At my first Specialty in Auburn, Washington, I had no brain space at all to pay any attention to what was going on around me. I had Cooper, a real handful of a young Irish Water Spaniel boy. Bathing, grooming, feeding, walking, keeping out of trouble – all that, and trying desperately not to be nervous about showing my dog.
My second Specialty, in Frederick, Maryland, was much more relaxed. My girl Tooey was there, but she’d been transported and cared-for by her co-owner. So I could have noticed more of what was going on, but all I really remember was meeting a whole bunch of wonderful people, watching the dogs work at the WC/X test, being so pleased that Tooey and her handler Carl won 1st in Junior Showmanship, and absolutely loving the fact that a Gun Bitch took Best of Breed. Everything else has fallen away.
This time – my third Specialty, the 75th Anniversary Irish Water Spaniel Club of America Specialty in Wilmington, Ohio – this time, I have no excuse for not remembering everything. I had no dog of my own there, and only one borrowed puppy to show. But when I had people at home asking me, “What were the conformation results?” — I realized that I was still not able to give a full report.
So, even though I don’t have a lot of specific memories of the things that people want to know, I do have more personal memories about this 75th Anniversary Specialty that have stuck in my mind.
For me it started with rushing from the airport to the show site to make it in time for the club’s General Meeting, after having had little sleep in the previous 24 hour hours and less food. I really did want to learn about changes that have come and are coming to the club, and to hear what the various committees are doing. After an hour and a half, though, I finally had to take a bio break. I came away wishing that the meeting had been just a bit shorter, and that I’d been there at the end when there was apparently a mention of a link between cancer and Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy (SLO).
Then there was the buffet banquet and silent auction. I shared a drink with Tim and Ruth, and then wandered the tables, my eye falling on one item that included a book and three leashes. I wanted those leashes, so I kept bidding up. It didn’t take long to realize that I was pretty much just bidding against Pam. We both kept hanging around that particular table, and finally Pam mentioned to me that she really wanted that book. She’d met the author in her childhood and had fond feelings for him. When I told her that I didn’t care about the book, I just wanted the leashes, we both laughed. By the end, Pam had the winning bid, and very generously gave me the leashes.
Not much later, I fell into bed. I was lucky. Susan had very kindly offered to let me share her room, so I had a place to sleep. And the fact that the hotel and the show site were all in one large complex made getting back and forth so easy.
Next morning, I’d intended to go to Mary’s tracking seminar. Perhaps that seems kind of silly without a dog, but I wanted to go anyway. Tracking looks like a lot of fun, and maybe I’d learn something. But the weather had other ideas – cold, windy, and pouring down rain. I don’t think any of the other tracking-hopefuls ventured out into the nearby but soggy soccer fields, either.
So instead I went to the Judges Seminar. Colleen, Florence, Deb, and others gave the one judge and a bunch of spectators like me the commentary based on their decades of experience, illustrated with slides taken from the club’s new Illustrated Standard. I’m not a person who particularly notices conformation, but this time, the information about tail set and what “rectangular” means finally stuck. Maybe if I keep going to these Judges Seminars, I’ll get the whole dog together in my mind.
After lunch, I got dressed in my show clothes, and then walked to the grooming area next to the show ring. What I sight! Some people already in their show clothes, some not yet, and some changing into show clothes right out there in the middle of everything.
And all ages and stages of IWS! Some being made ready to go into the ring, and others getting ready to go to new homes. Some just hanging out, having done the WC/X, Obedience, Rally, or Agility earlier in the week. I was there to help Linda by showing one of her stud dog’s puppies. Puppy Ellie and I needed time to get to know one another. Ellie was a sweet girl, but nervous, jealous when her best buddy got taken out of his crate, and not at all interested in any of the different kinds of treats offered. So instead of concentrating on the other dogs in the conformation ring, I spent my time helping Ellie get groomed and accustomed to me at the same time. I even borrowed some Rescue Remedy from Greg, hoping that would help calm her.
Too soon it was time to go into the ring for the Puppy Bitches 9 – 12 class. Ellie was in first, and didn’t much like all those other puppies being in the ring behind her where she couldn’t see them. I couldn’t get her to face front and stack for more than a few seconds at a time, but once we got going, I could get her to gait nicely. The judge was kind and patient, and even called me Ma’am, as he directed us to the go-round and the up-and-back.
