As children, we all have dreams. For some we dream of what we want to be when we grow up or places we wish to see. I had a different dream. I dreamed of the day when I would own a purebred dog and be in a dog show. While my friends were planning on becoming doctors or dreaming of the day they would visit Disneyland, I was envisioning myself at the most prestigious dog show in North America: the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
As a small child, I can recall spending endless hours sitting on our shag carpet watching The Westminster on our floor model television. I remember my mother telling me to move back insisting “You’re going to hurt your eyes. You’re sitting too close!” As I sat there with my eyes glued to the screen, I dreamed of the day that I would walk in the ring.
As the years passed, my love for the sport grew. I used my allowance to purchase every dog magazine at the local drugstore. I was determined to learn everything I could. As I grew older, my dream never faded. The majority of my family never understood how important it was to me. No one truly appreciated the value of the dream. Not even I understood how powerful the dream was until the moment it manifested itself into reality.
It was April 8th
, 2017- the moment I had been waiting for my entire life was about to happen. Here I was at the age of 39 years old, getting ready to enter the ring. It wasn’t the Westminster, but it sure felt like it. I felt this rush of adrenaline race through my veins. These thoughts raced through my mind “What if I tripped when walking? What if Victor peed in the ring?” The next thing I knew, I heard the echo of the Ring Steward’s voice calling: “Standard Wire Haired Male 204.” I entered the ring and waited for the judge to turn towards me and speak. The judge pointed his finger to indicate to go around the ring and said “on the table”.
We had an incredible weekend, claiming two Best Baby Puppy in Group Ribbons! Those beautiful, soft-orange colored ribbons were like winning Olympic Gold. I left the shows that weekend believing “I got this! We are destined for greatness!” My false sense of security and confidence would be challenged at the next set of shows.
It was a weekend in May and we were ready to compete. There were several factors that I had not taken into consideration. Victor was at this awkward growth phase – he was long and lanky and not quite proportional at the time. Of course I also had not taken into consideration that maybe Victor would just rebel and not want to walk! It never dawned on me that maybe my dog just wouldn’t want to walk! I mean don’t all dogs want to walk? Apparently not. In a split second, I realized how much I knew, was not what I needed to know. As I proceeded to encourage my four-legged boy to walk, the reality of the situation slapped me in the face.
Victor was a little older and the judges were not as forgiving of him or I. I stuck out like a sore thumb as a new handler. I can even recall the judge who looked at me and said “your dog is alright, but you’re a mess. You might want to sit out and let someone else show your dog.” I left the ring that moment with glazed over eyes as I felt the pain of defeat. I had failed to show Victor to his full potential. I realized in that moment, that I really had no idea what I was doing.
At the end of the weekend after 4 attempts in the ring, I even told the co-owner/breeder that maybe they should try handling him. Thankfully, they shut me down immediately and told me “Victor was my boy and I would do this!” After that weekend, I questioned if I was cut out for the dog show business. That Sunday evening, I lay on my bed staring at Victor and wondered if I could do this. Was this childhood dream nothing but that – a foolish dream conjured up by a child who loved dogs?
Up until that day in May, I had taken some classes and thought I was prepared, however I was far from ready for what the world of dog showing entailed. Once the reality of how little I knew settled in, I realized it was time to either get in the game or get out. I made the decision to get in the game. I decided if I am going to compete against the best, I need to be the best. I asked around and learned that Peter Drake was the man to help. So without hesitation I reached out to this esteemed instructor and asked him if I may join his class. I told him I came with a warning label: “New, older handler and clueless; comes with a stubborn, standard wire haired dachshund – proceed with patience.” His response was “See you on Tuesday night at 6:15pm.”
I began to refer to him as ‘Coach’ immediately – as this is truly how I felt about him. I was ready to learn and be instructed, but most importantly ready to accept that I could become a great handler. In the coming months, Peter taught me many valuable lessons about dog shows and handling. It was because of his instruction and my eagerness to learn, I began to think differently. My entire mindset shifted. It wasn’t me handling my dog. It was my dog and I becoming a team. Victor had a job to do and so did I. Together if we both did our jobs, then we would be unstoppable.
The journey of being in the show ring is an evolution and over time you do evolve. One of the most important things you need to realize is it does take time to learn the process. Accept now that the only true defeat is allowing yourself to feel defeat and allowing it to define you.
Perhaps the most complex lesson I have learned to date is what may be perceived as a loss at first, is not a loss. Every single time you walk in the ring, you win. Many people tell me this is not possible. I didn’t get the ribbon, so I didn’t win. In fact this is the furthest thing from the truth. I walked in the ring with what I believe is the best dog in the show. How can that not be winning? Ribbons and awards are beautiful. Of course who doesn’t want the covenant Best in Show title? However I know now I am already taking home the Best in Show dog and no ribbon is going to change that.
I am proud to report that Victor received his Canadian Championship title in May 2018. Perhaps even more impressive is that at our last set of shows, as we begin our journey towards his Grand Championship, he took Best of Breed, went on to take first place in the Hound Group and we made it to the Best in Show Ring. We didn’t walk away with the covenant Best in Show ribbon, but I can tell you with 110% confidence, I felt as though I did. I know now that the little girl with her big dream of dog showing was much more than just a dream, it was part of her destiny.