Around The World in 50 Years, Part 6

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How do you describe Santa Barbara?

If it were a person she would be the kind of woman you love to hate: gorgeous, rich, a little bit lazy and very much aware of the fact that everyone watches her with a certain amount of envy. Stretching  ocean breezes, she doesn’t seem to have a care in the world… but there’s a lot more going on inside than you would expect.

When I first came to Santa Barbara in 1967 it hit me right away, as it does almost everyone who visits for the first time, that this must be paradise on Earth: the beaches, the mountains, the beautiful white buildings... You don’t have to be from the frozen North to be blown away by all this, but it probably helps. Santa Barbara is ideally located as a getaway resort town, not much more than an hour’s drive from Los Angeles, but the snake in the grass is the city’s location on a narrow strip of land between the mountains and the sea, so land is at a premium. Real estate is unreal: even in the current economic downturn Santa Barbara lists hundreds of multi-million-dollar estates — although the joke is, of course, that an outhouse in this place goes for what a palace might cost elsewhere. In such a place it is difficult to find the space required to hold a large dog show, and it’s remarkable that Santa Barbara for so many years managed to host the biggest dog show in the U.S. — a world-class event that many who experienced it still remember as the epitome of dog shows.

At the time of my first visit — accompanied by a slew of Salukis from the Srinagar kennels, where I was working then — this was already a large and important event: 2,905 dogs were entered. However, it was not yet the top show even in California: the Kennel Club of Beverly Hills that year had just about as many dogs — “near 3,000” according to Kennel Review’s report. Ramona Van Court was then steering the Beverly Hills event with an iron hand, and it’s obvious that the show under her rule reached previously unforeseen heights. A whole chapter could be written about why dog shows wax and wane, peak for a few years and then disappear into that netherworld of more or less anonymous shows from which hardly anyone seems to return. How many American dog shows, other than Westminster, have managed to remain in the national consciousness for more than a couple of decades? The brightest Santa Barbara years were still to come, but the show was definitely on its way up.

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