Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dog Show, Part 2: Not What I Expected

This is the back end of an English Sheepdog on the way to the ring.

        Being at a dog show is not all that different from watching one on TV or watching “Best of Show”. Except that it’s real. Seriously: there are the giant puffy English Sheepdogs parading to the show ring. There are the severe women in suits and flats holding dog treats in their mouths. There are Border Collies running agility right in front of you. I don’t know, maybe I didn’t really believe dogs could do all that weaving and jumping, like it was CGI or something. In person it’s unbelievable, but you know it’s not a digital effect.
        There were vendor booths set up around the perimeter of the place, hawking goods that only crazy dog people would buy. When I saw an exercise ball for dogs I knew I was in another world. “It can be used by our four-legged friends for core strengthening, increased range of motion and flexibility, neuromuscular facilitation, sensory and perceptual stimulation, joint alignment, and balance control.” I shit you not.
        Doggy treadmills, for those days you just can’t drag yourself outside. Handcrafted sterling silver jewelry: what self-respecting breeder could resist a giant brooch showing two Great Danes in profile?
        “We’ve been specializing in Danes for over forty years,” the jewelry guy told me. Awesome.
        Huge tapestries of YOUR BREED HERE only 250 dollars. Or maybe a purse with YOUR BREED on it. Grooming tools: coat rakes, clippers, $200 shears.  Sanitary pads for your “bitch in heat”: look it up, it’s a serious term. Dog people throw the word “bitch” around no problem, like nobody uses the word to describe anything other than a female dog ready for breeding.
        Dan and I said goodbye to our Cardigan breeder friend and wandered over to the booth for the Cardigan Welsh Corgis. Every breed had a booth, and on Sunday morning there were dogs at every one. The Best in Group judging was taking place a little later and the crowds were thickening.
        At the Cardi booth, the three ladies volunteering there had four beautiful dogs (okay, maybe some were bitches, but I wasn’t going there) and lots of admirers. Cardis are the kind of dogs that make people go “Awwwww, look how cute!”  So I was busy being one of those people while Dan started chatting with one of the ladies. He told her about Nathan, and me, and how much I love the breed.
        “Here’s my Nathan,” I said, pulling some photos out of my bag.
        She clucked over him (“such a beautiful brindle boy!”) and said she was sorry, they are never with us long enough.
        “I’m Sherilyn,” she said. “I’m the head of the Cardigan Rescue here in California. You know, we have a beautiful 2-year-old boy who needs a home…”
        She pointed to a photo of a tri-colored dog with a wistful face and great big ears. The caption underneath said “Bowie 2 years Good w/other dogs”.
        Dan heard the word “rescue” and his face lit up. Sherilyn had her prey in her sights. The fish was on the hook. Time to reel him in.
        “We found him up in Atascadero, running around with an old black lab. No tags, no microchip. And he’s still got his dewclaws. Most breeders remove those early on, so we didn’t think he was from anybody we know. Nobody claimed him.”
        Dan nodded excitedly and I scowled at him. Too late. Hook in mouth.
        “He’s a wonderful dog,” she continued. “So sweet. He’s with a foster family up in Lompoc now.”

        By now Dan was holding the picture. “Is he good with kids?”
        I started to hiss at him under my breath. “Don’t do this. Don’t.”
        “Oh, he loves kids. And he’s great with other dogs. He really needs to be with a family with kids.”
        “We’ve got three! And a little dog who’s been very lonely since Nathan died.”
        Sherilyn reached for a clipboard with a xeroxed form on it. It was the application to adopt. She handed it to Dan.
        “Hold on there, cowboy.” I placed myself between the two of them. (“Excuse me just a moment, will you please?” I murmured politely over my shoulder to Sherilyn.)
        “What?” Mr. Wide-Eyed-Innocent-It’s Just-A-Piece-Of-Paper asked.
        “IT”S TOO SOON!” I said. “It’s only been a month. It’s too soon.” And besides, I have my heart set on a puppy, I didn’t say. Puppy puppy puppy.
        Sherilyn piped up behind me, driving the sale home. “I’m telling you, Bowie is a special boy. Probably the sweetest dog I’ve ever rescued. A real lover.”
        I squinched my face at Dan and whispered, “Don’t do this. Do not. I hate you for doing this.”
        But I was outnumbered.
        He’s already housebroken, they said.
        He’s neutered, chipped and has all his shots.
        He’s socialized to kids and other dogs.
        Yes, he’s a beauty.
        Yes, he’s definitely a purebred Cardigan.
        Yes, he’s a fantastic dog, but Melissa (the foster mom) already has three Corgis and a female she wants to breed.
        Also, the adoption fee is about one-third the cost of a new puppy.
        No training. No pee and poop in the house. No frayed nerves over hyper Claire being too crazy with a little pup. No AKC fees.
        Plus – and this is big –
        He’s a rescue.
        Dan is all about rescue dogs, and I’m all about Cardigans.
        We both get what we want.

