It’s all happening around here at the moment. The Cheltenham Racing Festival’s on just seven miles down the road and, last weekend, it was Crufts at the NEC, a short drive up the M5. Much as I adore the dogs, it’s an amazing event for we ‘people watching’ enthusiasts. They say owners become like their dogs and we shared many a titter as the theory was proven over and over again.
As interested observers rather than breed specific contestants, watching the judging was highly entertaining. Happening upon the Irish Wolfhound competition, the personality of the animals was mirrored in the owners. A friendly lot, we chatted to them while seated around the ring, I became used to having a snout watching over my shoulder, moving so quietly for such hugeanimals. Honestly, a jump jockey and saddle wouldn’t have looked amiss on their backs. ‘Amiable buffoon’ springs to mind as an appropriate description of these gentle giants. Perhaps they really are like people; there’s the ‘Jack Russell’ syndrome lot we’ve all met – snappy, opinionated, needing to be noticed and the large (huge?) folks with nothing to prove and content just to ‘be’. These owners were happy to run around in cotton tee-shirts and trainers as the dogs did their thing. The judges generally seemed to be a breed apart regardless of breed of dog!
In stark contrast were the Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Oh yes, definitely money involved with this lot. No trainers and casual gear here. Many looked like the ‘gin and jag’ brigade, all tight silk suits and personal photographers. Highly entertaining as it ain’t easy to run as fast as their dogs while sporting a tight pencil skirt. These large dogs were actually rather graceful and more easygoing than their appearance might suggest. Talking with an a-typical owner (who ran the Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue Society), she stated she and her dog had no chance of winning because “We’re not the judge’s type”. Her dog is of the original ‘design’ which is no longer in vogue. Apparently, people are now breeding Ridgebacks simply because there’s money to be made on them. I could see why, looking at the owners. Sadly, the dogs suffer in the long run.
The Discover Dogs area housed every breed and here I asked too many questions. Well, curiousity must be satisfield, n’est pas? Unwittingly, I offended the proud owner of a Komondor – no, I wasn’t familiar with them either. Suffice it to say, I couldn’t tell which end was which. I credit myself with reasonable intelligence and anyone could have made the same mistake, couldn’t they? The dog had very long strands of what looked like felt, about an inch wide, rather like a microfibre mop. One end of prize specimen had loads of strands pulled into a ponytail. Now then, how was I supposed to know that was the back end? Pony tails are usually at the front, unless actually on a pony, aren’t they? I asked whether it was an authentic breed. Insulted, or what? The body language, let alone his forced reply (barely concealing contempt for my ignorance), was enough to inform me I’d made a Cruft’s faux pas. It’s an ANCIENT breed, the man said. As he’d already told me he’d trimmed (chopped?) four inches from the undercarriage so it didn’t drag along the floor, I asked how grooming was carried out in ancient times. He’d just revealed the pony tail was on the back end and he’d tied it up because there was about two feet of long flat tendrils which drag along the floor. Now then, how on earth could these dogs live out with sheep on the hillsides if they’re likely to trip on their own tendrils? Ever practical, this was an obvious question, I thought. Wrong again. I decided it was time to move on.
Harvey wasn’t there this year, he’s a Field Spaniel we met on two visits to Crufts over the last decade. Did you know the breed’s in danger? Such a shame. Hearing about the health problems, amazed myself by asking if it was as a result of a restricted gene pool? That piqued their interest, thinking I knew what I was talking about. Nope, not really. It’s all this veterinary training by osmosis – remembered Daughter once talking about problems with kangaroos. Have been thinking about getting a Field Spaniel to befriend our Alfred but I couldn’t bear the heartbreak of having an animal with potential congenital illnesses. Puppies are rarer than hen’s teeth, so we could grow old waiting for one anyway. Maybe Alf should become a father himself? Did once consider it, thinking the owner/breeder of Alf’s Dad could sort out the business while I sat in the kitchen doing the paperwork and drinking tea. Sadly, he was too busy and I too inexperienced to welcome visiting ‘ladies’.
Never mind Alf, we’re pals, aren’t we?