Cooper at 14 weeks
We asked for a pet, and we got Cooper. Like other excited puppy “parents,” we sent lots and lots of pictures to Rosemary. When Cooper was about 14 weeks old, Rosemary sent us an email saying something like, I think we sent you a show dog.
Rosemary told me that Cooper would get his championship easily, Tammy said she would help, and I had a lot of encouragement from other friends and owners of Irish Water Spaniels. So I agreed to Cooper’s being shown and going for it.
It took 3 years, 4 months, and 29 days. If I had known how long getting Cooper’s championship would take or how hard it would be, I wonder — would I have started down that path?
Cooper and Tammy (middle)
Cooper’s first conformation show was the 2007 IWSCOPS Specialty when he was just 6 months old. Tammy groomed and showed him. (His armband number was 13 — that should have told us something.) He did 2nd in his puppy class. That wasn’t so bad. And all Russ and I had to do was watch. (We also had to hide so that Cooper wouldn’t see us and be distracted).
Jayme, Cooper, and Patrice
It took 10 months of showing for him to get any points. He got his first two points, having been groomed by Tammy again and shown by a professional handler, at the Canby dog show in June, 2008.
Since then, Cooper’s record has been mixed. He came in dead last a couple of times and placed reasonably well other times. He even got Reserve Winners Dog at an IWSCOPS Specialty.
But sometimes he behaved like a twit who couldn’t stand still, or jerked his way around the ring. A couple of times he even jumped over the ring gates and out of the ring. Once he broke a borrowed show lead trying to get away. Another time he pissed on my skirt while waiting at ringside. Sometimes his coat was thin and lifeless, or the winning dog had bigger bone, a squarer muzzle, or just presented better.
Patrice and Cooper, photo by Liz Liddle
But other times, he won. His coat wasn’t always long, having been cut down for field work, but when it was curly, lush, and glossy, and he moved beautifully — then he’d be eye catching, showing off all the drive and reach needed by a dog who needs to swim powerfully to do his work as a water retriever.
On the negative side, I discovered new depths of stage fright. When I get into the show ring, I stop breathing, my mouth dries up, my heart pounds, I get tunnel vision. And while I got to be able to groom my Irish Water Spaniels reasonably well, I have never figured out how to bring out Cooper’s best features. The best I could do was to get him pretty close, and then find someone to do the finishing touches. And having to find that someone and ask for that favor was always a source of sleep-destroying stress that kept me awake many a night.
Cooper and Colleen
Cooper and Rebecca
On the plus side, I had a LOT of help. Tammy and Jayme both helped me with advice and training. Tammy, Colleen, Jayme, and Rebecca were often willing to groom Cooper to his best advantage. Tammy always made at least some time for Cooper while she was getting her two IWS ready for the ring. A couple of times, Jayme had Cooper live with her for several weeks so that she could train him, groom him, and then show him for me. Colleen made herself available more times than I can remember. And then when I decided to show him myself, I got a lot of free (and welcome) advice from people who had been doing it a lot longer than I have.
Fortune comes into this, too. Cooper was born within 3 days of the current #1 Irish Water Spaniel in America. Since we live in the same region as that dog, we showed against him many times. Cooper never won those competitions. It’s a hard thing to do, to go into a dog show knowing you’re probably going to lose. But as I’ve discovered, dog shows and dog show judges are not predictable — sometimes you lose when you’re certain yours is the better dog, and sometimes you win when you think you have no chance.
Chance did come into it again, and changed everything. With such historically mixed results, I had just about decided to quit. But then Colleen asked if I’d send Cooper down to California to create a major.
I knew that Mowgli, Cooper’s littermate, was going and needed a major. Tammy had been such a help to me that I wanted to return the favor. But if Cooper was going to California, I wasn’t going to send him down — I thought I’d go for a fun road trip with my friends, take Cooper and Tooey, and show them myself. Cooper’s coat was in a very short field clip, but a “point fodder” dog doesn’t need to look good. He just has to be there. So we went, and Mowgli did indeed take the major the first two days.
Cooper, after his first major win, photo by Holloway
And then it happened. Cooper took the 3rd day’s major. I was so shocked my mouth fell open. Literally. I was completely unprepared for this development. Because, damn. With one major and 11 points, we had to keep going. All he needed was one more major and 4 more points.
Saturday, when Cooper won Winners Dog and Best of Winners, winning the 2nd major he needed to get his championship, I started to cry. The judge even asked me if was OK. I could hardly wait to call Russ and Rosemary and hug Tammy. The honor his win gives to Cooper’s dam (Rosemary’s Nova) and his sire (Tammy’s Balloo) pleases me very much. Cooper has always been my Pretty Boy, a dog with great reach and drive, and I am so happy that he had the title that recognizes that: Champion.
At the same time, I feel like a heavy burden has been lifted off my shoulders. Standing at ringside on Sunday, watching the other Irish Water Spaniels compete, I told Colleen, “I’m never going to do this again.”
She laughed. “Famous last words,” she said.
So, if I had known in the beginning that it would take this long, but that it would feel this good at the end, would I have started down that path? I still don’t know.
And will I do this again? I’d like to think not.
But I have discovered that what I think I will do and what I actually do are often not the same thing. So, who knows? (And as my friend Alan used to say, “Who is not telling.”)
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