footsteps.
What is it that drives this? A lovely friend identifies it correctly when she says, “PASSION, that’s it! It’s what pushes us to continue doing this after 50+ years! It’s what fills us with pride when we see our kids in the ring, focused, skillful, giving 1000% of themselves (the way we used to do when our bodies allowed us). It’s what gives goosebumps to you (still) when you see ‘a GOOD one.’ PASSION is the name of the game, and it’s not taught, neither is it learned. It’s brought in one’s genes.”
Most of us certainly do not make a living from our dogs. As a matter of fact, for most, showing (and breeding) dogs costs quite a bit of money. And yet, regardless of the cost – and the work and stress of grooming, travel and showing our dogs – we still do it on a rather consistent basis. Why?
There is no denying that for many, camaraderie is an important aspect of our community. Lifelong friendships – and more – have been built on being part of our dog community. Especially now – after many people were in self-imposed semi-quarantine – seeing and interacting with others is a necessity. The social aspect of dog shows has become even more significant. Most of us have heard how our community bands together when someone has a problem. We should be doing that for everyone all the time now. There is a quote – with a few variations – that has been attributed to various people ranging from Robin Williams to Plato that says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about." The thought encapsules a simple truth – there are countless challenges surrounding all of us, and each of us has our own personal struggles.
Not only is weekly socialization important, but our community does not stop at any border. I have certainly benefited from this. Not only have I judged in practically every state in our country, I have also been privileged to judge in many wonderful places that I would never have seen were it not for our dogs: Australia, Bermuda, Canada, China and Sweden. Even more importantly, I have met many wonderful people in these countries who have become valued friends.
The next important facet of our dog-show community is that it is composed of competitive people, and the fair competition of dog shows – where amateur competes on an equal plane with professionals – keeps us coming back. Yes, I know there is a segment who will never believe that amateurs do compete fairly with the pros, but as far as I am concerned, this is true most of the time. And for those who don’t believe it, AKC has supplied us with the National Owner-Handled Series. And if you are one of those who habitually complain about almost everything, maybe you should find another outlet for your energy, money and negativity.
As Judge Smails said in “Caddyshack”:
“It’s easy to grin, when your ship comes in
and you’ve got the stock market beat.
But the man worthwhile
is the man who can smile
when his shorts are too tight in the seat.”
Certainly not everything is perfect in our community, and we all share the frustrations that exist. The AKC could certainly do a better job of marketing the idea of purebred dogs to the general public. It has been a long time since the general public said, “I have an AKC registered dog” with pride. TV ads during the Westminster and AKC shows are very well done, but – for the most part – they are preaching to the choir. Without fail, almost every candidate for the AKC board when I was a delegate would run on the platform that included – in some respect – marketing our dogs as superior to the doodles and rescue dogs – essentially marketing AKC. Have you seen that message delivered to the general public on a consistent basis? What does it say when a doodle – essentially a mixed breed – is represented as being a combination of purebreds? Yet it is a color that would be a disqualification in that breed, and is sold at a price many times that of a purebred dog – and these people have a waiting list! Or “rescue dogs” imported from other states and other countries whose “rescue fee” may be the same as what a dog from a local breeder would cost? As a friend of mine said when talking about her business, “If we don’t toot our own horn from time to time, who else will?”
Maybe there would not be as much angst expressed so often by exhibitors if there were as many educational seminars for them as there are for judges. Yes, I am saying it … It is absolutely possible – even probable – that the average exhibitor does NOT know as much about their breed as most judges do. Maybe they cannot look at their dog and the competition dispassionately. I remember attending a breed seminar where some noted breeders could not identify what “angulation” meant or where it was. There certainly are breed(er) experts, and I always gladly learn from them, but they do not represent the bulk of the exhibitors who seem to live to complain or call every judge a “crook” – whatever that means. Maybe there are things we don’t want to know but have to learn. As Oscar Wilde said, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
Undeniably, the most important things – and the most gratifying – about our community are our dogs. They remove us from the negativity that seems to encompass the world. What else gives us love so completely, with so much devotion, and asks nothing in return? Of course, we all want to win, but our dogs really don’t care. They are there – for the most part – because they want to please us. And our lives will certainly be much more enjoyable if we learn from them. I am presently showing my own dog, and I think he deserves to win most of the time, but I am primarily showing him because I am proud of him and enjoy showing him. Our dogs make me think of Helen Keller’s words, ‘The best and most beautiful things in life cannot be seen or even touched – they have to be felt with the heart.”
What do you think?