As Remington, my champion Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, and I walked toward Ring 4, I had to laugh. We were actually in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and surprisingly I was not nervous. Just being at the “big show” was what we had hoped and worked for all season.
Rem had retired from the ring two years earlier after earning his champion title. After a year, a good friend convinced me to show Rem again to try to help him earn a national ranking. Achieving this without the help of a professional handler and on a part-time show schedule would be difficult, but Rem was special. The year progressed, the wins began to add up, and Rem reached top 20 in the breed rankings.
A full year of showing and training our dog had led to this incredible moment. Rem looked up at me and I did what I always did before we entered the ring: I bent down and said, “Ready to have some fun?” Then I kissed his nose.
Madison Square Garden looked different from what I remembered from watching the show in the living room with my parents and sisters.
As we watched the show on television and discussed our favorite breeds, my mom would recount the years she accompanied her aunt to the Garden to help her show her Kerry Blue Terriers.
Growing up I wanted to learn how to handle show dogs, but the opportunity never presented itself.
At the time of the show I had been showing Rem for about two years.
When my husband and I decided to get a dog and settled on a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, we elected to purchase a show quality dog.
I figured when he grew up, I would have my chance to live out a childhood dream. My husband and I always said Rem was a pet first, our first child really, and this was just for fun. And fun it was.
We had come a long way in two years.
Looking back, I am not sure who needed to learn more. In our first show, after the judging was complete, Rem dragged me out of the ring to be with his “daddy.”
Now he stood head to tail with the top Swissies in the country as I stood shoulder to shoulder with the top dog handlers of the sport.
As the judge checked our numbers and got his first look at the dogs, I could feel Rem wanted to move. One of the things people loved about Rem was the way he moved; his gait was fluid and smooth with power and drive.
As we completed our first run and stacked our dogs, Rem’s feet stuck to the carpet and I had to smile. We had learned our lesson at the National Eukanuba Championship a month earlier -- carpets are slippery, but it’s not a problem that a little cola couldn’t solve.
I could feel my heart begin to race as the judge approached us for the individual evaluation, but I tried to keep calm. Rem and I were a team and he would know if I was nervous, which in turn would make him nervous. I was able to slow down my breathing, and I knew it was almost time to move. I had to keep it together.
After completing his review, the judge asked me to run Rem out and back. I could tell the judge liked what he saw and hoped for a great “stack.”
A "stack" is the stance that the dog presents to the judge when he or she returns from a running pattern. When a dog stops right in front of the judge, the handler hopes the dog presents a good chest, head, flat topline, or whatever the breed is expected to have. It is similar to the stance the handlers put the dogs in before the judges begin their examination, except the dog has to do it himself.
Rem nailed his stack. After a nod from the judge we circled around the ring and returned to our place in line. No misstep from me, no slipping from Rem. We had done it.
As the judge moved down the line, he selected several dogs for his final review. He pointed in our direction. I could not move. A handler close to me said, “He means you!” and off I went, eyes blurred with tears.
We moved into line with the other selected dogs and I bent down, gave Rem a hug and a kiss and told him, “You did it!” I got a “Rem wiggle” in response.
When we returned to the ring for the final judging, Rem rose to the occasion and did a beautiful job. I could hear the cheering from our family and friends as we went around. I just enjoyed the moment.
How many times would I get this opportunity? In what other sport can an amateur compete with professionals at an event as prestigious as this?
In the end Rem did not win Best of Breed or an Award of Merit. But for the girl who watched the show with her sisters, it was a huge victory just to be in the ring at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and to make the final cut for breed selection.
After a long day, we returned home and everyone savored the experience.
The next day, as I fielded calls from friends wanting to know about the show, I looked over to see Rem lying beside my son’s high chair, standing guard against any scraps of food that dared to escape the tray.
Just as my husband and I had hoped he would, Rem remained first and foremost our cherished family pet.
He passed away a couple of years ago, and our house is still decorated with pictures of him with our family and in the show ring.
Over the last few months we have been discussing getting a new dog. Once again we are inclined to purchase a show quality pup.
By the time this year’s show is over I am fairly certain that we will have made our decision. And who knows ... maybe in a year or two I will be back on the green carpet at Madison Square Garden, channeling Rem, and just having fun!
Tisha Anne Werner lives in New York.