Dog days of judging

November 05, 1998

If Martians were ever going to invade the planet, I wish it could have been shortly after noon on Saturday at the Washington County ag center, when several dozen dogs and their owners were dressed up for the costume segment of the first Howlaween dog show.

Something about seeing a Rottweiler named Nashville dressed as a black-eyed Susan would have given them pause. Heck, it gave me pause, and I'm not even a Martian, although I have been accused of thinking like one.

I was attending the dog show because I had been asked to be one of four judges for the event. I said OK because I figured it might be a pleasant change to judge a dog instead of being treated like one.

My extensive experience included part ownership of those two fanged idiots Tory and Lacey, as well as extensive, profanity-laced tirades at the bozos who judge the Westminster Dog Show - the ones who would award Best in Show to an oyster if you could give it a goofy enough haircut.


I started to say something about my paucity of qualifications to Diane, who was organizing the show, but she cut me off. "Don't worry. There will be other people there who know what they're doing."

It's a good thing. First of all, I dressed all wrong. Judge Leesy wore a denim shirt smartly emblazoned with country artwork, Judge Eben wore a plaid tweed blazer with a blue oxford, button-down shirt and burgundy tie - and I was really starting to regret my black glitter "Def Leppard sez 'Party Down'" T-shirt and Harley boots.

I feared they were about to have a blessing of the hounds. And me without my riding crop. Diane and Judge Rheeanna assured me, though, that this would be an informal affair and after they dragged me out from under the registration table we got right to the first competition, which was the category of Tallest Dog.

Rheeanna works for the Cumberland Valley vet clinic, Leesy raises German shorthairs, Eban is president of a basset club - so where real expertise was called for they carried the load. But just measuring height? They believed I could handle such an objective test. The first dog approached the stand and Leesy advised "measure him up to the withers."

"The which?"

"The withers."

"Oh, right, of course."

I measured, but soon felt a tapping on my shoulder.

"Uh, those are his ears."

I tried again.

"That's his throat."

It was pretty clear early on that I didn't know withers from a windmill, and I knew things would only get worse. The next category was grooming. Cool, I thought, as I set down some mental standards. No mats, no ticks, hasn't rolled in a rotting raccoon lately...

But soon as we huddled to pick a winner Rheeanna nodded to a shelty and said "What did you think of his nails?"

"Nails? Let me get this straight. I'm supposed to inspect the toenails? Who do I look like, Marge from the Palmolive commercial?"

Fortunately for me, Rheeanna and Leesy are two of the kindest, most patient women on earth, so they gently and without ridicule explained that good grooming included nails and teeth.

I glanced over at a 400-pound mastiff that was looking particularly carnivorous that morning and thought that I would sooner look at a child eating a poached egg than I would this beast's teeth. Who knew what shreds of former dog show judges I might find hanging from a pointed incisor.

But in the end I was gratified that the other judges liked the same dog I did for Best In Show. It was a gorgeous husky named Logan, who is owned by Stacey and Deanna Garvin.

They'd rescued him from an abuse-filled life, which is appropriate, since that's what the Howlaween show is all about - it raised $1,300 to help place abused animals in caring homes. I watched as the big, blue-eyed fellow was showered with hugs, treats, attention, love and goodwill.

And I identified with the guy in the Marmaduke cartoon who commented "I never said I had lived a dog's life; I said I wished I could."

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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