You Want Me to Do What? Eukanuba in the Rear View Mirror

by Susi on December 13, 2010

in Afghan Hound, Bearded Collie, Best in Show, Bloodhound, Border Terrier, Bully Breeds, Elvis, Eukanuba National Dog Show, German Pinscher, Keeshond, Meet the Breeds, Saluki

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Elvis was in the building

 

Twenty four hours after arriving in Long Beach to blog from the Eukanuba National Championship, I was asked to help judge the “Meet the Breeds” competition. When Eukanuba’s Manager of External Relations, Jason Taylor, first asked me, I think I actually turned around to see who he really had in mind. But forehead-to-forehead eye contact, (and the sign language interpreter brought in after I was suddenly struck dumb) lead me to realize that it really WAS me they were asking. As for my frame of mind, let’s review: I had now spent several hours in the company of Eukanuba officials and staff. They’d gotten to know me a little, a few had even dined with me. In public. And they still asked me.

It wasn’t that I was daunted by the nature of the job. I’d helped create the traveling display for my own breed club and had participated in “Meet the Breed’ venues before. I was familiar with being on the dog side of an exhibit, a job that calls for long hours of answering the same questions to a public seeing some breeds for the first time. But Eukanuba was huge (160 breed exhibits) and highly competitive. Elvis was there, for God’s sake.

Jason Taylor and Gina Di Nardo

I would come to learn that it was Gina DiNardo who had thought of me when lining up judges. We’d met Gina, AKC Assistant Vice President and on-air commentator for the televised show, earlier in the day at an interview with bloggers. And suddenly it all made sense.You know, I thought Gina and I had hit it off. As I saw it, we had so much in common: She was beautiful and had long blonde hair. I had hair. She was trim, eloquent and well dressed. I was dressed. She had an important job with the AKC. I had hair. Gina had not only recognized me to be a person of refinement, taste and judgement (I was dressed and had hair, after all), but how could she have known that long before I was asked to judge the booths, I had photographed many of the clubs setting up their displays the day before? Coincidence? I think not. That Gina was one perceptive chick.

Putting together the Foxhound Booth

I was partnered with Jen, one of the Eukanuba Social Media Goddesses (you’ll meet Jen in a future blog), and together we got our instructions from Gina. Booths were to be evaluated on the merits of educational value, Visual Appeal, and originality; Our scoring would determine placements from first to fourth place, and like a dog show, this was to be done by AKC groups. Above all, Ms. DiNardo warned, we weren’t to let on that we were judges. We shouldn’t be seen marking paperwork, nor should we be caught “sizing up” a display. We weren’t to appear to be anything other than part of the public.

The first booth I visited belonged to a Bully breed where a child was looking after her canine companion, a dog more interested in her sticky fingers than at the public admiring him. And frankly, this scored points with me. The fancy is under assault by groups who’d have us believe that dogs, if not viciously biting off the faces of toddlers, are mistreated by the dog show world. Kids and dogs are a natural pairing and the public needs to see more of that. When the kid peered up at me and said, “This is a dog,” I thought, “Hmmm. Bonus points  in the education value department for knowing her subject.”

Discussing the Border Terrier “Room”

After visiting a few more booths, I came to realize that this was going to be a lot like judging dogs; Determining first place would be easy, second through fourth placements, not as much. And worse, I came to sense that I was being recognized as a “judge.” Clearly, I was going to have use more stealth. Using a compact mirror to look over my shoulder at one display didn’t work: Reflected back at me in the mirror was someone holding a sign that read, “sU. kciP.” My next attempt could have gotten me arrested, I suppose, but who could foresee that the woman sitting at a grooming table with her dog would shriek in alarm at seeing my face peering up at her from between her knees?

Hanging the Bearded Collie Sign

This Keeshond Display Would Win Best in Show

This wasn’t going well. I really wanted to study one particular display because in my mind, it was in the running for first place in its group; A frigid, snowy landscape was cleverly created with icy blue snowflake wall paper and MOUNDS of fake snow. The dog owners were bundled up as if out in the tundra.

