Lend the Competition Your Comb... Lessons from the Dog Show.

Lend the Competition Your Comb.

The Woman holds tight to her lead as she walks toward the community center building. Her young poodle prances along beside her. 

This community center has held numerous events through out the Woman’s life. Craft fairs, banquets, holiday events… the building itself feels familiar to her. But the event hosted within the building today, has no familiar feeling. 

Today, the building is the epicenter for a very unfamiliar event. Today, there is a dog show.

Standing outside her breed ring, the Woman is conscious of the eyes on her and on her young poodle. No one says hello. No one smiles.

”This whole thing seemed like a good idea, this morning.”  The woman thinks to herself as she waits for her turn in the breed ring. 
She is unsure. She is uncomfortable.

”…Number 6!”  
She catches the last bit of a sentence being spoken, loudly, by the ring steward. The woman checks her arm band. She is number 6.
The Woman approaches the ring, her young poodle jumps and spins. 
Nervous energy. 
Likely being fed by the electricity of anticipation within the woman herself. 

”stop it.” 
She sternly whispers to her poodle.
The Woman tightens the lead in a futile effort to make her little poodle girl stand like the stoic poodle statues that surround them. Poodles who are older, have more ring experience… poodles who stand with poise.

The ring steward smiles at the Woman. A quick and simple gesture, but the kindness within the smile speaks volumes to the Woman. 
Inside the ring, her two minutes are uneventful. The Woman and her poodle are the only two in the ring… not including the judge, of course.
The judge smiles at her, the judge smiles at her poodle. With gentle hands and a keen eye, the judge is thorough in her exam, clear in her instructions, and congratulatory as she hands the woman a first place ribbon. 

The Woman exits the ring, smiling. Sure, she has no competition in her class. Sure, few -if any- other exhibitors had the time or inclination to pay attention to her moments in front of the judge. But the woman is so proud. 
Proud of herself.
Proud of her little poodle girl.
Proud she made it through her ring time in control of her nerves.

The atmosphere outside the ring begins to amp up. Other bitch class poodles are entering the ring. Bigger classes. Older poodles.
The bitches for the Open class begin to arrive and set up camp outside the breed ring. The Woman watches as the Specials, the champions of record, begin to arrive and wait their turn for the ring.

The white bitch Special is here. Beautiful, elegant, with an expression of just enough snob to intimidate the competition… but plenty of grace and poise to make all who see her, sigh in satisfaction at having the opportunity to view her greatness.
This Special has been winning all weekend. Winning the breed, winning the group. Her handler stands beside her, the two are the picture of confidence. As exhibitors, other poodles, other dogs race around them. The Special and her handler stand tall.

The Woman takes a quick moment to imagine her own poodle’s future. One day, perhaps her young poodle girl will enter a building and have heads turn for her, just like the Special who stands on her towel, mere feet away.
Reality pulls the Woman back as her young poodle jumps and twists on her lead, trying to get the Woman’s attention.
The Woman immediately recognizes these seemingly spastic movements of her poodle;”Oh! She has to potty!” 
The Woman rushes her poodle girl outside the building for a short potty break. 

Outside the temperature is hot. The heat is unusual for this area, at this time of year. The building inside is dark, but the sun outside shines brightly. 
She closes her eyes and breathes deeply the scents of new flowers and grass.
Springtime, it is a lovely time of year.

”Don’t you have to go back into the ring?” 
Lost in her thoughts, the Woman is startled by the words of another exhibitor. 
Indeed, because she won her class, the Woman and her poodle girl must go back into the breed ring against the winners of the other classes for the award of Winners Bitch. 
The Woman rushes back into the building. Hoping she has not missed her second time in the ring.
”stupid. stupid.”
She berates herself. How could she forget about Winners Bitch? 
The Open Bitch class has just finished. Exhibitors are exiting the ring as the judge is marking her placements in the catalog.

The Woman looks down at her own poodle. 
Her poodle has green grass all over her white bracelets. With a quick glance up, the Woman does a comparison of her own poodle to the other class winners, preparing to enter the ring. Her poodle is not presentable for the ring. Not when compared to the perfectly coifed poodle girls marching their way back into the ring.

The Woman looks around, helpless. She has nothing with her to fix her young poodle’s hair. She suddenly notices the bags and totes that sit next to the preparation areas of the other poodles.
Bags and totes filled with combs, brushes, scissors, spray bottles…

The Woman has none of this. And she feels wholly unprepared.
To her left is a small gathering of poodles. They stand with three ladies. Two totes filled with grooming tools sit beside the poodles.
The Woman smiles at the ladies. 
The ladies do not return the smile. Instead, they pointedly stare at the Woman and her young poodle. Judgement drips from their eyes, like the juices of a ripe nectarine dripping from the mouth of a child.

”do you have a comb I can borrow real quick?”
One lady holds a comb in her hand, combing a poodle who won’t be going back into the ring. The lady pointedly looks away. But not before she rolls her eyes at the Woman.
An assistant to the lady with the comb, picks up one of the totes. She will not be going back into the ring. But she also will not be lending a comb to the Woman.
”no. we don’t.” 
The words are short. 

The woman feels her face begin to flush. She looks up as she hears the ring steward calling numbers of the class bitches who need to enter the ring for Winners Bitch.
”stupid. stupid. How could I be such an idiot? I have a poodle and I don’t even bother to bring a comb with me to the ring.”

Suddenly, the woman feels the presence of another lady. A lady kneeling down next to the Woman’s young poodle. The lady’s hand is on the muzzle of the white bitch Special. Her other hand holds a comb as she is quickly combing through the Woman’s young poodle’s hair.

The Woman looks down. Words escape her.
”Here. Use my comb to finish her on the other side. Comb her like this, it’s faster.”

The entire episode occurs in about 55 seconds of real time. From the moment the woman notices the grass littered bracelets of her young poodle, through the feeling of judgement, to the rescue from the handler with the Special.
But, in the mind of the Woman, the episode may as well have lasted a year or more.

The Woman leaves the ring after the judge awards Reserve Winners Bitch. She does not have a ribbon. But that’s okay. She made it through her second dog show of her life, with nerves intact.

She looks toward the small group of ladies who would not share their comb. They are huddled together, whispers between them. The words sound sharp. Their eyes pass over the woman. 
More judgement. 
But these ladies now have better things to whisper about. The Winners Bitch, the white Special who took Best of Variety, the black Special who took Select Bitch are now exiting the ring.
More whispers. More eye rolls.

A hand squeezes the Woman’s arm. She turns to see the white bitch Special walking beside her. The Special’s handler has her hand on the Woman’s arm.
The Special does a quick prance and jump. The Special’s handler laughs. She is comfortable and relaxed as her poodle Special shows off her silly antics. 

They walk together toward the handler’s setup. The white poodle Special suddenly stops, squats, and potties in the grass. Little bits of grass litter the Special’s bracelets.
The handler pulls out her comb. As she quickly combs through the bits of grass, she teases her white Special;
”Silly girl. You couldn’t wait until we were back at the setup?”
The white Special licks the handler’s face. Nudges the handler with her nose and hops along, not a care or stress in the world.

The handler replaces her comb in her tote and smiles at the woman. 
”good job in there! Come over to my set up. I have about an hour to eat some lunch and chat…”

Guys. Let’s all make a point to be the best we can be.
Let’s all lend our combs to the competition. 

Handler Allison Foley with GCH Lakeridge Galavanting NāPali, Pali.

Handler Allison Foley with GCH Lakeridge Galavanting NāPali, Pali.