Why Westminster one may ask? Hmmmm.... I guess I have always wanted to experience what is labeled as the "Greatest Dog Show" there is. Well, at least in this country. Crufts in the UK certainly rivals Westminster and it would be a bit arrogant to suggest that Westminster is the only "great" one out there. But here, in the US, it is the show to go to.
My history with dogs started in 1976 (at age 14) when I got a cocker spaniel puppy and started to formally train her. We went on the get an utility dog title on her...a solid achievement - especially for a kid. My first Bernese Mountain Dog came in 1982...so this marks the 30th year I have had the breed. It is a true love affair with this breed, but one that is also filled with many heartaches that this breed can bring (multiple health issues, short life spans, high incidents of inherited cancers, lack of vitality). When my first berner had severe hip AND elbow dysplasia by 6 months of age (Despite both parents and 3 out of 4 grandparents having hip certifications) - complete with significant arthritis - it set my course of seeking out and only breeding or buying sound healthy animals that has the same in their background.
Fast forward 30 years....to Delsin. Delsin is my "third" generation of champion, group placing, clear hip, elbow and eyes dog. I had his father K'dar - a dog that changed my life with the impact he had on me - and Delsin's grandmother Hoshi.
Delsin is a nice dog conformationally. I don't like to brag and I'd rather be modest...as each of us that have dogs love them (or should love them) regardless. But Delsin has done some nice winning during his 9 years of life. I suppose one of the highlights came last summer (2011). I was going to a show - our first in 6 months. Since I live and work on a farm, before we left, my first task was to comb out burrs, mud and probably manure and wash him in icy well water up on a picnic table. We went to the show and wham, we won Best in Show - and honor that neither Delsin or I had ever achieved before. Next day we took a group 4, the third day a group 1. A good weekend and I couldn't have believed that my almost 9 year old berner and I would have ever taken a best in show at that stage in his life. He became the oldest dog in the history of our breed to take an AKC all breed best in show. Wow.
That brings me to Westminster. I always thought it would be nice to go with Delsin, but each year came and went and I never seemed to be in the position to do it. With his age it became a "now or never" proposition. I started to seriously think about it and then I would talk myself out of it: "No, it is too much money, he is too old, I must be delusional". Then I would look at him...there was nothing old about him. I never called him "old" and in fact, would get mad at people that ever referred to him that way. He looked young, he acted young. I thought of the judge that gave me Best In Show - and the kind words she shared with me about my boy. I felt some courage grow. Yes, maybe, just maybe, I can do this. After all - wouldn't it simply be grand to experience a show like Westminster with my best friend that had been by my side for so many years?
Conformation shows do not consume me or my life. Showing is indeed a part of it, but having dogs in my life goes way, way beyond showing. It is all about the relationship I have with them. I don't "grow out" pups - waiting to see what they turn out like, if they will make the grade for a show dog or a breeding dog - and then getting rid of them if they aren't "right". My dogs stay - whether they are a show dog or breeding dog or not. They are my best friend first and foremost and I make a commitment from the get-go that they have a home here with me, for their entire life. It allows their heart as well as mine bond deeply, neither one of us have to hold back in case I decide to get rid of them because they didn't make the "cut".
Because of this, some will say I am not "very serious" about dogs or breeding good dogs. When I breed, I am adamant about breeding good, healthy, sound dogs. There is nothing "casual" about my process. I simply don't sacrifice my relationship with any of my dogs just in the name of doing dog shows. If there were no more shows tomorrow, I would be fine as I still have my dogs and the close bond that I have with each one of them.
I do dog shows because I have fun with them. It is one more place to go/thing to do with my dogs and we train a lot for either ring (conformation and/or obedience). Shows are something we can do together. Like anyone, I like winning and I prepare my dogs well to show well. But if we lose - and everyone loses at some time regardless how great the dog is - oh well, life goes on and I never, ever let Delsin know that we lost. I never would want him to feel that I am disappointed in him at any level.
So, it is with that attitude we go to Westminster. It will be a GREAT show to experience, regardless. Do I want to win??? But, of course! And we are prepared. But I dare say, so are 1999 other dogs and their handlers. At the end of the day, whether win or lose, I get to go home with my 9.5 year old HEALTHY and HAPPY dog that will sleep on my bed that night, utterly content to be with me, and I will be beyond thankful that I have had yet another wonderful day with my boy Delsin.
The show is one week from tomorrow. Prep has started. Actually it has been a life time of prep, but the immediate prep before a show of this magnitude has begun. My goal is to share this experience with you - the readers of this blog. I hope you can be a part of our journey together - a fun journey from Minnesota to New York and back. I will endeavor to write something everyday, so you can feel informed and know what is happening. So, so many people have gathered together to make this trip possible, that I just want to share it with all. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions...I will answer as soon as I am able.
So, join me on a great journey with a wonderful soul by my side named Delsin!