February 15th, 2010

Yapstravaganza: Catchup and Wrapup

Ok. I had hoped to post an update each night we were up in Denver at the dog show, but hotel connectivity is evidently a lot less reliable than most people think. (It went away after the first night and I did not have the time nor the energy to pursue a fix or alternatives.) So much for the Cloud--like I ever believed in reliably pervasive connectivity.

Anyway. We got into the dog show routine fairly quickly, and it was pretty aerobic: Awaken at 5 AM, scramble into clothes, pile dogs into kennels, pile kennels onto the rolly cart, pile grooming bins on top of kennels, top off with the grooming table (one of three; the other two are the scruffy ones that we leave in the cattle pens) and bungie the whole mess together. Then roll the laden cart into the elevator, get it down to parking ramp, pull it all apart, and stuff everything into its appointed place in the 4Runner. Run through the drive-up window at McDonalds, get McMuffins, and eat in the car, with the engine running when it's less than 20 degrees out. (Which it was on Days 3 and 4.) Fight early rush-hour traffic on I-70 for the six miles to the National Western Complex. Wait in line for a spot at the unloading docks, which are ironically plastered with signs reading ABSOLUTELY NO DOGS ALLOWED. (Dogs are not a good fit at cattle and horse shows.) Haul everything out of the 4Runner and pile it on the rolly cart. Roll the cart in the doors and through the fetid vastness of the cattle pens to the open grooming area we've staked out for the local bichon club. Then I get to run back to the car, drive it what seems like three counties east to the big parking lot, and walk back. While Carol gets her gear laid out, I carry each dog to the public potty pens, which are bedroom-sized chicken-wire enclosures ankle deep in fresh wood chips. Unlike the area surrounding the complex, the potty pens are grime-free and won't make a pure-white dog's paws turn gray. Even walking them on the cattle pen floors makes short work of a bath and groom job, so we carry them everywhere they have to go. (Walking them on pavement gives them a condition we call "pave paws," which is an aerospace joke I expect almost none of you to get.)

Finally (and by now it's maybe 7 and just about sunrise) we get one dog up on each of our three tables and start spiffing them. The other club members arrive about then, but since they have only one dog apiece, there's less for them to do. I hold the blow dryer while Carol spritzes, combs, brushes, and tips (scissor trims) three bichon haircuts. She's good; she can chitchat with her friends all through the process, and although it takes about two and a half hours, we generally have the dogs looking about as good as they're capable of looking well before ring time.

Ring time for bichons is mid-morning, from ten to eleven-thirty. Each class is judged separately: Puppies, Open Dog, Open Bitch, and specialty classes like Bred By and Amateur Owner/Handler. Then the winner from each class re-enters the ring by sex for the Winners competition, which results in a Winners Dog and a Winners Bitch. Finally, Winners Dog and Winners Bitch compete against one another (and against "specials," which are dogs and bitches who are already champions but are still showing) for Best of Breed. Later in the day, Best of Breed goes up against Best of Breeds for the other breeds in the group (which for bichons is Non-Sporting) for Best of Group. Finally, the Best of Groups compete for Best in Show.

There are not a lot of bichons as a rule, at least not compared to French Bulldogs (39 this weekend!) and Dalmatians. So judging is fairly quick, and may take all of fifteen minutes to go from individual classes to Best of Breed. After Best of Breed is decided, we all go back down to the cattle pens (dogs tucked under arms or riding in baby strollers) and hang out in the grooming area. Senior club members pass along tips for grooming and handling to junior members (like us) and all the local dog gossip trades around. Lunch is had, though the food at the Complex is legendarily awful. (The Denver locals brown-bag it.) After lunch, people shop at the huckster tables upstairs or just hang out. Dog show attendees come down and wander around the grooming area, petting the dogs, taking pictures, and sometimes asking after puppies. By three or three-thirty, Carol and I begin to retrace our morning steps: We throw the dogs into their kennels, throw the kennels onto the rolly cart, pile whatever we need for the evening on top of the cart, and Carol waits by the docks while I fetch the car. In the early evening, Carol washes some or all portions of Certain Dogs Who Can't Keep Their Noses Off the Floor (nothing like gray-black whiskers on a bichon) and I go fetch Chinese from Panda Express. Come 8:30, we take them to the cleanest patch of grass we can find out beside the hotel, then kiss them good night, jump in the shower, and collapse into bed by 9.

Whew. I'm a congenital insomniac, but at dog shows, I sleep like a rock.

As for how we did, well, not as well as we'd hoped, but not as badly as we (occasionally) feared, especially when the pack was misbehaving, getting filthy when we weren't looking, or making a racket. Aero took Winners Dog and picked up two points on Saturday. One other male dog withdrew from the show, so we didn't have a major, alas. On Sunday, something a little odd happened: The judge was one who simply liked large dogs. So Jack beat bantamweight Aero in Open Dog, and then in Winners Dog, Dash beat Jack, largely because Jack was still a little show-shy and wouldn't keep his tail up. So our rowdy, scruffy, eight-month puppy bested his pack mates to become Winners Dog and win his first two points. Again, we did not have a major, but then we did not think Dash would take Winners Dog, either. As we expected, Dash was beaten for Best of Breed by a past-champion special, but we didn't think he'd get even that far.

At today's judging, Aero again took Winners Dog and the two points, giving him four for the weekend. He now has ten out of fifteen, and needs only those five points and one more major win to become a new champion. Carol is delighted. We're both exhausted. The dogs are glad to be back home and are already fast asleep. Next show? The four-day Bichon Frise National Specialty (which I call Bichonicon) in Indianapolis, over the first full weekend in May. I expect to sleep well there, but still--that's about as soon as I could handle it!

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