Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mom Guilt

I've been asked at various times by various people just how much difference there is between having one dog and having two dogs. I've also been asked how much difference there is between having two dogs and more than two dogs. I've begun measuring that difference in levels of guilt.

One Dog: Guilt at a 2 on a scale of 1-10. One Dog gets all of my dedicated dog time. All of the classes -- sometimes three a week; all of the treats; all of the toys; automatic lap time; and the best spot on the bed. One Dog goes to all of the dog shows with me, and gets the cookies and french fries when we go through a drive-thru. There is a little guilt that I have to go off to work all day and leave One Dog at day care or at home. There is also a little guilt that One Dog doesn't have one of his own species to play with and to keep him company when the humans aren't home.

Two Dogs: Guilt at a 3 on a scale of 1-10. Two Dogs have to share the dog time. Two Dogs may only go to one class a week instead of two or three. The guilt-trip ante is upped when one goes out the door and the other stays behind, gazing forlornly out the window from the back of the couch she's not supposed to be on anyway. (Elli, I'm looking at you.) They have to share toys and treats. They have to vie for lap time and jockey for position on the bed. Two Dogs have to share the drive-thru spoils, or may in fact not get any at all if there is also equipment in the car so they have to be crated. Some of the guilt is alleviated, though, when the humans have to leave, because at least they have one another for company.

Three-Plus Dogs: Guilt takes a sharp leap up to a 7 or 8 on a scale of 1-10. Now the dog time is split three or more ways, and someone may not get to go to a class at all. Now when one is playing with a toy, he has to guard it from two others, who will inevitably tag team him, one making a feint for it and the other grabbing it while he defends against the first. Treats aren't always so forthcoming, because now there has to be enough to go around. The lap becomes a battlefield, sometimes to the extent that no dogs are allowed up there, just to preserve the human's sanity. Chaos ensues over the best bed spots. Forget the drive-thru -- the human who belongs to Three-Plus Dogs can't afford take-out anymore and has to pack her own lunch. When the humans leave, all dogs have to stay behind the gate in the kitchen, since the youngest can't be trusted yet to behave himself, and the humans don't think it's fair to split up the Three-Plus Dogs and let the older ones stay in the living room. Guilt! Training time for each dog dwindles to smaller and smaller amounts. Sometimes someone doesn't even get any practice between weekly classes, and that's if he/she still HAS a weekly class. guilt Guilt GUILT!!!

Folks, I may as well convert to Catholicism, I have so much guilt. Guilt that Ian isn't going to a weekly class anymore, despite the fact that the one he was going to really wasn't working on the Open exercises we need to perfect to get those other two CDX legs. Guilt that his conformation career is over without getting that CH in front of his name. Guilt that I'm considering neutering him to make things easier with bitches in heat and other intact males, when I've read studies that show it may be better for a male dog's long-term health to leave him intact. Guilt that Magnum isn't getting the kind of one-on-one attention that the others got when they arrived. Guilt that I won't be taking him to obedience or agility class right off because I want to focus on the much-less-fun-for-him conformation training right now.

Most especially, I have mucho grande guilt that Elli is only getting agility training once a week when we go to class, because I don't have agility equipment at home and won't be affording any at any time in the near future. Guilt that I haven't been able to start her on herding, which I had hoped to do this spring. Guilt that I have this dog who would probably be a superlative dog for someone who had a farm and stock to work, or for someone who was an agility fiend who wanted a MACH and a CPE championship and umpteen bazillion other titles from the 3,216 venues that are offering agility now. She is SO smart and she SO wants to work, and she's stuck with me, going to class once a week and getting pushed out of laps by velcro-clingy boys and just hanging with the pack instead of working most of the time.

I used to think it was awful that breeders kept dogs for a few years, bred them a few times, and then tossed them away to "retirement." I couldn't imagine how someone could raise a puppy -- show him, train him, breed him -- and then give him away. Why were they bothering to put all this time and energy and money into raising these dogs when they "obviously" didn't care about them?

I get it now. Good breeders don't place their retirees because they don't love them. They place them because they DO. Because there is someone else out there who DOES have time just for them, who WILL take them to all the classes, and give them all the toys and all the treats and and the lap and the bed and the french fries at the drive-thru. Good breeders place the needs of the dogs above their own selfish hearts, and when the right person and the right home comes along, they recognize it, and they cry, and they let them go.

