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We Get the Point
San Antonio Dog Shows continued. I killed half an hour shopping. I love the booths at dog shows. I bought Nancy a bookmark with a Glen of Imaal terrier on it – couldn’t believe I found it! – and I bought an extravagantly beautiful and expensive red braided kangaroo-leather lead for Weegie.
Best of all I found a homemade product called Amazing Bait. All-natural baked chicken liver, it was clean to handle and broke easily without crumbling. I opened the package and dumped the contents into my pocket.
I remember how it was when I was showing Wily. In every jacket, every pair of pants, I had stashed liver training treats. At meetings in the eighth floor conference room at work, I would absently reach in my pocket and find myself staring at a brown lump in my hand.
“What is that?” Someone would say.
“Dried liver,” I would reply. “Want some?”
I recognized someone I liked from Joyce’s and waved at her. I ran into Donna.
“No luck so far,” she said.
“Me neither,” I said. “Just another reserve.”
“Hey, don’t knock it,” she said. “That’s good!”
Donna shows boxers. Classes are huge, and for them, a reserve is nothing to sneeze at. With an eskie, I told myself as I wandered around the far end of the group ring, it’s something to sneeze at.
But no. I corrected my negative thinking and checked the time. Better go see how my little camp was doing.
From the end of the aisle of our reserved grooming area I paused and almost gasped aloud at the beautiful dog I saw on the table at the other end. Weegie looked like the real thing. I planted that impression firmly in my head.
She loved the Amazing Bait. I gave her just the one taste to make sure she liked it and then hoarded it for when I would need it. I saw Helen and waved. I gave Weegie to Craig. He would hold her near ringside while I continued my vigil.
Time came. The last thing I remember is entering at a brisk, confident pace as Helen had told me. I noticed that the handler next to me was a hired gun. I put that thought out of my mind and turned my attention to Weegie. We were alone in the ring as far as I was concerned. Just us and, in the corner of my mind and eye, the judge.
He was a very tall man with a kindly and somewhat languid manner. He took the time to look us all over carefully from the side before he began to move us. They don’t all do that, and I like the ones who do. After all, we work to set our dogs up right at the start. We deserve a look.
He sent us around. I was careful not to get out of sight behind the table while I waited my turn for exam and made sure Weegie was well positioned whenever the judge looked our way.
Helen had told me she was sure our table-troubles were over. Though I was not about to let down my guard, her confidence gave me confidence. The day of the octopus notwithstanding, I was beginning to believe. Weegie was good on the table most of the time now, and she was good on this day.
They start with the head. Some clearly are only looking at the proportions, pigmentation and the set of eyes and ears. Others take a moment to connect with the dog, making eye contact and assessing the expression. That’s the kind of judge this was.
I like that kind. I have come to believe that it’s an edge for us. Every judge who takes the time to look Weegie in the eye likes what he or she sees. No doubt about it, there is somebody home in there. Our breed standard mentions an expression that is “keen, intelligent, and alert.” That’s a feature Weegie’s got in spades.
This man smiled slightly at the look he got and moved to the rear. It wasn’t an overly trying examination, and we got through it easily. I set Weegie down carefully, turning my back as I’d been taught, to cover any awkwardness.
“Take her down and back, please,” he said.
We’d practiced this with Craig acting as the judge at a softball field near the house. Craig stood at home plate while we gaited all the way down to first base and back, over and over, until we began to think, “Not too bad.”
When the individual exams were done, we went around again, and then the judge pulled us out. We had won our class. But this time I was ready.
I set her in front of the big numeral “1" and took my blue ribbon. I stuffed it in my pocket with the liver and took my position for the start of the winners bitch class.
Once again, a professional handler lined up behind me. I shut her out and set Weegie up. It crossed my mind that I was asking her to stand over and over, but she did it again and again with good humor.
Around we went, and one more time he sent us each out and back. Out we went. At the far end of the mat, I let the lead go slack and called her. “Weegie,” I said softly, “This way.” She turned on her own, and we headed back. The pace was perfect, brisk and easy.
Right before we got to the judge I again let the leash go slack and called her. “Weegie, look!” I said, just loud enough for her to hear. I held up a piece of Amazing Bait. “Weegie, stand!”
Helen had told us, “You need at least one spectacular move.”
I'd been shocked. What a tall order! Spectacular? I thought, no way, but I searched my mind, thinking almost immediately of the way Weegie snapped to attention, even as a puppy, when something riveted her attention. She had a way of kicking out first one front leg then the other, doing little battements before striking a perfect pose. I love it when she does that.
I hadn’t planned it, though certainly I'd visualized it. She turned abruptly, spotted the bait, and somehow the change of direction and the timing of the “Stand!” had just the right effect. She kicked out and placed a straight left leg, then kicked out and placed a straight right leg. Then she leaned forward over her shoulders, back legs well stretched out behind her.
The judge cocked his head with interest, stepped forward and made a little noise. I had been about to hand over the bait but I caught myself just in time and disappeared. Weegie held her pose and looked right back at the judge with what could only be described as a "keen, intelligent and alert" expression. I felt a little thrill.
Around we went again and stopped where instructed. I was setting Weegie up again when through the fog I heard his voice.
“Ma’am, winner,” he said.
He was pointing us back to the big number one slot. The feeling was the stuff addicted gamblers are made of. Wow! We had a point!
Then I did it again: I was so thrilled that I walked right out of the ring in a happy daze. The steward laughed at me.
"You're supposed to act like you expected it," she said. "Get back in there!"
It didn't matter. We had our win, and the only way we could have gotten more points would have been to go best of breed. Not half likely with Gandalf and Shaker in the running. Best of Winners would be nice, but it would earn us no additional points.
We kept right on showing our hearts out. It was surprisingly hard work. I was sweating and my face was flushed. Weegie hung right in there, stacking herself on command and snapping to attention when the judge invited her to meet his eye.
“Best of breed,” he said – it was Shaker – “Best of winners,” pointing at the dog, and “Best of Opposite Sex,” pointing at Weegie.
For BOS, we got a beautiful red and white ribbon, not the hateful scarlet of the second place ribbon, but a bright crimson. The one that counted, Winners Bitch, was a royal purple.
We would give it six more months. We would show through the summer. When her next season came around, we would re-evaluate again. If we still had just this one point, or only maybe one or two more, we'd have her spayed and get on with life. But for now, we were still in the game.