Unless we are counting the village fete, and the Dog with the Waggiest Tail competition, I had never attended a dog show until last weekend. It’s a world I knew next to nothing about but I love dogs, my sister loves dogs, and The (British) Kennel Club kindly sent us passes for Crufts 2015, the world’s largest and most prestigious dog show. Clearly it was a sign to discover more.
Held at the NEC (National Exhibition Centre) just outside Birmingham in the Midlands (where Clothes Show takes place each year), it’s a bit of a journey from London – well, in English terms. To my American friends I am thinking that the two hour journey is more like popping to the shops. Handily my sister and I were already in the vicinity for the weekend so we borrowed my father’s giant JEEP, stuffed her lightweight wheelchair in the boot, and headed north with Lettice.
Accessibility provision (with one glaring exception – dear driver of the return coach it is actually illegal not to allow assistance dogs – not talking about Lettice here I hasten to add – on buses) at the NEC is fantastic, and we got to try out the side opening coach scissor lift thing so Holl didn’t have to get out of her chair in the car park for the shuttle service.
(My sister has MS, and can and does walk everywhere on a day-to-day basis, but six hours on her feet is just not feasible – her capacity is more like fifteen minutes – so we need to use a chair for events.)
Non-competing and non-showing canine guests are not allowed at the show, in case anyone now feels inspired to bring their canine love next year, but I was given a special pass for Lettice, and so she travelled on Holly’s lap. When she wasn’t trying to climb over her shoulder to find me.
We do need to work on her attachment issues.
The show is VAST. Covering five halls and the Arena at the NEC, the scale is hard to comprehend until you are in the middle of the heaving masses. A very large part of it is given over to retail, hundreds of stands selling every single possible kind of useful and useless dog ephemera, and it does become a trial trying to weave one’s way through seemingly endless stalls to get to the different halls, especially with a wheelchair containing sister + dog + handbaggage to steer.
And goodness people really don’t look where they are going, and treat people in wheelchairs like lumpen carcasses. Is it bad that it becomes tempting to ram their shins as they jostle and bump my sis and never, ever apologise? (I didn’t BTW, but thinking I could was extremely cathartic.)
Crufts isn’t just a competition leading to Best in Show – there are dog displays of every possible type from Police to Dogs for the Disabled, along with behavioural and obedience classes.
We started at the very far end, at the Arena, to watch the International Heelwork competition, which is a kind of dog dancing. I find myself in agreement here with the Crufts show commentator – the dogs clearly look like they are enjoying themselves, and it would be hard to get a dog to do this by coercion or punishment. We thoroughly enjoyed the skill and humour in all the routines.
We then headed off to check out the Discover Dogs section, one of our missions for the day. This is half a hall, laid out in aisles, and organised by breed, so visitors can meet and pet all the different dogs and talk to specialists in each breed. It’s a really excellent idea – it allows prospective dog owners to really understand the types and temperaments of each breed, and what is involved in dog owning in general. More knowledge and information – fewer abandoned and rejected dogs in the long run.
Saturday is Terrier and Hound day, so we beetled off to the Dachshund section – there are six classes – Long-haired, Smooth, and Wire, with a Miniature and a Standard in each.
Oh the mini wires! Heaven! I think Holl would happily have spent the entire day here. At one point she had three in her lap. (Wheelchair bonus – people are very nice to you when you want to pet their dogs.)
Letty remained wholly unmoved by any of the Dachshunds, even when she met this red Standard Smooth (below).
Then we went off to meet the Dandy Dinmonts. As a breed they are on the danger of extinction list. I cannot understand why: they look like fabulous large grey furry sausage dogs, with giant Lemur-like eyes, and have the most lovely temperaments. Also: doesn’t their owner here win the Owner who looks most like his dog prize?
And I love him for just plonking Georgia on Holl’s lap. (I had to quickly remove Letty, who was in danger of Death by Smothering by Dandy Dinmont.)
Dog Discovering well and truly covered, we had a squizz at the classes. These are the Parson Russell Terriers, and the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers.
I hadn’t realised that the dogs sit on these long lines of benches in each hall during the show, in their crates. It’s not hard to see how some lunatic could poison or harm a dog as they are totally open to access from the public if an owner has to leave their cubby hole. On the plus side, it’s a wonderful way to see so many incredible dogs at close quarters.
I was astonished at the calm of the dogs. This beautiful Lakeland Terrier was beyond chilled.
We had wanted to watch the agility trails in the arena, but it was too hard to return through the madding crowd with a wheelchair, so we went to watch the Dogs for the Disabled and Autistic display instead. I have such admiration for these incredible animals who allow their owners to lead hitherto impossibly independent lives.
We also met this absolutely beautiful PAT (Pets as Therapy) dog, having a quick nap. My mother used to take Bertie, our Golden Retriever to the Horton Hospital as a PAT dog for head injury patients, and I know first hand from her how important they are in the rehabilitation process.
We then sloped off to explore the Dachshund benches and watch their classes for the rest of the day – and nearly passed out with joy at the sight of an entire class of Miniature Wire Haired puppies.
Still, I left Crufts feeling a little unsettled and, whilst watching the finals and then the Best in Show final on television over the weekend felt that awkwardness crystallise some more when I heard that Knopa, the beautiful Scottish Terrier winner of Best in Show, was freighted from America to Russia and all over to compete in shows. In my naivety I hadn’t thought about the fact that dogs ex-Britain were competing at Crufts.
I don’t have the same feeling of unease when I see horses being shipped all over the world to compete in Three Day Eventing and showjumping, but somehow a life for a dog that is just being flown on planes, groomed and trotted around a show ring seems wrong. Like the dog has ceased to be a dog and is now just an object – as exemplified by Knopa’s American handler repeatedly picking him up by his neck and tail in the ring.
Because we live with dogs in our homes it’s hard not to anthropomorphise them to a point where we forget that they are animals and not people. But where do we draw the line at what we do with them? Police dogs, Guide Dogs for the Blind, and Dogs for the Disabled: good, breeding them only to show in dog rings: bad?
I still don’t know, and my visit to Crufts hasn’t cleared this up for me. What do you all think?