And still, they feel guilty.

Friday, June 25, 2010

...to Grandmother's House We Go

Magnum took a trip to Grammie's house sans the big kids last weekend, and so got to explore the garden accompanied only by Mabel, my in-laws tragically rotund mixed-breed.

Okay, this photo isn't of Magnum, but I freaking LOVE it. This was taken standing under the grape arbor and shooting up through the vines and leaves. It's my new favorite wallpaper on my computer.

Magnum checking out the... um, foliage of some sort. I think they were lilies.

Jungle safari!

Backyard spy plane? Miniature crop duster? You decide.

Okay y'all, remember Joanna's blog post wherein she resolves to post unflattering photos of her dogs? Yeah, it's like that. He's standing all wrong, his legs look like they go on for miles, and he appears to have no neck. But just look at that widdle face!

By the bed of... nasturtiums, I think?

I don't know what plant he's huffing, but it looks like some good shit!

Gratuitous flower porn.

Hangin' in the kitchen with Her Lumpiness while we make strawberry jam.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The (Reality) Check's in the Mail

So, a couple of weeks ago, my husband suggested rather ominously that I needed to re-focus my priorities, or else. Apparently things like paying the mortgage and the household bills are supposed to take precedence over buying puppies, training classes and paying entry fees. How 'bout that.

It all set me to thinking about this crazy, wonderful, greedy hobby of showing dogs. It starts out innocently enough: you get a purebred dog because something about that breed appeals to you. You meet other people who have that breed; maybe you get involved in performance events. Or, maybe you are already familiar with the dog show scene because of family or friends, or prior experience.

One dog becomes two, and maybe that second one was purchased with the show ring in mind. He or she is decent conformation-wise. Maybe finishable, not necessarily spectacular. You want spectacular! You look for another puppy, or maybe you look to breed your own.

Along the way, you've managed to accumulate: a grooming table or two; multiple crates for each dog and for various stages of development; several crate pads for each of those crates; an ex-pen or three; enough grooming supplies to fill a shelf in your bathroom closet, if not the entire closet; leashes in every imaginable color, length and material; a special hair dryer just for the dogs; slip collars, buckle collars, show collars; bait bags; training equipment; a new wardrobe that shows your dog off to best advantage; and, most likely a new vehicle, the biggest you can afford to accommodate as many crates as you can.

Besides all of the stuff, you've paid for puppy kindergarten classes, basic obedience classes, agility classes, special seminars, vet bills, food bills... the list goes on.

Your furniture all looks like it (barely) survived the holocaust. There is dog hair in every corner and in every crack and crevice, because the vacuum will only get in there so far. Your woodwork has been nibbled, your floors are scratched up, and there are dead, yellow spots all over your yard. You no longer remember what it's like to walk across the living room floor without stubbing your toe on a bone, nor how to go to the bathroom by yourself. People don't come to your house anymore, unless they are "dog show people" who also live like this.

How on earth did you get here?

Everyone says that insert breed here> are like potato chips: you can't have just one. And that's true, but I think there's more to it than that. For me, dog shows are, to put it simply, Home. The ring gates, the grooming tables everywhere, the lines of Samoyeds and Chinese Cresteds and the what-have-yous lined up waiting their turn... I walk into that environment and I know Where I Am. I know Who I Am. I know what I want, I know how I want to get there. It's where the very best in me comes out, where I get to make the conscious choice, every time, of what kind of competitor and what kind of peer I want to be. It's where I do my best to demonstrate good sportsmanship and where I give of myself in service to something greater than myself. It's the place where I hope to make a mark to show my passing, and to leave behind something better when I'm gone. It's my lifestyle. It's my life.

But life is comprised of other things, too: relationships with friends, with family, with spouses; jobs that buy the dog food, that pay for entries, and that, yes, need to pay the bills; all of the day to day minutiae that weaves together the tapestry of a life.

In the end, we all need to balance those elements. I need to learn to balance those elements. Reality, consider yourself checked. Let's get to know one another.

Hmm... elements... A Honda Element would be a good dog car...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A week shy of 5 months

A whole ton of photos later, but only two that were usable. Apparently Magnum came with an extra side order of wiggles. I foresee much table work in our near future.

