Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Doggie Wonderland in Philadelphia

For a look at John's photos of the Purina National Dog Show in Philly, click here.

This weekend, I joined John for a quick trip to Philadelphia, where he presented the findings of his Masters Thesis research at the annual conference of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. Little did we know that, right next door to his convention, was a gathering of fluffy goodness, the likes of which you cannot imagine without seeing it firsthand; yes, this weekend, the Philadelphia Kennel Club played host to the Purina National Dog Show. This is no corny local dog parade, this is a Big Daddy Dog Show, the one that is aired after the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on national TV.

It might seem kind of weird that we attended a dog show, but when I checked the "FAQ" online, I read that you were allowed to pet the dogs (with owner permission, of course). I still didn't know quite what to expect from the experience, but for $12 and all-you-can-pet doggies, what did we have to lose? Besides, the newspaper article about the show today indicates that we were in good company- there were over 15,000 attendees!!

All we knew of dog shows was what we'd seen on TV- the big bleachers and formal ring in which dogs are judged by very serious-looking men and women in awful suits/dresses, wearing "comfortable shoes." If that was all it was going to be, that was going to be pretty cool. But little did we know the amazing experience that lay before us . . .

Turns out, the formal dog ring that you see on TV is definitely NOT the coolest thing going on in the Convention Center that day- the judging ring is just the tip of the iceberg, and the real action, if you are lucky enough to get in on it, is the 1,200 dogs representing over 150 breeds, that are hanging out "backstage."

As we entered the exhibit hall, there were about a dozen small, pretty informal looking "judging rings" where various dogs of the same breed were trotting around at various times. But beyond this, the other 75% of the exhibit space consisted of row upon row upon row of DOGS. Each dog and owner is assigned a small space, approximately ten feet wide, where they set up shop: dog, cage, grooming table, comfy beach chairs, etc. Visitors are then able to walk freely among these hundreds and hundreds of dogs and talk to the owners and (for the most part) pet and generally visit with the amazing dogs.

I had worried that the owners wouldn't be so friendly, that they would be more of the "don't touch my high-strung dog, he is WORKING today." While there were a couple people who had just groomed their fluffies and didn't want the blown-out hair tussled, the vast majority of dogs were definitely accepting visitors. What a huge variety of dogs! The American Kennel Club recognizes over 150 breeds, and they were definitely all in the house. From Great Danes to Neopolitan Mastiffs to those ridiculous Chinese Cresteds (the same breed that brought us the perennial favorite World's Ugliest Dog.)

Turns out this dog show is what's called a "Conformation show," as opposed to an agility show or something. Conformation shows seem to simply judge dogs based on how closely they conform to the breed standards set by the American Kennel Club, therefore encouraging and perpetuating purity of breeding stock. This might explain why people were a little more mellow and friendly, since the distance between the dog's nose-tip and forehead (or some other super-specific judging standard) isn't going to change by my petting it that day. That said, I'd say that the dog owners fell (very roughly) into three categories:

1. Joe Average Dog Fancier: this person isn't much different from you and me, assuming you are well-balanced, normal looking, educated and friendly. They go to shows mostly just to educate the public about whatever breed of dog they have found is a great animal. The best example of this type of dog show person is- you guessed it! - the nice guy who had the gorgeous brindle Boxer. He told John he really just goes to these shows to tell people what it's like to have a boxer, what makes a good fit, etc. See? Boxer people rule! Duh.

2. Eccentric (Borderline Dog Freak): these are the people who really look like their dogs. There were some ladies with some funky feathered hats who matched the wispy tailed salukis, and 100% of the Bull Dog owners looked their dogs- portly, middle aged, crunchy-faced. Hilarious.

3. Dog Show Nazi: This is the person better personified by the mega-spaz lawyer couple/Weimaraner owners in the hilarious movie Best in Show: very serious, high strung, don't-touch-my-animal types. We only came across one or two of these types yesterday, but the most extreme example was definitely the super-bitchy Komondor couple who wore stupid matching kilts (apparently the Komondor comes from Scotland) and definitely looked like they were in it for the money (i.e., that they were professional handlers who were being paid by some rich person to show the super fussy dog, and this was "all business" for them).

If you've never seen a Komondor before, they are big dogs that look like a bunch of old mops stuck together into dog-form and they are RIDICULOUS. They BEG to be touched (what ARE they made of? so weird). I admit it was probably wrong of me to do this without asking first, but almost 100% of the dogs were available for petting, so when these people had their dog out, doing final primping before the judging, I reached down to touch it. "DON'T TOUCH HIM. HE'LL BITE!" she barked. Well, guess what? Every first year law student knows that "every dog gets one bite" which means that, once you have a dog with a known propensity to bite, it leaves "domestic" status and moves to "vicious" animal and the courts are supposed to treat it like a lion if it bites you. In short, if you know your dog bites, and it bites me, I get to have your house because you are uninsured and 100% liable for the damage that your known, vicious animal causes.

Sorry for the legal digression, but seriously, why bring an animal that is CRYING to be touched into a room full of 15,000 curious people? On that slightly sour note, I'll end this blog with some words of wisdom: if you EVER get a chance to attend a dog show, DO IT DO IT DO IT! you will be amazed how much fun and how interactive it is. We cut ourselves off after 4 hours!

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