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You gotta root for 'dirty beard'

February 16, 2009

Score one for the senior citizens. A 10-year-old Sussex spaniel named Stump won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Show.

(Be honest. How many of you, when you first heard of the Westminster dog show, thought it was held in Maryland?)

A 10-year-old dog? Isn't that like 70 in people years? This would be like Carol Channing winning Miss America.

Stump. Usually, by the time a dog reaches that age, he has a couple.

I watch the dog show for several reasons. One is to test my theory that the size of the handlers is inversely proportional to the size of the dog. You start in the behemoth, working-group class with the mastiffs and the Great Pyrenees, and the handlers are pretty svelte. But by the time you get down to the toy class, you don't know if the handlers have been training the dogs or eating them.

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Like anyone, I have my rooting interests. I don't root for any dog that has a bow on his melon. I don't root for any dog -- and I don't care how cute women think they look -- with eyes that look similar to those of a 17-year locust. I don't root for any dog whose handler has to bring a hairbrush and a blow dryer into the ring.

I root for dogs that look like dogs. I'm pretty simple that way. As a family matter, I also root for bulldogs and, of course, the bouvier des Flandres. Happily, our own local celebrity bouvier, Sondra and Dave Riser's dog named Demetri, received an award of merit.

As best as I can determine, about the same time, the bouvier des Flandres named Opie had his head buried in the mud digging for some Civil War relic, or something.

Hannah the bulldog is very conscious of her appearance, even though the bone structure of her skull appears to be a prototype for early Star Wars characters. Opie, on the other hand, routinely carries several yards of topsoil in his beard and is the happier for it.

They don't call bouviers "dirty beards" for nothing. Opie is always searching for anything interesting, below ground or above. In the recent rains, he found a rather deep puddle in a low spot in the lawn. He amused himself for a half-hour by pogo-sticking into the air, then watching the pattern of the spray from the resulting splashdown. He thought this was great. He thought the splash was the funniest thing he'd ever seen.

When we saw this, we just slumped our shoulders and trudged to our back porch, where we routinely keep a barbecue grill, a few flower pots and a large stack of towels.

So, when I see the Risers, I have to ask them this question: How do the handlers who show bouviers keep their dogs on the ground? In my experience, gravity does not apply in space and gravity does not apply to bouviers.

An interesting feature of the breed is that they do not need a running start to get off the ground. They just kind of instantly levitate and then fly forward, like a V-22 Osprey. They crash about as often, too.

The bouviers in the show trot around the ring peaceably enough, but Opie spends most of his waking life airborne. True story: We had dinner guests Sunday and Beth had to go through three changes of clothes, the victim of muddy-pawed bouvier launches. Finally, she snapped and chased him through three counties with a tomato stake. This might explain why large-dog owners are so fit.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com.

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