        The next weekend we brought him home. He was perfect, even his name. We’d been talking about a rock star name for the next dog: Joe Strummer, maybe, or Chrissie Hynde if it was a girl. Charlie lit up when we told him it was Bowie. He loves Ziggy Stardust.
        In about 15 minutes he owned the place and won Clementine over. The kids didn’t faze him at all. He has a look in his eyes that’s part wisdom and part mischief, and when they got to be too much he just walked away. Smart. Except when it came to using the dog door; that mystified him. How does that other dog walk through that wall? I don’t get it.
        That night, I put his bed on the floor next to ours. “Here ya go, Bo,” I said, patting the cushy part.
        He looked at me, tilted his head, and then somehow with his stubby Corgi legs he leapt up onto our bed and curled up next to Dan.
        “No, no,” I said. A dog in the bed? Never. No way. That’s why we had a tall bed anyway. Plus Dan hated it when the cat (rest her soul) had slept up there. (“There’s cat hair on my pillow!”) I picked Bowie up and set him on the floor.
        Pulling a sleeping bag over to the side of the bed, I said, “Here you go. I’ll sleep with you down here tonight.” I patted the pillows. "Come on, Bo!"
        He looked at me, tilted his head, and then used my reclining body as a step to jump back up on the bed. This time, he turned around and peered at me down on the floor, his tongue hanging out, smiling.

        And now we need a bigger bed.

Bowie cuddles with the Dogwalker-In-Chief.
"Merry Christmas, Lady! Where's my cookie?"

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dog Show!

Yep, I love dogs.
I love dogs.
Like a lot of dog lovin’ people, I knew that I was gonna need another second dog after Nathan died. Little dog Clementine became even more neurotic in the days after his (as she undoubtedly saw it) disappearance. She started out at our house with both a cat and a dog for companionship. The cat died in August ’08, and now her dog buddy was gone. So she’s been shaking a lot more, and unfortunately her nervous peeing has increased. She needs a friend.
I especially love Cardigan Welsh Corgis.
Nathan was a purebred. Clem is a rescue mutt; Dan has a thing about rescue dogs. I’m all for it too, but I’m sorry, I’m going to need a Cardi in my life forever. Which is okay. Because I don’t ever want to have fewer than two dogs. Three would be great but we’ll need a bigger house. Oh yeah and I want a couple of cats, too.
But I digress.
I started looking for Cardi breeders out here in Southern California. Going through the CWCCA (figure it out), I found a few. Most of them did not have websites, so I clicked on the two that did. One of them had a pretty nice site, including a page for an upcoming litter. There I saw that she had posted the pedigree (the record of the dog’s bloodline) of the parents (the technical terms being “sire” and “dam”).
I couldn’t believe what I saw. The sire’s pedigree went back to Nathan’s bloodline. In fact, one of Nathan’s littermates was in there if you went back far enough.
Now what are the odds of that? Really?
I contacted the breeder and told her the whole story. We went back and forth a bit, trying to set up a visit. She lives in Ventura, not too far away. But we couldn’t get our dates right. We wanted to come up on Sunday, December 5th, because it was a day the kids were with their dad, and I didn’t have my writing group, so Dan and I had the whole day to ourselves. (It happens occasionally.) But the breeder told me that she was showing a friend’s Cardi in the Eukanuba Dog Show in Long Beach that day.
For those of you unfamiliar with the wacky world of dog shows, the Eukanuba is pretty much the second biggest show in the U.S. after Westminster. Unlike Westminster, which is always at Madison Square Garden, its location changes each year. (Next year it’s in Orlando.)
So this huge dog show just happens to be in Southern California on the one day we have free, when we’re looking for a breeder, and it’s the day the Cardigans are being judged. Again, what are the odds?
I would like to attribute all this to an angel doggy in heaven who’s helping me move on. I really don’t know. But it’s a nice thought.
I’ve wanted to go to a dog show ever since I fell for the breed almost 15 years ago. Dan could see how excited I was; so, being a good sport, he got us to Long Beach that Sunday in plenty of time to see the little Cardis in the show ring.
I expected to have a great time, and I did. But I was not prepared for what happened that day. Stay tuned… I’ll tell you the rest of the story on Sunday.

"The corgi with a tail" - Cardigans on parade!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.

I'm really glad I wrote the previous entry when I did. Nathan let me know it was time on November 15th, and I was kissing his sweet head when he drew his last, peaceful doggy breath. Up until the last day, he was smiling and shadowing me, if slowly and with extra effort. In fact, he was like that until the last few hours.

Thanks for the good times, old man.

The kids were going to their dad's that night, and I let them know Nathan was probably not going to make it. So they were able to say their goodbyes, and I was able to be the grownup and make the decision to help him before he was suffering too much. Outside the vet's office, I sat with him in the car an extra moment, listening to the sublime irony of R.E.M.'s "It's The End Of The World As We Know It" playing on the radio.

My wonderful vet, Dr. Speas, stayed after office hours for us and Dan and I were both there. Anyone who's had to make that decision knows how sad and painful it is. My friends, I will not revisit that scene, because I have cried enough and I know you did too, when it was your time.

Since he's been gone, there have been a number of very interesting and serendipitous events. I'll be writing about them soon. Stay tuned and thanks to all my readers for your compassion and support.

Much love to you all.

(title quote by great American philosopher Dr. Seuss.)