Sat, 11/20/2021 - 1:40pm

You Can't Go Home Again

Times change, but showing one's own dogs never gets old

“You Can’t Go Home Again” is a Thomas Wolfe novel that was published posthumously in 1940. 

In it, fledgling author George Webber writes his first novel, set in the fictional Libya Hill, whose characters bear an uncanny resemblance to some of the neighbors in his real hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. As the book gains acclaim, the backlash from those locals drives him abroad, where a darkness is creeping across 1920s Germany. And on his return home, a changed Webber finds an equally transformed America – along with the realization that informs the book’s title.

What does this have to do with our dog community? Somehow, I am now feeling that I can’t Go Home Again.

A very great many years ago, I was a professional handler, and was relatively successful – especially when it came to “finishing” Irish Setters – but I have not shown an Irish (or any big dog) consistently for almost 20 years. When my beloved Irish Setter, Streamer, was last shown, it was by my very talented wife, because my aging legs had a hard time keeping up with a big-moving dog. Heck, I have not even shown my Beagle in more than five years because kneeling and getting back up is an all-day proposition.  

At many shows I have judged, dogs are shown by seniors who – like me – are probably a bit past their prime years, but apparently still love showing their own dogs. Sometimes I feel badly because their limited mobility affects how their dog moves. But then I realize that all of us are now – or will be – in this same position at some time, and good for all of us who continue to have this passion in our community.

So why am I thinking of returning to showing a dog after these many years? Am I trying to return home again? No. Like you, I am just proud of my dog, and want to enjoy showing him.  

Ribbons, points, group placements or Best in Show would certainly add to my enjoyment, but I just want to enjoy my dog. And, again, as Thomas Wolfe said, “Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going. Don't freeze up.” So, this one part of the graying of our sport is not a negative – it is great that people can stay in this long and maintain their passion. Besides, we have paid our dues, and have earned the right to take our time in the ring, and even if we cannot do so as well as we once could, our passion is to be admired.  

Having been on both sides of this issue, I need to add that sometimes we need to temper our expectations. Sometimes our physical limitations play a part, but that does not mean we still cannot enjoy showing our dogs. Realize that expertise comes with time. However, understand that if you are unable to move out with your dog properly – not allowing your dog to show his correct movement – it will make it almost impossible for a judge to put your dog up.  

Our society seems to be geared toward the younger generation – and that is not any different in our community, where it is easier for the younger, more fit exhibitors to show their dogs well. But there is a definite place – and need – for the more experienced breeder and exhibitor. I have been extremely fortunate in having wonderful mentors throughout my “dog career.” So where did I go to learn? It was not the exhibitor who has been part of our community for a year and loudly exclaims, “I have a right to my opinion.” No, you don’t.

Opinions – knowledgeable opinions – are earned. Passing along this knowledge is a privilege, and I am disappointed that more exhibitors don’t ask those who have “paid their dues” to pass on this knowledge. A mentor is not going to look for you – you need to look for a mentor.  And yet, how many times have mentors reached out and tried to help those new to their breed only to be rebuffed as “past their prime,” while the “newbies – who already knew it all – went down the wrong path? Sometimes it seems that the “young’uns” so easily know right from wrong, and somehow, these distinctions become more difficult as we get older. And are we to “cast pearls before swine?” How many of you – as you got older – have found that some of the things your parents said when you were a youngster and thought to be stupid, have now revealed themselves as truth and intelligence? 

Consider Barbra Streisand as she beautifully sang: 

Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time rewritten every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we, would we,
Could we, could we? 

May be beautiful and yet
What's too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget … 

May be beautiful and yet
What's too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget 

So it's the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were
The way we were 

And so even though the “outside world” becomes more and more divided, I am thankful that our community and family find room for all its members – no matter age, levels of experience or (supposed) social status – and this inclusion makes us all stronger and better for it. We simply want to love and show our beloved dogs, and leave it to the judges to sort them out – no matter who is at the other end of the lead. It is for the judge to understand that speed in the ring is not better – in fact, it is probably worse. Faster is absolutely not better, and sometimes our old legs remind us of that. 

And now let’s consider the poem by Dylan Thomas …  

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night. 




And now a public-service message for air travelers: When you are wearing a backpack and turn in those narrow lanes on a plane, where do you think your backpack is going? That’s right – into my head or shoulder! Pay attention – you are not the only one on the plane. 

What do you think? 



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