I did take a short break to watch a bit of the Best of Breed ring, and admired how methodical the judge was in winnowing down from about 28 dogs. Some dogs moved like they were floating, others couldn’t help but bounce, and some raced their handlers around the ring. All were beautifully showcased in the large blue-carpeted ring, lit by an elegant crystal chandelier.
I don’t remember who all won what. I remember that Riley won Best of Breed and that Porter took Best of Winners, because I know their owners. I remember that Joey got Select Dog because I love it when Gun Dogs do well. I noticed that none of the dogs looked very much like my Tooey, who was imported from England. And I remember Ellie, the squirmy little puppy that I borrowed and tried to coax around the ring and into a stack. All the other dogs in the ring…? I wish I remembered each and every one.
The part of showing that I am the most stressed by is grooming, so I did notice all the different styles of grooming. Some groomers left a lot of fringe on the belly; others scissored the belly coat up tight. Some dogs had sculpted, blown-out legs; others had legs with natural curls and ringlets. Some had long flowing locks on their ears, some were trimmed somewhat, and one dog had ears that were sculpted and shaped so precisely that every hair stayed in its exact place. None did what I am sorely tempted (but have never had the guts) to do: take my two hunting IWS, clip their coats into an short easy field cut that still somehow does not obscure the curl, and show them that way.
After Best of Breed, it was time for me and Ellie to go back into the ring for the Stud Dog class. She did a bit better this time, and her owners were happy. It’s so much easier to show someone else’s dog – I was even able to breathe the whole time.
By this time, it was late Friday afternoon, so I opted to skip lunch and just chill out for an hour or so until the Awards Banquet. I perused the vendors’ tables, looking at snoods, glass art, books and prints, embroidered T-shirts, the printed Illustrated Standard booklets, and all the other merchandise. Along the way, I chatted with Carolyn, Marilyn, Susanne, Lynn, Sharon, Wendy, Helen, Debbie, Deb, Wayne, Susan, Deb, Brenda, Rebecca, Lois, Judith and Jim, and so many others. That was a major goal for my coming to this Specialty – to meet and talk with people I only know through Facebook and the various Yahoo groups.
For me, the highlight of the Specialty, my real reason for flying out all that way from Oregon, occurred Friday night. Not the banquet, although my glass of bourbon was welcome and the beef and the vinaigrette dressing was very tasty. And not the auction, even though Greg makes giving money to the club about as fun and funny as it can be. I came out for the Awards.
For weeks before the Specialty, I debated about whether or not to go. It’s a lot of money. I wouldn’t have my husband or dogs along. I would have to miss two days of work. I would be spending a lot of hours stuck in an airplane or waiting for one. I wouldn’t get much sleep, and I’d probably eat too many carbs. But then I realized that I would always regret it if I didn’t go to the Specialty and pick up Cooper’s AKC All-Around IWS award myself.
Last year, Cooper won the Top Retriever Hunt Test IWS award. I was surprised and pleased that he got that, but I didn’t regret not being there to get it myself. But for this All-Around award, I really wanted to be there, to share the experience with all these other people who can truly appreciate what that award means and what it takes in love, money, time, and effort to earn it. My non-dog friends (and yes, I have some) don’t get it. Cooper is Russ’ and my first purebred dog, our first performance dog, our first Irish Water Spaniel, and our first experience with training and showing our dog ourselves. This is our first All-Arounder. And I knew that if I didn’t go to this Specialty, to receive this award among the people who really do get it, I would very much regret it.
So I flew out to Ohio, and went to the 75th Anniversary Irish Water Spaniel Club of America’s Specialty Show. And on Friday, when Karen called out Cooper’s name, I walked to the podium, and shook her hand, and received the award. People applauded, as I applauded for them. I’ll never forget that moment, even when my memory of much of the rest of the show falls away.
And then, to top it all off, Cooper also received the new and beautiful art-glass Quintessential Versatility Award for having 5 titles in 5 different venues. For Cooper, that was the three All-Around titles — show championship (CH), a retriever hunt test title, and an Obedience title of CD or better — plus his Rally Novice and Junior Hunter Upland titles.
Thank you, to Karen and her Specialty committee, the Awards committee, to Rosemary and Tammy, and all the people in the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America, for making it possible.
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