Going to the dogs!

It has not been many years ago that persons thought of “dog shows” as some rare, exotic pastime indulged in by the wealthy folk back east or on the west coast. When I would mention spending my weekends in Dallas, Amarillo or San Antonio showing my pets, few folk had any comprehension of what I was doing. Times have certainly changed, to the point that most people know when Westminster will be televised, the AKC national (December) and the National Dog Show which always follows the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving Day.The American Kennel Club licenses area clubs to hold an assortment of activities, including dog shows, obedience trials, rally trials, agility trials, hunting tests, earthdog tests, herding trials, tracking tests and lure coursing. Some of these activities require special grounds, lots of space, and devotees to that particular aspect of the sport before they take place in an area. Dog shows, however, basically require a kennel club, an arena, and a dedicated corps of people to do the work. The Abilene Kennel Club has been putting on annual dog shows and obedience trials for 40 years. The 2012 show will take place in the Taylor County Coliseum on May 18, 19 and 20. As usual, there is no admission charge.The Abilene shows started out only having breed competition, the same type of show that is seen on television. About fifteen years ago, they added obedience to the mix. This is a competition designed to emphasize the teamwork between handler and dog as they perform a series of progressively more difficult tasks. This year, Rally Obedience has been added. Considered to be the most exciting addition to the AKC lineup since agility, Rally combines the tasks of obedience with the speed of agility. The judge creates a course, which is “laid out” in the ring by placing directional signs in strategic points. The handlers are allowed to walk the course without their dogs, then will enter the ring individually with their animal. Judging is based on precise execution of the directions and speed. Part of the allure for observers is that, unlike with regular obedience, the directions are visible to the spectator, and easily understood. Obedience and rally will be held in the display building behind the coliseum.Breed competition and the vendors will be in the main coliseum. Dogs begin by competing within their own breed; the top male and female who are not champions will receive points towards their championship, and then compete against the champions for Best of Breed. Shortly after 1 PM, the Best of Breed winners will compete in their appropriate groups. Sporting dogs (retrievers, pointers, setters and spaniels) will compete against each other, as will the hounds (from stately Afghans to Bassets), working dogs (guard dogs, sled dogs, and police dogs), terriers (Scotties, Westies and a host of others), toy dogs (Pomeranians, Maltese, and other little companions), herding dogs (German Shepherds, Old English and the little Corgis) and the “Non Sporting” group, a hodge podge of dogs whose traditional use does not fit into the other groupings. This is the portion of the show often seen on television. Once a winner has been selected from each group, the seven winners will compete for Best in Show. Sunday morning, the whole routine begins again. For the convenience of the spectators, an announcer will be speaking during the group judging, giving the name, traditional purpose, and some fun facts about the different breeds.Most of the dogs being shown require at least a little grooming before heading for the ring – even the Dobermans and Rottweilers. This will be taking place around the concourse as well as in the areas under the stands of the main coliseum. If the weather is nice, some will be happening outdoors. If you are interested in meeting the dogs, or their owners, this is the ideal time to do so. Remember, please, that not all dogs (or all handlers!) are friendly! Always ask before touching a dog. With many of the “coated” breeds, the handler will work for many hours to prepare it for the ring. The oil in your hand, even though you recently washed it, can wreak havoc on hours of work. In most cases, if the handler is not willing for you to pet the dog now, he or she will invite you to “make friends” after the dog has shown.In televised dog shows, it is not uncommon to see one person showing many dogs. These are handlers who travel the country with the dogs they show for other people. While there will be some of them in Abilene, most of the people you see are the ones who live with, care for, and are attached to the dog that is with them. In some cases, the person with the dog at the show also had its mother, grandmother, and can recite a complicated family tree! If you are seriously considering investing in a pure bred dog, these are the people with whom you should visit. They can tell you more about the breeds that interest you than several volumes of written material – and are normally very eager to share! Remember, though, that these are people who take dogs very seriously. Many are actively involved in rescuing animals of their breed from shelters and pounds, helping them to find a “forever home”. As a result, they are quite likely to require that any puppy obtained from them be spayed or neutered, not bred.There are people – from every corner of the globe – who are addicted to dog shows. There are even more who, while they are not particularly interested in becoming involved in the sport, enjoy watching it. Rarely is the opportunity presented to sit ringside and absorb such an experience, especially close to home. Take the time next weekend to spend a day in Abilene at the dog show; it will be an experience not soon forgotten!Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to editor@sweetwaterreporter.com