Monday, June 14, 2010

From the outside, looking in

A couple of weeks ago this blog entry was floating around the blogosphere:


The writer concluded that someone could object to a dog show on humane grounds if he/she had never attended one. As much as I wish that were true, I'm afraid I can't share her conclusion.

So let's play make believe: Imagine you have never been to a dog show in your life, have never met a hobby breeder, have never watched dog related shows, etc. Suppose your entire experience of dogs is your uncle's family pet, Scruffy McPooch. Scruffy is of no discernible breed. He spends his days running errands with your aunt and uncle, getting cookies from the drive-thru teller at the bank; he has his share of french fries from McDonalds, and rides with your uncle when he takes the trash to the dump every Saturday morning, getting half of your uncle's donut during the outing.

Scruffy's exercise is limited to a few trips to the backyard to potty each day, with an occasional tennis ball thrown to break up the monotony. He is doted on by your aunt and uncle, to the point where he is 30 pounds overweight from how much they "love" him. His coat is a little dry and he smells a little bit "doggy" because of course it's bad to bathe your dog too much. His toenails are so long he can barely walk anymore because cutting them "is just too upsetting for him." He has active gum disease and the attendant horrible breath because he's scarfing down a steady diet of Ole Roy kibble, donuts, Doritos, ice cream, potato chips, all the steak scraps etc., but Auntie and Uncle don't care when he crawls in their laps and pants that breath into their faces, because that's just Scruffy and they love and adore him.

Your uncle's couch has a worn afghan on one end so Scruffy can lie there, assuming he can get his fat, stinky, itchy self up there in the first place. Once he's up there, perhaps assisted in getting there, he gets tummy rubs and ear scratching and half the bowl of buttered popcorn. You've seen this all your life in one form or another, and to you, THIS is how dogs live, is what having a beloved family dog is all about.

And then, one day, you walk into a dog show.

Dogs!! They're everywhere!! Big ones; small ones; long, graceful ones; short, stocky ones... there are so many dogs all in one place. And they're in cages. Long lines of cages, some with the water spilled so the dog has to lie in it, because no one left him a crate pad. In some spots there are so many crates that they have to be stacked, little dogs on top of big dogs. Many of those dogs are barking -- well, wouldn't YOU if someone threw you in jail and took off? And don't they ever get fed? They're so skinny, they must be malnourished.

Not all of the dogs are in cages, though: some are standing on tables with nooses around their necks. The dogs are forced to stand there while their owners rub stuff on them, point high-speed dryers at them, making them sneeze when the gunk they just put all of over the dog gets blown up his nose. Some are being combed to within an inch of their lives, while others have simply been abandoned on the table, forced to stay there lest they hang themselves in jumping off.

There are some dogs on the floor, too. These are being led around on short leashes, unless the "handler" deems it more efficient to pull a dog along by it's wrapped ear to keep a collar from marring the coat they just spent hours building. These dogs are hauled around inside a ring, while a man or woman in the middle cranks their mouths open to look at their teeth, runs hands all over their bodies, and feels for testicles on the boy dogs. Some are put up on the accursed table again to suffer this indignity. When they come out of the ring, back they go to jail, except maybe for the one who came out of the ring with a purple and gold ribbon; he gets a brief furlough to get a mugshot before he has to go back to the cage.

And the people!! They're all totally indifferent to the suffering going on around them. They talk away at each other, about each other, ignoring all of the barking dogs as though they don't exist. They talk about "this bitch" and "that bitch" and gripe that the people in the rings wouldn't even know a good dog if one bit them.

You gape around in appalled amazement, and think about Scruffy, lying on the couch with his head in your uncle's lap, watching the game and sharing a bag of Cheetos. Then you high-tail it out of there with a horror story to tell all of your friends about "those crazy people and those poor, poor dogs."

Think I'm exaggerating? I've heard pretty much this exact reaction, from the owner of a Scruffy McPooch. And there are a LOT of Scruffy McPooch's out there.

