Going to the Dogs

 

 

Working Sundays as I do, I've been forced to adjust not only my schedule but also my attitude. I've resigned myself to minor inconveniences like not being able to sleep in and not being able to go out to breakfast, but there's one major inconvenience I didn't count on: missing the dog show.

Every year around this time, the Golden Gate Kennel Club holds a show at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, and when our girls were younger, we made annual pilgrimages there. Cindy's husband, Dan, thinks it's hysterical that I'm a dog show groupie, because he knows I'm allergic to fur-bearing animals. If I'm in a closed space with dogs or cats (and possibly cows, horses, llamas, and chimpanzees, too, though my friends don't keep too many of those around the house) for over an hour, I start getting hayfever symptoms. My eyes itch and water, and by doze gets stobbed ub. With very furry creatures, like Persian cats or Samoyeds, I also get raspy and wheezy and lose my voice.

I've found, however, that my allergies aren't a problem at the show. The dogs there are freshly bathed and groomed, the doors are flung wide open, and the Cow Palace, with its 200-foot ceilings, has an unlimited supply of air.

It's a fallacy to think that people who are allergic to dogs don't like them. I do like dogs, quite a bit; I like their friendliness, their enthusiasm (oh yeah oh yeah going to the park oh yeah pant pant pant) and their unwavering loyalty. I just never have been able to have one of my own because I have this strange obsession with breathing. Call me crazy.

The dog show, though, gives me my canine fix for the whole year. I enjoy seeing all the different sizes and shapes dogs come in: tiny Pekingese with blue bows tied to their silky fur, proud standard poodles with silly topiary hairstyles, huge, shaggy Newfoundlands, like slobbery black bears, with bandana-bibs around their necks.

It's fascinating to see breeds I've never even heard of before, like Portuguese water dogs. (Di was interested in the latter, until she found out that cost mucho dinero. . .or the Portuguese equivalent.) Some of the uncommon breeds are appealing, like curly-coated retrievers, who look like permed Labs, and shar peis with their anxious, wrinkly faces. Others, like miniature Dobermans -- think black-and-tan rats -- give me a bad case of the shudders.

We've had some memorable experiences at the dog show. One year we saw the late San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen, emerging from his Jaguar. (He didn't have to drive around for an hour, trying to find a parking space and settling for a spot where you'd be lucky to have tires an engine left when you returned. He qualified for VIP parking, right near the entrance to the Cow Palace.) Herb was nattily attired in a double-breasted navy blue blazer and white trousers, and I thought perhaps he had the event confused with the boat show, but he later wrote in his column that he'd stopped by specifically to see the Rottweilers.

Another year, we were moving towards the Cow Palace with a mass of people, being carried along rather than walking. The couple beside us had with them a dog whose tags read in big letters, LOLA. Another woman noticed the dog, bent down, and crooned, "Oh, look at him! Isn't he adorable?", which prompted a young man on the other side of us to burst into song: "Lola, he was a show dog. . ." Everyone started to laugh, and there was a warm, comfortable feeling to the crowd, as if we all knew each other. Actually, we did know one important fact about each other: we all had an affinity for dogs.

Time magazine a few years ago did a lead article about dogs, discussing some of the problems created by both in-breeding and the unrealistic standards set for show dogs. English bulldogs, for example, have been bred to have such large heads that their puppies must be delivered by Caesarean section. Golden retrievers have a tendency to develop hip dysplasia; pugs, with their characteristic pushed-in noses, have respiratory difficulties; shar peis are plagued with skin rashes. And Irish setters, the article said unkindly, "are so dumb they can't find the end of the leash."

I worried for a while that by going to dog shows sponsored by the American Kennel Club, I might be helping to perpetuate some of these problems. Well, maybe. But on the other hand, AKC breeders cherish their animals and take good care of them. Their standards for canine beauty may sometimes be a little warped, but at least they're not cruel or neglectful like the puppy mills that supply pet shops.

And I do so love seeing all those dogs -- the big lumbering St. Bernards, the patient yellow Labradors, and the Irish wolfhounds with their matching, grey-bearded owners.

 

One of these days I'm going to take the plunge and buy myself a dog, allergies be damned. You'll be able to find me in the park: I'll be the dogwalker wearing a gas mask.

 

--Laverne Mau Dicker 2000

 

Laverne can be reached at leilani@sonic.net

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