Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Haute Dog

I love dogs. I grew up with them. We currently have two aging Golden Retreivers, both of them 13 years old. Muffin we bought as an 8 week old puppy (she was one of 14 or 16 in the litter, one of the nine females, and I chose her when she came over and put her head on my ankle and fell asleep.) Sheba we adopted as a 7 month old rescue. Sheba's older by two months, but she still acts like a puppy with a lot of bounce. Muffin's entered the stage where she sleeps more than she does anything else. Both of them are wonderful, largely silent, companions but Sheba occasionally turns into a watch dog. She doesn't like the gardeners and doesn't like other strangers at the door. Good dog, that Sheba. She's got huge furry feet. If she hadn't come with a name, we would have called her Hobbit.

Last night, I watched the finals of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the most prestigious dog show in the United States. I have no desire to show dogs (I'm not particularly interested in showing my horse, either) because I think my dogs are just happy to be companions (Ace, however, likes an audience) and I'm not interested in the politics of the show world. But I do like looking at the pretty dogs done up to display their best.

The first year I became aware of the Westminster show was 1964. My parents had rented the upper floor of our house to a woman named Irene Harris who owned three whippets. It was the year that Ch. Courtenay Fleetwood of Pennyworth, a.k.a. "Ricky," a whippet, won Best in Show. I think that was the same year that Betsy, one of the three whippets living up stairs, went "Winner's Bitch" in the breed against Ricky at Westminster. (It has been a long time, so I may not be remembering this quite correctly.) I noticed that Pennyworth Kennels had a whippet in Westminster again this year, no doubt descended from the 1964 winner.

Irene later bred Betsy to Ricky (either the same year or a year later) and for what seemed forever (and was probably only a few months) there was an 8' x 8' x 8' cage in the room over our living room where half a dozen whippet puppies would run the Santa Anita Hundred Grander many times a day. I loved those puppies and would sometimes get to baby sit them. I think Irene kept one puppy from that litter, a dog appropriately named Zip.

Irene went on to marry my widowed grandfather and I, unfortunately, lost track of her after he died in 1985. The Internet being a wonderful thing, I tracked down a reference to her co-owning another champion whippet a few years ago and I do wonder how she is doing and where she is living. She was a good friend to me during my difficult teenage years, a good role model (a Seven Sisters college graduate), and helped me get through Latin.

In 1964, we were lucky if Wide World of Sports covered the finals of the Westminster show the week after it happened. Now days, we get 6 hours of coverage in prime time on USA Network, so we get to see at least the breed judging and the Best in Show animals. I like to watch the Hound and Sporting Groups. I only managed to catch the Working Group last night, but I had read about the beagle who won the hounds on Monday and it was clear that he was a crowd pleaser in the Best in Show judging. To the joy of newscasters everywhere, the beagle nicknamed "Uno" won and references to Snoopy abound.

It's hard for me to like poodles, with all of their froo-froo grooming. Pompoms everywhere on the two that made it into the final seven dogs. They were cut almost identically, the toy and the standard, both snow white. What a nightmare to keep clean. I confess, if I had a poodle, I'd let it go rasta. There was a poodle showing that way a few years ago. It looked like a puli. I think poodles are rather cute when they are cut short so they have tight, curly hair. The rest of it is too much work. It's hard to believe they were once raised to be hunting water dogs.

Just to be contrary, I love watching the Afghans, and I'd own one if Len would let me. Sight hounds are so elegant, but they do have minds of their own. "If I see it, it is mine." "If I can reach it, it is mine." "What the hell do you mean by 'fetch'." "I think this bed is mine. See if you can find a space on it." I think that it would be elegant to go riding with Ace with an Afghan keeping us company. What a mess that could be to clean up afterwards, though. Ever since I first read The Lord of the Rings I've wanted a black and silver Afghan I could name Gandalf Greybeard. (I also wanted a grey horse I could call Shadowfax, but I've learned the right horse is never the wrong color.) There was a spectacular, mostly silver, Afghan in the Westminster competition, but a mostly black Afghan won. The videos of all the breed, group, and BIS judging are available at the Westminster web site.

A couple of years ago, I looked into adopting an Afghan, but the Afghan rescue people don't seem terribly inclined to actually find homes for the dogs. I visited the main rescue house two different times, but no one made an effort to visit our house to check it out so we could adopt one of their dogs. My initial experience trying to deal with the Golden Retriever rescue hasn't been promising either. The "adoption donation" at both organizations is really high for youngsters. I don't know if that's to filter people who might not have enough money for dog upkeep or not, but the truth is that the initial cost of an animal is peanuts compared to upkeep. Just ask any horse owner.


Victoria Cummings said...

I love the old girls. My Pepper, who is half lab, half Springer, just turned 13. She's having a tough time this winter. Her legs are starting to give out on her.
Stop by my blog, there's an award waiting for you.

M. C. Valada said...

Thank you, Victoria. I'm flattered to have the award. And it seems like you've directed a few more readers in my direction because of it, which I really appreciate.