Bo Bengtson At Large

Mr. Clinton, Whippets, and More

We all know it takes something special to get dog people talking about anything other than dogs. Such an event occurred during the American Whippet Club National Specialty in Eugene, Ore., on April 25. There were rumors that some big shot was going to spend the night at the host hotel, and walking through the lobby with my dogs that evening I found none other than Bill Clinton, past president of the United States and potential First Husband, chatting with some of the dog people in the lobby.

The security guys seemed a little nervous, but Mr. Clinton was in no rush at all and ended up spending almost two hours discussing health care and foreign policy with a group of mostly supportive, respectful and well-informed Whippet fanciers.

At one point an enthusiastic puppy succeeded in getting up close and personal with Mr. Clinton. We know that politicians make a career out of kissing babies; I’m not sure if kissing puppies was a new experience for Mr. Clinton, but he handled the incident with his customary aplomb and kissed the puppy right back...

It was a slightly surreal experience to see the past leader of the free world so happily and casually discussing world affairs with a small group of dog people. Usually statesmen of this stature are rushed through with armed guards screening them from any contact with the outside world, but it was obvious that Mr. Clinton was happy to talk to anyone about pretty much any subject that was lobbied at him.

It says a lot about this country, about our past president and also (I hope) something about the dog people that such an impromptu event could take place.

Apparently Mr. Clinton pressed a few more hands before leaving the next morning, but by that time the 94 specials were in the ring... Judge Cindy Scott awarded Best of Breed to the lovely fawn-and-white bitch Ch. Oxford Tobell Fire and Ice.

Over to less exalted pursuits. At another show a couple of weeks earlier a woman I don’t know very well but have seen around ringside for many years stuck her head out from the grooming area and grabbed my sleeve: “Hey, you — I saw something you wrote. I can’t remember what it was but I liked it... ”

That’s literary recognition for you. You ponder weighty matters, compose carefully wrought sentences, polish every phrase until it shines, send it all into cyberspace with the fervent hope that you are going to change the world — only to find that even a reader who likes it doesn’t remember what it was about... If we dog writers get a little too full of our own importance it helps to remember that a large segment of the American dog fancy doesn’t care nearly as much about the written word as we do.

And not everyone likes what they read. One reader objected to my remarks about the occupation of judging in last month’s column. “If you dislike judging so much, why don’t you just stay at home?” sums up her general reaction. Well, that was my whole point: that more people might be interested in pursuing a judging career if the conditions were more appealing.

But of course this reader is right in that I probably painted an unnecessarily bleak picture of what it’s like to be a dog show judge. Certainly there are compensations for the inconveniences, and I’m not talking about the ego booster it undeniably is to be asked to pass judgment over your fellow fanciers’ dogs.

The real attraction of judging dogs  lies in the rare occasions when you get such a wonderful specimen in the ring that your hair almost literally stands on end — perhaps even several such dogs at the same time, or the once-in-a-lifetime privilege of sorting through class after class of top-quality specimens at a big National Specialty. There’s nothing like it, and it’s an experience so far from the regular day-to-day drudgery of all-breed show judging that it occupies a totally different universe.

The funny thing is that at least for a knowledgeable judge it’s much more difficult to judge a class of four below-average dogs than a huge entry with outstanding dogs in every class. Anyone who cares about his or her breed can tell you that placing mediocre dogs is both difficult and soul-destroying: one of the exhibitors will win and be happy, the others will be disappointed, and really none of the dogs is much better than the others, so what does it matter?

I have always felt it’s surprising that AKC does not recognize the simple fact that there are different levels of expertise among judges. In each breed there are judges who are true specialists and others who are capable of — on a good day — sifting the wheat from the chaff, without necessarily being intimately familiar with all the nuances of breed type. In today’s dog show world we need both, but why pretend that all judges are equal? I would be happy to be a Grade A judge in just a few breeds if I can be accepted as a capable B-level judge in a number of others. There are, of course, a small number of judges who may qualify for the A level in many breeds — and quite a few who would be lucky to get to Grade B in any breed — but that’s a different matter.

Agreed? If not, let’s talk…


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