I packed up the wife and the self and headed to the next county over for the big Dog Show. I wasn’t sure why. I have dogs at home.
“Our dogs aren’t purebred,” the wife explained. “We’re going to see real breeds.”
“Dearest,” I pointed out, “I can look at Bo and Lucy and see at least four real breeds and a couple fake ones.”
“Darling, you know I love our puppies and I wouldn’t take anything for them. But sometimes I like to see what those six breeds look like by themselves.”
We arrived at the Expo Center and waded through a veritable mob of very expensive canines, all doing what dogs do outside, followed by their handlers doing what handlers do after their dogs do what they do outside.
“And we can’t bring our dogs, why?”
“They’re not purebred.”
“So what? The purebreds are afraid we’ll get mutt cooties on them?”
“Well, they don’t want an – incident.”
“What, like Bo stepping on a Chihuahua?”
She glared at me and we went in.
The hall was a sixteen ring circus, with a ringmaster in each ring and a gaggle of clowns milling around waiting for something interesting to happen. We joined one such crowd to watch a breed whose name was bigger that it was.
Inside the ring the dogs trotted round and round, their handlers trotting along beside them, as the judge watched them with a coldly appraising eye. A secret signal was passed, and the conga line stopped. As one, the handlers dropped to their knees, producing combs and brushes from unimaginable places, and surreptitiously combed back into place a few windblown hairs. With a sigh the judge beckoned, and the first dog was presented for judgment. The handler picked up the dog by the snout and something near the tail and set it on a table. I cringed and turned to my wife. “Honey, he – “
“I know, dear,” she soothed. “They get used to it.”
The judge examined it very carefully, fondling bits I’d have to pay good money to have handled, sighted down its back, and sent it to the back of the line. I checked my watch. That hour and a half had lasted three minutes.
And so it went for the other twenty-five dogs. Each dog went up for inspection, the line jerked forward, and the handlers fell to their knees and preened.
Finally, after another trot around the ring, the ringmaster flicked his hand thrice, and all but three handlers dejectedly exited the ring. Awards were given, the crowd clapped politely, and the ring was cleared for the next breed.
“So what are they looking at?” I murmured to the wife.
“Conformity to the standard.”
I ruminated. “What standard?”
“The breed standard.”
Again, I ruminated. “So they’re looking for the most average dogs.”
The wifely voice took on an edge. “No, dearest,” she said. “They’re looking for the dog that most embodies what the breed should be. The winners get to breed.” She looked at me distantly. “The losers do not.”
I reflected on my own reflection, considered myself outwardly and inwardly, and decided that, on the whole, I was just as glad to be a mutt.
Bill Mullis lives in South Carolina. He has dogs.