From the monthly column "Becoming", ShowSight Dog Show Magazine, May 2019 Issue. Click to subscribe.
I love stand-alone Nationals. I understand why the people who have small-entry breeds often prefer to hold their National in conjunction with an all-breed show. And I think they are missing out on a huge opportunity to promote lasting bonds among their members. I have written about this before. I was highly criticized for not understanding the financial and logistical problems small clubs face. And I have not changed my mind. Stand-alone Nationals have benefits that far outweigh the negatives. Put them on the day before an all-breed show, or combine a couple of regionals in the same week, but allow them to be the only event on which the exhibitors need to focus for that special event.
Poodle Club of America (PCA) holds the finest National event I have ever been privileged to attend, and I am a committed fan of the Basset Nationals. Attending PCA has been on my personal bucket list for years, but I never seemed to make time to get away during the five days it was held. However, this year I had a great excuse. My daughter is showing a Standard Poodle. When she told me that her breeder really wanted to attend the PCA National with her puppy, she asked if it would be possible to leave for a few days during a very busy Spring Break holiday at our boarding kennel. I thought about it and told her I would let her go on one condition. She had to invite her mother to go along. She agreed, and I made plans!
PCA has been hosting their National at Purina Farms, so the drive was not difficult. We packed our one Poodle puppy, all of her equipment, our luggage and various other things requested by her breeder who was flying in from Seattle. I didn’t even need to take my fully stocked show van to accommodate this small entry. We left at noon on Tuesday and arrived at the show site about 7:00 pm. Unfortunately we were about an hour late for the evening cocktail party hosted by our breeder, Debra Fergusen-Jones, but we gave her the fresh fruit and snacks we brought anyway. The bar was still open, and the live music went on for another hour. Most of the exhibitors were in and set-up, and working on their dogs. We brought in our grooming equipment and supplies and walked around the site for a about an hour and a half. The atmosphere was calm and electric with anticipation. I felt like a kid in a candy store! Not only were there Poodles everywhere (I have always adored this breed), but the transformation of the site was like nothing I have ever seen at a dog show.
I’ve been to Purina Farms for other shows. I like the site with its paw-friendly floors, well-stocked mutt-mit stations, exercise areas and convenient bathing stations. The on-site café has decent food, and everything except local hotels is convenient. Shows held there run efficiently, and they are certainly dog-friendly. It’s a very nice, quiet, clean, venue that works well. It’s dog-friendly and efficient, but it’s not beautiful on its own. PCA transforms that nice space into a magical place.
PCA doesn’t just decorate a trophy table, they decorate the entire site. No, decorate is not the right word—they landscape the entire site. This year they brought in beautiful artificial turf. Every corner of the two huge rings was completely landscaped with trees, flowers and ornamental plants. The entrances for the rings were garden arbors. It looked like you were at a friend’s outdoor wedding—only indoors. Two sides of each of the rings had risers with six rows of stadium seating with folding chairs. Only the front row appeared to be reserved, so there was always plenty of good seating available for observers who wanted to pop in and watch a class or two.
The restaurant remained open, but the club also hosted beautifully catered luncheons that had wonderful food and a birds-eye view of the landscaped rings. They also hosted a banquet on Thursday evening. The food and the company could not have been better, and prices were reasonable. If you can find a club member to invite you to attend any of these dinners, it’s well worth the cost of the ticket.
One end of the main hall had vendors who sold a huge assortment of products, supplies, equipment and fun clothing. Every vendor had something that appealed to Poodle fanciers, but as a non-Poodle owner, I found lots of cool stuff I could not resist buying. It was absolutely the best place in the world to be if you wanted new combs or shears, or needed something sharpened. No less than three of the country’s top shear retailers were there, and my favorite shear sharpener was also there. Fortunately I knew he would be, so I brought him enough blades and shears to keep him busy for several hours. It is a groomer’s retail heaven.
And here’s the best part about going to PCA. You will probably know a lot more people than you think you will. I was amazed at the number of people I knew personally, or in passing. Some, like me, had just come to observe or go to the judges’ education, but most were showing Poodles or working for somebody who did. You’ve heard me say before that I think people are a lot like the dogs they are drawn to own. Poodles are beautiful, versatile, smart, energetic, light on their feet, and characters who have plenty of cover for their faults. The people who breed, own and show them have a lot of those same characteristics. They are fiercely competitive in the ring, and outside the ring are some of the most delightful, fun people I have had the good fortune to be around. From the young, competitive handlers, to the grooming assistants, to the breeders and owners, to the seasoned pros who do it all—this is a group of well-mannered, interesting people who really don’t know why anyone would own any other breed. Sometimes I wonder the same thing. Then I remember the difference between grooming a Poodle and a Bedlington or Basset, and I’m good!
The actual breed judging for non-Poodle people like me almost becomes secondary. I did love watching the standard bitches. The classes were huge, and the quality was deep. The groomer in me, loved seeing the differences in the trims the top handlers put on their dogs. I notice minute details like where the rosettes are and slight differences in jacket shapes. I love watching the spray-ups. It is enlightening to be surrounded by only Poodle preparation without having to worry about what time a Bedlington or a Basset needs to get to the ring. It’s all Poodles all the time—and it’s always interesting. Other events are fun, too. I loved the hat competition staged on Wednesday evening, and the meals we shared with friendly, engaging people.
In this world of dogs I have been to three shows that I consider must-see “Event Shows”. These are Montgomery County, Westminster and the PCA National. I have not attended Palm Springs, so I can’t comment on whether it belongs in this exclusive category. These are shows that ordinary exhibitors with any breed should attempt to attend. Non-terrier people need to go to a show where they see thousands of terriers instead of the dozens normally seen at all-breed shows. It’s an event, and the quality of the entries is the best in the world, with even the rarest terrier entries deep in quality. If you’re willing to brave the elements in Pennsylvania in October you won’t be disappointed. This experience isn’t possible at any other dog show in the world. Westminster is in Manhattan, so that alone makes it an event worth attending. It’s a huge dog show in a huge dog-friendly city, and the benching with the thousands of spectators makes it unique. And being in New York is worth the extra effort to get there and stay for a few extra days. PCA is the National that sets the standard for every other breed. From start to finish it provides something for everyone. Everything about the PCA National is first class—from the sponsored exhibitor parties, to the landscaped rings, to the auctioning of ring-side grooming spaces, to the vendors, to the experience of being around so many of these beautiful dogs and their people. We arrived too late to watch agility and left before the Best of Breed judging (which we followed closely on our phones on the drive back home). And yet, they were some of the most enjoyable days I’ve ever spent at a dog show. I encourage everyone, regardless of your breed, to put attending this show on your bucket list, too. You won’t be disappointed.