Even before I became a teacher, I believed that the best possible day was one on which I learned a ton. Whether I was in rehearsal gathering loads and loads of information on my character or in classes absorbing book-learning or poring over the Sunday New York Times, I felt full and happy. Yesterday was just that kind of day.
One year ago this weekend, Cleo became a certified Therapy Dog. Partly to commemorate that anniversary and partly to redeem myself, I registered us for yesterday’s obedience trial. A year ago, I registered for the trial, too, but chickened out at the last minute. I was convinced I was going to make a complete fool out of myself and that I would be opening up my baby girl to ridicule and shame. Okay, maybe a little projection there—shame? Really? So this year, with a great deal more confidence, I showed up ready to have a good time.
Several things went into my new attitude. Sure, Cleo’s training has been going well, but let’s be honest: I’m not one of those people who works concertedly at polishing her training every day. This last week, I made sure to take her, several times, to the site of the trials so that she could associate the location with the exercises we do and so I could work with her on paying attention to me as she’s walking through grass—not exactly an easy thing for a terrier to do, let me tell you! Mostly, though, I rely on our weekly classes to keep her tuned in to obedience. Still, I was pretty confident that she could do everything required of her for the Beginner Novice trial. A lovely boost to my attitude was getting an email from a friend with oceans of experience in all things Bedlington who described his first obedience trial as “an exercise in humility.” Well, shoot! I thought. If his first outing wasn’t perfect, why should I be expecting Cleo’s and mine to be? Perhaps the most important contributor to my new-found positive attitude was the sudden realization that I wasn’t nervous about the process at all! I really didn’t care if we totally blew it. I didn’t feel that either Cleo or I had anything to prove. I was just out to enjoy the whole thing. Who in the world have I become!?
So the schedule yesterday was this: a new participant’s orientation at 9:30 AM, a group of dogs that included all two Bedlingtons showing at 10:45, the Beginner Novice trials beginning at 11:15. Part of the reason I was so excited to be at the show yesterday was that the two Bedlingtons showing were Cleo’s dad and her younger half-brother. I had never met either of them in person, so to speak.
Due to my ever-present background noise of anxiety about not being able to see well, I decided to get to the show grounds by 9 so that I could easily find the location of the orientation. I left the house at 8:30 for the ten minute drive to Carmel Valley. I’d thought of everything—slip collar and flat collar, grooming supplies, treats and snacks for both of us, water for each in separate containers, hat and sunscreen, wallet with ID, cards with info on how to buy The Educated Dog (just in case), phone with the PDF of the show schedule pre-loaded. We were at the gate when I realized what I’d forgotten. Cash to pay for parking. I almost never carry more than a couple dollars. It’s not out of design, just out of forgetfulness that I might need to buy something that I can’t use plastic for. The very kind fellow in charge of parking waved me through with a cheerful, “Just bring me ten bucks when ya can get it!” The day was off to a good start!
Cleo and I made a quick tour of the rings in evidence. Then we made another. In very short order we found ring 11, the one where we would be doing our obedience trial in another couple hours. What we didn’t see was ring 2 where the Bedlingtons would be showing. Or, frankly, any number lower than 10. Nor could I find anything resembling a check-in desk. A woman nearby was working with her dog, a Border Collie, and I asked her where to check in. She was a fount of information, reassuring me that I would check in at the ring shortly before my “go” time. My anxiety notched down to yellow alert. I thanked her and turned to leave, then spotted a classmate in a Rally ring with one of her Golden Retrievers. This woman is a wonderful trainer and her dog looked like he was having the time of his life. I stopped to watch them, rapt, until I realized that the woman next to me, standing with her Shetland Sheepdog, had asked me a question. “I’m sorry?” I said.
“Do you do Rally?” Ah, no. But I think it looks really cool. Within no time, she had given me the lowdown. In Rally, the handler directs her dog from task to task as designated by little signs placed around the course. She can speak to the dog offering command, correction, encouragement, or praise. It is, said my informant, bonding and teamwork incarnate. The last team having gone, she, leaning heavily on her cane, limped off with her Sheltie to learn their score. It was at some point here that I suddenly realized that there must be another whole group of rings—the ones where people were actually showing their dogs. I explained this possibility to Cleo and we decided to go on an explore. We headed in a likely direction and, after weaving through a forest of RVs, we crested a small hill to see, laid out below us, the tent city of owners, handlers, grooming tables, show rings and camp followers peddling their wares of dog toys, training paraphernalia, grooming tools, gourmet organic dog food, dog advocacy materials, and gelato. A little overwhelmed, we determined to make a circuit of the perimeter.
As another good omen, the first person we saw was Pluis, our trainer. She was clearly decked out as an owner of show dogs, not in her usual training class civvies. Cleo didn’t care; she was ecstatic to see Pluis and flung herself onto her shoes in adoration. Pluis, in her usual manner, praised Cleo for so cleverly and fortuitously attending a dog show, then asked me if there were Bedlingtons showing. Two, I told her! “Perfect!” she exclaimed. I came very close to flinging myself on her shoes. She just has a way of inspiring devotion. “And you are…” she continued questioningly. Beginner Novice A. “Very good!” she smiled, then leaned down to pat Cleo again. “Break a leash!” she cried, heading back towards her own dogs.
We continued down the rows, peering into tents for the telltale alien noses and arched bodies of the Bedlington. From a distance, I saw the bright yellow canopy reading “Terrier Group.” We forged toward it and stood quivering at the entrance. Two elegant, eminently graceful Bedlington Terriers stood on grooming tables. I recognized the far dog in an instant. An elder statesman in streamlined blue, a grand champion in lamb’s costume. Cleo’s daddy, Lover Boy. I was twitterpated; I was in the presence of a star! I got a little misty-eyed! And on the near table, a huggable, beautiful liver boy named Petey, Cleo’s half-brother. His petite and curly mom took an active interest from the comfort of her crate. Cleo, intrigued, stood on her hind legs and sniffed at her kin. They peered down at her from the lofty heights of their perches. The humans shook hands. I delighted in hearing stories from Paul about his canine charges. It seemed as though Petey took an immediate shine to Cleo, though she, as is her wont, became instantly shy as soon as she noticed that he was looking at her. Each time we saw him, all day long, he certainly perked up in her presence. Both of them showed me the gentle kindness that is the trademark of every Bedlington I’ve ever met. Paul and I made plans to meet after we were both done—him with his 10:45 showing, us with our 11:15 trial.
The time was drawing near to the signing-in moment, so Cleo and I went back to ring 11 and watched the Graduate Novice class trial. John joined us, then shortly afterwards, our friend Kim. It was eleven o’clock. Cleo and I waited politely by the steward, waiting for her to acknowledge us so we could sign in. Within minutes, we expected to make our debut.
To be continued…