By Valerie J. Till
Chambray's High Pines Sundance CGC TDI
By Valerie J Till
Dog shows never cease to amaze me.
My best friend, Martha Chisholm and I were just remarking the other night how exhausted we always are after all of the hoopla is over. There is something electrifying about concentrating several weeks of training and conditioning with one’s dog into a mere 5-10 minute time frame. There is no room for choking or time for mistakes. There is no rehearsal. It’s a virtual ménage-a-trois between dog, handler and judge.
Will the experience be pleasurable and send you to the winner’s circle or leave you scratching, cursing under your breath and wondering "how the Hell did that happen?"
As with any high stakes game, it all depends on a wide range of variables, some controllable, some not but all of which add to the excitement and addiction of competition.
However, not all victories are measured by blue ribbons and glossy photographs. Sometimes, the greatest achievements transcend the judge’s mortal glance and manage to escape ever so silently, unnoticed by the lusting crowd hungering for points, points and even more points. Many times, there are quiet successes that tug at our heartstrings that make the ones earned under the glare of the spotlights pale in comparison.
And the true mystery of it all is how God sometimes answers our prayers in ways we would least expect. Such an experience happened to me at the last show.
But first, let’s turn the time machine back to the year 2002…to the end of a show career.
It was three years ago that I decided to retire my show dog, Sugar Bear. He was then officially known as Chambray’s High Pines Sundance. Sandy Herzon was my breeder, my certified AKC trainer, my mentor and shoulder to cry on each time we would walk out of the ring empty-handed. Oh sure, we stuck with it and in the midst of it all, managed to emerge with a Canine Good Citizen Certificate (CGC).
But the points forever remained an elusive dream and week after week, they were systematically awarded to everyone but us.
When Bear and I finally decided to call it quits, there was no championship to celebrate, no champagne corks to pop, no tributes to greatness. Despite all of our efforts, we always managed to come up short. Something always seemed to be missing.
So in 2002, we walked out of the ring for the last time not because we hadn’t given it all we had. It was simply because Bear hated showing.
Leading Bear into the ring would prompt any practicing Catholic to head immediately to confession and say three rosary’s worth of penance. It was surely a sin and easily bordered on animal cruelty.
So, what to do with a former show dog with looks and personality to die for and the temperament of your favorite college sweetheart?
Enter Therapy Dogs International.
Now, this terrific opportunity would never have presented itself had Father Time not put the brakes on Bear’s testosterone level. But three years of mellowing into a canine Perry Como made me hopeful that maybe, just maybe there was something out there for my boy.
After acing his TDI Certification Assessment earlier this year, I was waiting for the right moment to stage his Coming Out party.
Enter the South Dade Kennel Club Dog Show.
I had promised my friend Rosy Harkow that I would report with her to the TDI booth at 12’oclock sharp to begin what was to be known only by me as "Bear’s Big Experiment."
With his service vest on, my man proudly marched himself up to the table to begin his new career. Oh, how I hoped he wouldn’t wilt under the pressure. How I prayed that perhaps he would no longer be a source of jokes but finally a source of pride.
As he sat down on the floor, I attempted to straighten his vest and brush off his coat. He needed to be spit-shine ready for roll call, right?
It was then that the realization hit me. Bear didn’t need to be anything special. He just needed to be himself for being himself was special enough.
For three hours, I watched Bear work the crowd unfazed by anything. I watched in awe as he tenderly kissed the little girls in their strollers and softly caressed the elderly. I watched him spar with the little boys and stand upright for the men. It was an amazing transformation.
I happened to glance over at Rosy who was also lending her services with her beautiful bitch, Chambrays Mad about Madeline, affectionately known as Maddie. Aside from also being CGC & TDI certified, Maddie is an AKC Champion as well as an International Champion and has to date 11 Best of Breeds and multiple Group wins, including a Group I to her credit.
What an incredible irony that the perennial underdog and the decorated bitch were now shoulder-to-shoulder as equal partners sharing the same stage.
It was truly a "Home Run Over the Wall" kind of moment for the no-name player who was always last to be picked and barely made the team.
Bear’s breeder, Sandy, always said that you could pick up a dog’s vibes through the lead. What I felt through the lead that day was care, confidence and contentment.
Bear had finally found his calling.
I now plan to embrace the TDI program and make my sweet and wonderful companion available to the organization as often as I can. Hopefully, we can soon begin our visits to the hospitals and nursing homes to spread some much-needed love to those who are less fortunate.
So to those who think that a dog’s success must be measured in blue ribbons, think again.
I can testify that the winners sometimes are outside the ring, behind the curtain, away from the lights, making a difference in even bigger ways.
Making people feel special.
Now, that’s a true Champion.