Seth J Coblentz
Best in Show
As a disclaimer, I am a stolid neophyte when it comes to most things "dog" related, in particular show competitions (and moreover breeding). Thankfully my wife has considerable experience and is an otherwise quick study. This BLOG is conceived as a less than erudite and observational commentary on breeding dogs and living in a foreign land. If you are reading this, then you are probably family members, or perhaps friends or contacts who may relate to the struggles (and triumphs) of both conditions.
Today I'd like to shine the spotlight on Dog Shows. Until last year, the closest I'd ever been to a dog show was on my sofa... watching the film "Best in Show." If you haven't seen it, you certainly should, hilarious. It is a playful satire on the absurdity of humans who adopt very grave and over-important attitudes toward the act of showing their dogs at competitions.
In August of 2019, my wife suggested that we enter our 10 month old female Shikoku, Rumi, into the Leipzig dog show, organized by the Verband für das Deutsche Hundewesen (the "VDH"). I eagerly agreed as it would include my first trip to the dark(ish) East of Germany. Leipzig remains more Slavic in origin than Germanic. The locals pronounce their city as "Lape-sish." In 2019, Leipzig was awarded the honor of "European City of the Year." Whatever that means. The city is the most populous in the state of Saxon and rich in history (like nearly every mid to large sized city in Europe). I was impressed when told by a local German that Leipzig has the largest and most revered Zoo in Germany, and ranks #2 overall in Europe. Rankings, though almost never empirical and mostly whimsical, still catch my attention as they are easy to digest. I conducted some superficial on-line research and can neither confirm, nor deny, that the Zoo is the largest in Germany (Berlin looks close) nor the 2nd largest in Europe. However, the Zoo looks substantial from the outside and is located near the Zentrum on a lovely park with running paths and lakes. Overall, my impressions of Leipzig were very positive and formidable. The people are well known for being friendly and helpful, which supports everything I know of my few East German friends here. Leipzig is a mostly clean city, reflecting the Age of Enlightenment in its Renaissance buildings, while at the same time buttressed by the expansive Plattenbau apartments, the detritus of Communist rule and planned housing projects constructed in the 1960s. I was surprised to learn that our hotel, the Westin Leipzig, is the third tallest building in the entire city despite being only 29 floors (or 63 meters tall). This fact reflects that most of Europe has always built "out" and not "up." Unbeknownst to me, Frankfurt's top division football team, Eintracht, was in town to play Leipzig the next day and was staying at our hotel (spoiler alert, Eintracht lost, as they have a propensity to do).
So with vim and vigor, we awoke early on Saturday morning and drove on the most perfect Eastern German Autobahnen to Leipzig to attend the Competition at the massive convention center. In all sincerity, we entered this event with no expectations other than trying something new and taking a junket to the East. Kathrin handled all of the administrative, linguistic and logistic issues of getting registered and physically into the show. I was left free to wander the dog arenas and what a trip it was.
The film "Best in Show" prepared me well for the obsessive dog owners who wore overt signs of stress and anxiety as they primped their champions canines. But that is competition, right? As a former cyclist and triathlete, not a person on God's green earth would think my pre competition antics were socially acceptable or a sign of someone having a "good time." So I committed to retard the judging mind and just enjoy the spectacle. There were so many breeds that I'd never seen, among the 5,000 dogs entered in the Competition. In fact, I doubt that I could have accurately identified more than 10% of the dog breeds present. The Convention Center in Leipzig is large enough to house several A380s, and yet there was hardly a square meter of the floor exposed. It wasn't the 5,000 dogs, or the dog owners and handlers, or the thousands of paying spectators alone. It was also the business folks selling dog food, chew toys, leashes, novelty products and anything that could ever appeal to a dog owner. I was quickly reminded what a business this is, and BIG business. The pet store market cap in the United States exceeds $20 Billion in revenue each year, and Europe is not so far behind.
But back to Rumi. So Kathrin and I eventually found some relative calm within the storm and planted ourselves along a wall with Rumi and her doggie palazzo. We competed throughout the day and apparently showed quite well. Kathrin can tell you every detail of the procedure to advance, the various classes and categories and what is acceptable showing etiquette. I can't tell you anything other than getting a puppy to parade around a circle is not that easy. My wife was dressed in her elegant but casual manner as if we were going to the grocery store as she "handled" Rumi. The handlers for the competition, also female, had a more affected sartorial statement, somewhere between attending a knock-off Christian Dior runway show and a West Palm Beach Polo match. I much preferred Kathrin's casual style, and I think the judges did as well.
Once it came time to receive the verdicts from the judges, my competitive nature reared its ugly head. Ohhhhh shit, what if Rumi doesn't win? Does this mean there is something wrong with her? Or worse, is there something wrong with us? Did we as her caretakers do something wrong? Was I mistaken to think that she is the sweetest and most beautiful dog in the world? Yes, I actually had those thoughts. Fortunately for the sake of my ego, Rumi did quite well. She was awarded the "German Junior Winner 2019" as well as the "Jugendsieger Leipzig 2019" (the junior category is for dogs who are fewer than 18 months of age). All I know is that, as Shakespeare wrote, "The lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact." I certainly saw my share of lunatic(s) at my first dog show (perhaps I'm one of them now) and also my share of lovers who cared more than anything for their dogs (evidence of this is that most of the SUV's and Campers in the parking lot had blown up images of their dogs painted onto their vehicles). I wish I could insert here that I'm the observing poet, but that is a contempt in the extreme. All I know is that dog shows and showing your own dog is a ton of fun. I compare this to the sport of triathlon. When doing your first race, you are unavoidably naive and starry eyed. Just finishing or even showing up is a victory of sorts. But as you advance in the sport, your expectations wax, you expect more of yourself and you are much better prepared. I suggest this may happen with us in dog showing, though the two sports are so different. Namely, you are never really in control of your dog the way you are in control of your body.
In summary, the Judges seem to like Rumi and that naturally feels quite good. People who go to dog shows are not all crazy, probably just me. Leipzig is well worth a visit if you haven't been. We look forward to attending a few more dog shows and learning from the judges and their insight into this rare breed. The challenge is that very few (if any) judges of the Spitz category have more than a superficial experience with the Shikoku breed. We hope to be a small contributor to expanding this breed in Europe in the near future. Will share the breeding intentions in the next blog. Thanks for reading!