Do you and I know that these "poor, caged dogs" are living like royalty at home? Sure. At least many, many, many of them are. Do we realize the consequences of feeding a poor quality food, of allowing our dogs to become obese, of too little exercise and too little grooming? You bet. Heck, we read articles and blog posts ad nauseum about it. Do we blithely stand by and watch dogs suffer? Of course not. But the horrified niece of Scruffy McPooch's owner doesn't know that. She just looks around at what she sees.

And what she sees -- what so many people like her see -- is not a pretty picture.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Nothing to see here...

I know I've been quiet as of late, but there's not much dog-related news to report here. Elli continues with agility classes and may be ready to start trialing in CPE soon. Magnum is attending his first set of "big boy" obedience classes and is rocking it, except for that pesky stay exercise, because how on earth can I give him delicious cheese if he's over HERE and I'm over THERE? Herding lessons are still on the agenda but are somewhat on the back burner until more funding frees up.

The raw feeding is going swimmingly. I squeed out loud at the grocery store earlier this week when I found four packages of fresh, sliced beef heart -- AND chicken thighs were also on sale. Yahtzee!! When you realize that this is the highlight of your week, you probably need to talk with yourself about some things. Thom spoke a little bit at class the other night about nutrition, and I offered to talk with anyone and everyone interested in switching to raw. No zealot so fiery as a recent convert, huh?

In the competitive arena, I opted not to enter the shows in Cumberland on the 26th and 27th. Elli is naked -- NAKED!!! -- and I can't have her running around in public in her underwear. The scandal!! Britches? Nuh-uh. Two hairs, maybe three, tops. No neck frill or ruff whatsoever. Absolutely no plushiness to her coat, just topcoat with nada underneath it. As if she doesn't look small enough next to everybody else when she has a FULL coat! SO not taking her in the ring in two weeks. I'm not even sure I'm going to enter her at the Yankee Classic. That's only a couple weeks after Cumberland. How much coat can she grow between now and then?

And Ian... I think Ian is now retired from the conformation ring.

I've thought about this a lot the past three weeks. Argued back and forth with myself, with my mom, with my hubby, with my checkbook... What it ultimately comes down to is this: I will not be breeding Ian. I have no girl to breed to him, I'm not sure I'd use him even if I did, and there is no one else who wants to use him. While I would really like to have that title on the front end to balance the one on the back, I don't see it happening. It's mucho grande frustrating to leave him at 13 points, especially when he has three majors, but seriously, people.

It's been over a year since he's earned a point. In that time he had a back injury, and his movement, which was not stellar to begin with, is even less stellar now. I may briefly dominate, but will never win, the battle with his curls. His ears are too small and are set too high. He has a stuffy neck. And he's pushing four years old. If he couldn't finish in an embarassing 33 shows, then why continue to pursue it?

Still, it's been a learning process, and I picked up a whole lot of valuable knowledge along the way, knowledge that will help as I move forward with Elli and with Magnum. As training models go, Ian: You were awesome.

So what's next? I'll be swinging by the shows in Cumberland to watch and probably lend a hand holding leashes and whatnot, as anyone with a free hand at ringside is likely to find themselves doing. Magnum will go with me to continue his introduction to All Things Dog Show. I'll be going to Springfield for the Saturday and Sunday shows in July, whether or not I end up entering Elli. Magnum will go there as well for his first look at the Big E.

Later in July, there is a match in Bucksport that I plan to enter Magnum in, for ring practice and to provide lots of laughs for the folks ringside. I may also take Ian and work him in Open obedience (which I pray won't be quite as entertaining as Magnum's first time in the conformation ring. *gulp*) Hopefully we WILL finish up the CDX title on him, eventually.

In August, Magnum will make his ring debut in Keene, NH, hopefully with his sister Juno, and again to the likely hilarity of spectators. The next weekend, there is a 3-day set of shows in Fitchburg, MA. I've been invited by Cheryl, Brady's mother, to stay with her for the weekend, which would be terrific in that I'd get to work some with Brady and show him for BOB. Have I mentioned how much I like that boy? And also, hey! No hotel room!

Once Elli turns two in October, I will whisk her away for her hip x-rays. Fingers crossed that the results are favorable, and I can finalize my choice of suitors for her winter heat cycle.

Then there are the Thanksgiving shows to look forward to, but hey, let's not get TOO far ahead of ourselves.

So that's pretty much it right now at Casa Smalltyme. Exciting, huh?