With Loki closing in on eleven months old, I may be about to head back to the show ring. Today, I want to share a post from a couple of years back. It recounts an experience that I had at what would be the last AKC show I entered. It was the event that ruined things for me in a big way. If I move forward in February with the show I am contemplating, I have to be ready for this. The question is…am I ready?
Almost a year ago, we welcomed a beautiful AKC registered Newfoundland pup into our home. For quite some time, I’d considered trying my hand at showing a dog in what is referred to by the AKC as the “Conformation” ring. The very few books out there for beginners when it comes to stepping into the show ring warn against a bit of a “closed culture” mentality. The idea behind this is to have your dog judged based on the AKC standard of the breed that is three pages in length and found on the AKC’s Newfoundland page.
On June 25th and 26th I attended an event in Canby, Oregon. Day one had us in the ring at 8AM, so obviously we arrived at 7:30. We were the first ones there and soon had my number on my arm after checking in with the ring steward. I would be competing in the Amateur Owner/Handler group on Saturday and just the basic 12 to 18 month group on Sunday. I chose to do it that way because I felt it would be nice to get our feet wet with what I anticipated to be less competition in my class. I was correct as I would be the ONLY amateur owner/handler.
We watched and waited as one group after another was called. At last, the call was made for the winners of each class to enter the ring for Best in Breed. The problem was that I had not yet been called for my individual class. I walked over to the steward and asked when the Amateur Owner/Handler’s would get their turn and was told by the judge in the ring that I had been called and missed my chance. The error in that statement was that I had stood within five feet of the steward through the entire event so far.
Almost immediately, a few people stepped forward and corrected her. Additionally, the steward apologized and stated that she had skipped me. The judge’s response to that was, “No, you called him three times and he did not respond. He missed his chance.” Up until that point, I was mostly confused and a little bothered. The moment that the judge made that comment, which was a blatant lie, my temper found its footing. Basically…I got angry. It only got worse when the steward again insisted that she had NOT called me to which the judge again told her that “Yes, you called him three times. We are moving forward and he missed his chance. I won’t go back now. He is too late.”
By now, a couple of other handlers were actually stepping forward and taking my side, insisting along with the steward that I had not been called. The judge simply dismissed all those remarks and told me I was too late and that I had been called three times. She would continue to repeat that statement no matter what was said to her by me, the steward , or anybody else. Somebody who knew what these situations needed in order to be handled properly had sent for the AKC rep as the scene escalated and my temper edged towards critical mass. At one point, I told the judge point blank, “This is an excellent way to encourage new people to try and become interested in showing their dog.”
That earned me a dismissive wave as she returned to the ring and kept insisting the Newfoundlands enter and get ready even though it had been explained to her that the AKC rep was on the way. When he arrived and heard what happened, he said that I should be allowed in and that the steward has expressed that SHE missed calling me when it was my turn. The thing is, I already knew how this would play out. This judge had made up her mind. My Freyja could have been the absolute picture of the breed standard, I wasn’t going to get anywhere close to a ribbon. I stated that out loud for the record as well…directly to the woman who stood glaring at me from the ring with her amrs folded across her body in a very universal display of body language. The judge did not disappoint. Since I’d been able to observe ALL the other Newfies in the competition, I’d seen (and noted to my wife Denise) that she was a very “hands-on” judge that gave an incredibly thorough inspection of each Newfie that stood before her. Also, when sent the dog and handler on their circuit of the ring, she watched them all the way up the line and past the first turn before moving on. She did that even when there had only been one dog showing in a particular grouping.
She barely came close to Freyja, had me show her teeth, stepped back and then told me to make my circuit. No inspection…nothing. I glanced over when I made my first turn and she had already returned to the table, had her back to me and was done. Of course we were called right back in with all the other winners (since we were the ONLY Amateur Owner/Handler…we won our group) and she never once even looked at me.
Let me go on record as saying that I did not anticipate a win. We are newbies…I am still learning and I don’t yet really know what I am doing. I am probably the biggest detriment to any chance that Freyja has of winning a championship and earning that ‘Ch.’ on her pedigree. The thing is, it wasn’t about that for us. I have had people say that maybe I could turn Freyja over to a professional handler. If this was my whole life…sure. But Freyja is not a piece of paper or a series of letters before or after her name. Above everything else, she is our girl. Our sweet Newfie.
Clubs like the AKC state that they are about ensuring the dogs are kept up to a standard. Anybody who has drifted around this sphere knows that there are plenty of dogs that win the ‘Ch.” designation (not just Newfs, but all breeds) with hereditary medical issues that are overlooked as appearance is prized over substance.
I think I am done with conformation. There are other things that I believe are more important. For instance, the Newf is a water dog. I think a WRDX is a goal that she and I can get excited about. Water rescue is a useful skill. There is also draft cart hauling. We might give that a look…but I believe that my girl should be able to further explore her love of water. Those are events that are pass/fail based on specific requirements. Beauty is and will always be subjective to the beholder. I KNOW Freyja is gorgeous. I don’t need a judge to tell me that. But if the AKC is paying attention (and I REALLY doubt they are, but you never know), maybe they need to re-think their social game. If you are famous for being exclusionary…maybe a personality makeover is worth considering. I know of at least one judge that could use one.