Stuck on deadline, I thought about this column that ran in a NetPlaces site. Many of you won’t recognize the people below but that isn’t sad, it just says our dog world moves on with new dogs, new faces, bigger and better shows and more savvy judges to sort them all out.
From the monthly column "On The Line". Originally printed in our February 2016 issue. Click to subscribe.
Many magazines have folded, but the fancy is grateful to Doll-McGinnis Publications (now AraMedia Group Inc.), and I’m honored to be a part of that tradition. I have a friend who gets all her books on Kindle and says I’m old-fashioned, but there’s something about holding a book, turning pages or caressing an interesting magazine cover (admit it, you’ve done that too).
There was a time when aspiring handlers apprenticed under master handlers and graduation day came when they were finally allowed to take a dog in the ring. Apprentice handlers picked up poop, X’d the string, and finally, they were taught to show-groom according to the breed and individual dog. The best of them took time to look inside a dog’s head instead of just evaluating side-gait. They learned to motivate and train the dog so that it loved to show. That perfect synchrony and pride in performance wowed ringside and judges. It still does.
Look around the rings today. Before the time warp, it was hard to tell the handlers from the judges. Sometimes it still is. At outdoor shows last summer, I saw old school pro handlers in sports coats and judges wearing,
Are there still generational breeders? I remember watching those kids grow up… and then getting beat by the kid I used to baby-sit while her parents made ring-call. How many grown up children do you see these days?
Dog show grounds have changed which I suspect is a primary reason entries are shrinking. Once upon a time, we parked close to the building or even at ringside at outdoor shows. I remember everyone complaining about hiking to the rings as Old Dominion grew and an elderly terrier icon swearing she’d never be back to Montgomery as she struggled through a mile of mud. Is it better now?
As owner handlers, we used to leave our dogs in the motor home. Parking was such that Bill could run out to stash a class dog and get our special to the ring in plenty of time for a quick brush-up. But the Cherry Blossom and Tar Heel circuits expanded and handlers started using bicycles, then motor scooters, and finally, everyone had to buy golf carts! Perry was impossible without show site transportation. I thought that was just a southern anomaly until I flew out to Del Valle and decided I’d never complain about the GA fairgrounds again.
Judges have changed too. As a bumbling novice, in 1967 I finished my first Rottie bitch in just three shows, and a year later, handled a friend’s male to BB at the Chicago International over a ring full of top ranked Rottweilers. Time stood still in 1975 when Sachmo won his first Group placement. Don’t laugh. Akitas were barely recognized and most judges were afraid of them. Thankfully, there were judges like Peter Knoop, Marie Moore, Rex Vandeventer, Roy Ayers, Millie Heald, Ed Bracy, Ginny Hampton, Lou Harris, Connie Bosold, Tom Gately, Eleanor Evers, Joe Heine and others who cared enough to learn about a new breed, which at that time was often un-groomed, untrained and shown by novice owners who lacked control. Add “brave” to the resume of those judges!
Times do change. Most can’t even remember a time when handlers were first of all, breeders. Tip Tipton, Roy Ayers and Peggy Adamson may be unfamiliar names to people today. Once upon a time, judging ranks were pretty equally divided between handlers and breeders, lending a perfect balance to the art of judging. Now, since few people actually do more than dabble as breeders (more owners are in fact “backers” not breeders), that balance is forever gone.
The time machine has shifted to another dimension in the sport of dogs. I wonder how many of us are old enough to notice?