Bo Bengtson At Large | Happy New Year

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Once again it’s that time when I wish you a Happy New Year — with happy, healthy and handsome puppies if you are a breeder, lots of wonderful wins under judges you respect for those of you who are handlers or exhibitors, many interesting assignments if you’re a judge... and lots of enjoyment in our sport regardless of whether you are involved in any of these activities or just watching from the outside, wondering if this is something you might want to be involved in.

At the same time that we are looking forward to the new year, this is also an opportunity to look back to the past. For me, that means celebrating a half century in dogs: last month it was exactly 50 years since I went to my first dog show as a teenager.

I still remember that first show so well. I remember the Wire Fox Terrier that won Best in Show — an English import named Ch. Florin of Falstaff, on his toes with suppressed excitement and a wonder of artful trimming and presentation (or so I thought then, at least). I remember a Pekingese whose eyes were like glowing coals and that stared at me with endless disdain. I remember scores of Afghan Hounds of the kind you could admire but didn’t dare touch. I remember Poodles which seemed like the ultimate in sophistication at the time, although I would probably be embarrassed to admit this if I saw them today. Most of all I remember the general feeling of fascination at discovering a whole new world: so many wonderful dogs, so many different breeds, so many colorful people, so much to watch...

That feeling really has not gone away in all those intervening years. Perhaps I’m a little more discerning now and it takes more for the adrenaline to start pumping, but give me a bunch of beautiful dogs of almost any breed in a ring together, and a judge who looks like he or she knows what they are doing, and I can still watch, fascinated, as the drama unfolds: who’s selected and who’s not, the reasons for and against, what was wrong with that wonderful dog... The old magic still casts a spell. To me, and to a lot of other people, there is almost nothing more interesting to watch.

That isn’t all of it, of course. Eventually you learn about bloodlines and breed standards, about grooming and conditioning, perhaps even the finer points of handling. You learn about not just your own breed but about those related to it, and others that are not even similar but fascinating exactly because they are so different from what you’re used to. You learn about who’s who and what’s what in your own breed and others, you learn about history and the fascinating dogs and people who came before you, and you learn that this is not just something that occurs at your local level but nationally, even globally. It’s a wide world of dogs out there, and you’re part of it. My beginnings, like those of so many other American dog people, were in Europe, and I’m sure I would never have traveled so far or met so many interesting people if it weren’t for dogs.

You make friends when you’re involved in dogs, and some of them last a lifetime. You learn about people, how to deal with conflict and competition, egos and vanities — even, perhaps, your own. And best of all, the dogs are always there, warm and accepting, affectionate and supportive, loving you for who you are even when things are at their worst. It’s possible to love dogs without being interested in dog shows — odd as that seems to many of us — but not really the other way around: if you like the shows better than the dogs you have no place in this sport. It’s the love for dogs and the enjoyment of being in their company that is the reason we all stay involved in this sport.

I sometimes meet people in other walks of life who have no all-consuming interest, and it makes me realize how lucky we are to have this passion: a reason to get up in the morning, something that’s a comfort when things are bleak and never, ever gets boring. There’s always an upcoming show, a new star on the horizon or the next litter to plan. Sure, there’s heartbreak and sorrow, disappointment and sadness, too, but the rewards are so sweet that we always keep coming back for more.

When you’ve been deeply involved in an activity for half a century, perhaps it’s natural to wonder just what things would have been like if you had spent your life doing something else. Why dogs — why not academia, politics, science, the arts or some other occupation? They are all worthy pursuits, no question about it, but if you’re truly fascinated by dogs there really isn’t a choice: the dog interest would have gotten in the way if you tried to devote yourself to anything else.

A lot of people consider dog shows and purebred dogs a rather frivolous hobby, but I don’t agree. It’s much more than that. It may not be brain surgery or rocket science, and perhaps it’s not really changing the future of mankind in any major way, but I have always thought that being involved in dogs is a very worthy pursuit. It’s a peaceful, stimulating and never-ending activity which opens doors to many other parts of the world and, best of all, involves daily contact with a creature which has been a faithful companion to mankind for many thousands of years — and how many life interests can you say that about?

At this time, when dog shows and purebred dogs are attacked from so many sides, it’s good for us to remember the positive aspects of being a dog fancier. Let’s hope this will be clear to even more people in 2009!

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