Benchwarmers – People & Purebreds Connect at the National Dog Show
“I’m going to show my dog here next year,” said the woman standing to my left at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pennsylvania. We had positioned ourselves around a crowded ring filled with Standard Poodles where the lady and her friend had become entranced by the sight of so many spectacularly coiffed canines. She was apparently intrigued by the judge and the judging process too, as she soon started asking a few rather well-considered questions. “Why is the judge touching the hair? Why doesn’t he touch their feet? Why didn’t that dog win a ribbon?”
I answered the lady’s queries as best I could, but my friend, who was standing to my right and is herself a multi-Group judge, offered a more experienced response to the lady’s litany of “whys.” With every answer provided, our new friend, who was visiting a dog show for the very first time, seemed to swell with confidence as she imagined herself showing her own dog just as skillfully as the Poodle exhibitors. “I have a Weimaraner,” she told us with pride as she and her companion bid us farewell and headed off to Ring 7, seemingly entranced by the thought of the gathering of Gray Ghosts that awaited them.
The Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s Saturday show, broadcast to a television audience on Thanksgiving Day as the National Dog Show Presented by Purina, is the nation’s only remaining benched dog show, and the exhibitors who brought their dogs to sit on those benches all day were rewarded with the kinds of exchanges that were once common at every dog show in America. Throughout the day, spectators were given the chance to visit with the dogs they’ve likely only seen on TV or online.
At this one show, exhibitors connected with the dog-loving public in a way that used to be taken for granted. Yet even in the digital age, this singular event proved that people are still willing to gather the family and pay an admission fee for the chance to pet a Pekingese, play with a Papillon, or party with a Pomeranian. Although the day was certainly a long one and the crowds got pretty thick in places, most of the people who entered their dogs at this show seemed to agree that the opportunity to showcase the sport and educate the public was worth the extra effort. Certainly, the dogs seemd to have a good time, including the Azawakh I met who responded to my presence with the breed’s typical indifference but became a silly swirling dervish when his favorite person returned to his bench.
Perhaps the best example of the show’s spirit was found in a room where the Toy breeds were benched. There at the end of a long aisle sat three Pugs atop a crate draped with seasonal garland. Dubbed the “Pugdashians” by their breeder/owner-handler, Lori Sirois, the trio happily greeted a steady stream of spectators who were eager to have their photo taken with the little show dogs.
Equally eager was the lady who stood by their side and happily shared their story as well as that of her own journey from rank novice to breed ambassador: A chance encounter with a Pug nearly twenty years ago awakened a desire for Lori to find a Pug of her own… and then another. When she realized her dogs were not of the same quality as the dogs she’d seen on television, Lori reached out to several breeders and eventually found herself a pair of show dogs—overseas and in two different countries!
A couple championships later, Lori’s homebred Pugs, “Fatty Patty” and “Roly Poly,” together with “Busy Lizzie,” bred and owned by Patricia Manney, comprise the threesome that encouraged onlookers at the National Dog Show to stop and stare. Wearing Thanksgiving-themed hats and colorful pearls that complemented their fawn coats and black masks, the Pugs made quite an impression not only for their breed but for the sport of dogs as well.
In fact, Lori shared how the dogs’ pearls represented their work as registered Therapy Dogs at The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, Maine. Her message to every visitor was clear: Show dogs are real dogs that can have fun while leading rewarding lives in the care of people who are committed to preserving a breed and promoting the sport. For their part, the Kennel Club of Philadelphia and the National Dog Show Presented by Purina, in their commitment to putting on a one-of-a-kind show year after year, certainly provide a benchmark for other clubs that wish to connect with their local community in a meaningful way.
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