Keepin’ It Real
This is going to be a mess, so bear with me. I’ve been having this conversation off and on with various friends, but maybe fleshing it out in writing will snap it into sharper focus for me. I’ve been thinking a lot about this gone-to-the-dogs life I’ve been living these past 7 years as it has become increasingly obvious that I can’t keep going on the trajectory I’ve been following.
The dog fancy is a peculiar, insular little world. I was seasoned to it at a young age though, so when I was at loose ends in my life and looking for both a hobby and an identity, it was a natural and safe place for me to go. With no intention to go out and get a Cardigan Welsh Corgi, I did just that when I stumbled across Ian on the interwebs one evening, and knew that he was mine. Ian was my wonderdog — conformation prospect, awesome obedience dog for one just getting back in the saddle, A-Plus companion and house dog. He helped me cut my teeth in the conformation ring, earned me my first (okay, to date my only) obedience title, and showed me what an amazing breed the previously overlooked-by-me Cardigan is.
Naturally, I had to have more.
More show wins. More Cardigans with whom to compete for those wins. For if I was going to have a hobby — in a competitive “sport” at that — then by golly I was going to be competitive!! A foundation bitch, then a dog-who-was-the-color-I-wanted, then another foundation bitch when the first didn’t develop the way I had hoped. Add another to the dog pile because damn, that’s a really pretty bitch and should make some super nice babies! Breed a litter and keep the male I swore I wasn’t going to keep any more of, because he’s a really great prospect!! And shit, let’s pick up another breed to show while we’re at it. It’s what all the cool kids are doing!
Insanity isn’t a state of being, it’s a process. It’s a long, winding, downhill, spiraling, series of decisions that goes faster and faster until it deposits you in a huge, sudden heap. And when it does — if you’re lucky — you wake up and ask yourself what the hell just happened.
What happened was that the combination of volatile hormones and the sheer number of dogs in my house pushed me to place Ian — my first Cardigan, my wonder-dog, my heart-and-soul-dog, the one who started it all — in another home, because he was unhappy, and dog fights are dangerous for everyone. What happened was my finances were in tatters, as were my woodwork, my furniture, my carpet, and my relationships with anyone who wasn’t a “dog person.” What happened was I had lots of ribbons but not a lot of memories of fun time spent with my dogs just being dogs, because with so many came very little time and/or energy for each.
What happened was that the hobby and identity that I had been searching for had made me their prisoner.
I read once that the thrill you get from winning at a dog show has the same effect on the pleasure centers of the brain as winning money from gambling. I don’t doubt that for a heartbeat. Gambling can become a serious and financially ruinous addiction — and so can showing dogs. Like gambling, the “pay-off” is sporadic and unpredictable, which guarantees that the player will throw the dice that many more times trying to hit the winning combination. And like gambling, showing dogs is anything but a level playing field.
I’m not even talking about the age-old “judges always put up handlers” complaint. When you gamble, your odds of success are increased proportionally to your ability to keep throwing money at the effort. So too is it with dog shows. Money may not “buy” you a win, but it sure as hell buys you more opportunities for one. That Number 1 nationally-ranked dog? Sure, it’s probably a decent specimen of the breed, but its ranking has far less to do with its merits than it does with having an owner(s) who has the money to either travel every weekend to dog shows and absorb those travel expenses and entry fees, or the money to “campaign” a dog — sending it out with a professional handler, buying magazine ads, etc. I could breed the most fantastic specimen of a Cardigan Welsh Corgi who has ever lived, and it wouldn’t even break the Top 25, because I will never have thousands upon thousands of dollars to throw at campaigning it. That’s not news, and it’s not sour grapes; it’s not really even a complaint. It’s just reality, and it is what it is.
Another thing about showing dogs: it’s barely a stone’s throw to go from judging dogs to judging people, and BOY do dog people do an awful lot of that. I have seen tremendous acts of kindness from one dog person to another, but those are woefully less common than talking behind people’s backs, breaking contracts, shifting allegiances, dog club politics, and just plain, downright nastiness. I mean, Jesus Fucking Christ, people, it’s a coat color, or length of hair. On a dog!!
Get. The Fuck. Over it!
So, that’s what I’m choosing to do. I’m making realistic goals and expectations for myself:
- I’m not going to frustrate myself with notions that I will one day have a top-ranked dog — I can’t pay to get it there. When I do compete, it will be to show a dog I’m proud of, and to spend time in the company of my dog friends and the camaraderie we enjoy at shows. Because my enjoyment of the experience shouldn’t center around what some judge thinks; it should center around what *I* think.
- I’m not going to keep more dogs than I can reasonably enjoy in my life — that’s no good for anyone. The majority of show prospects going forward will be placed on co-owns with people I love and trust, who will enable me to continue my breeding program in its very limited capacity, or they will go to the same kind of fantastic, loving, wonderful pet homes that my current puppies enjoy. No warehousing, no stockpiling.
- I’m going to put my financial house in order — no more skimping on groceries or leaving bills unpaid just to make entries by the closing date. It’s a freaking dog show; it’s not that important.
- I’m going to enjoy the love and company of friends, whether they be dog people or not, and leave the thoughts of competition and acquisition behind — true friends are few and far between, and are to be cherished when and where you find them.
- Above all, I’m going to make it my mission to, above all, BE KIND. To my dogs, to myself, to my fellow fanciers and exhibitors. It’s supposed to be a hobby, not an avocation. There’s no place for smallness, for pettiness, for mean spirits in this world. At least not in my tiny corner of it.
That’s it, I guess. Part rant, part self-reflection, part perspective-shift; part accepting the things I cannot change, changing the things I can, and learning to tell the difference. Thanks for reading, if you made it this far. I look forward to seeing you all on the next leg of this journey.