And then it came to me. If I couldn’t look at the display, I’d BE the display. Surely these folks wouldn’t miss a little fake snow for the few moments it would take me to really inspect the booth from inside it. I might have gotten away with it had one of the dogs not investigated the new snowman that hadn’t been there before. Horrified that I might be the cause of their booth not winning because “yellow snow” spoiled the pristine winter wonderland, I made my exit and only the Keeshond was the wiser. (As an aside, this booth ultimately won Best in Show).

I was really enjoying visiting the “Meet the Breeds’ booths as a spectator, albeit one with a vote. In my mind, I’d always known the educational value of such events, but I’d never really appreciated it from the view point of the public. Most people don’t go to dog shows like I do, and consequently, they don’t get to see the dogs I see. This brilliant deduction came to me as I was smooching with a Cane Corso, fondling the Xolo, and guffawing over the Sloughis, breeds that were novel even to me. Suddenly, I could see how petting a Brussels Griffon would be special to the person seeing one for the first time.

It tugged at my heart that certain breeds tend to suffer in this sort of competition. Smaller clubs with low membership numbers simply lack the personnel that can travel to what might be the other side of the country. Such venues can be tough on dogs and it’s downright necessary to have several dogs lined up for “shifts” of petting and touching – a disadvantage for the rare or uncommon breed of which there aren’t many.

As special as the dogs are, however, the people behind the booth can make or break the public’s perceptions about a breed. I certainly noticed the appalling lack of attention given to spectators at one booth as the ladies behind it were far more interested in their conversation than in explaining their breed. I could see why few people approached them. Their message, though unintended, was clear: Don’t talk to us, don’t bother us. I wonder what they’d say if they knew that the public tends to associate personality traits in people to their dogs. Would someone make judgements about this breed because of its owners?

Sadly, I also noticed that one or two breeds that needed good “PR” were in booths literally fenced off from the crowds. While I understand the convenience to the dog owners, what message was telegraphed to the public when a breed is cut off from being petted? It tells me – a seasoned dog person – that if I want to keep my hand, I ought not to lean over the fence to pet a dog. This doesn’t help the fancy.

On the flip side,  the Elvis impersonator helping out at the Bloodhound’s “You Ain’t Nuthin’ But a Hound Dog” booth won over scores of new fans.Not content to wait for the public to approach the booth, “Elvis” went into the crowds and brought THEM back.The Saluki booth was another example of “how” to win over a public. As you can see from the photograph above, the dogs were accessible, their owners open to conversation, and people were engaged (and admittedly whispering because no one had the heart to wake the dogs).

I was impressed by booths that played to their breed’s nature. Cavalier King Charles’ ensconced in blankets and held tight on the laps of their owners while riding in an open sleigh said more about the breed’s job as a companion dog than dry literature.

It’s So Hard to be a Show Dog

Eukanuba had flown me to Long Beach to write what I saw. Judging the “Meet the Breeds” competition was an unexpected perk, but for this dog fancier, it was a highlight of the weekend as I got to “talk dog” with the people who knew their breeds best.  Ringside is no place to ask someone about their breed anymore than it would be appropriate to discuss with an athlete their training routine moments before they compete. Chatting with a breed owner in a casual setting while scratching their dog is a win/win for all involved. I suspect that the “power napping” Afghan Hounds would agree.

Hours after the Last Booth has been Removed

In the end, we reached consensus in our votes; Booths that won placements deserved to, and the breeds that were “this close” will likely ramp up their efforts next year. Many of you reading this are already seasoned dog people who may not take the time to visit a competitive “Meet the Breeds” venue. You would be missing out. It was fun, it was informative, and if I ever get to judge one again, I’ll be ready with camouflage and better diversion tactics.

Untl Next Year………………..

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracy December 13, 2010 at 9:46 pm

I have to remember to hire you as a "secret shopper" for our booth next year! Great job!
Tracy

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solsticekennels December 14, 2010 at 1:37 am

I love to do meet the breed and I'm glad you got to be a judge. What a fun job.

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Bev December 15, 2010 at 7:50 pm

I was so jealous when I found out you and Jen were judging Meet the Breeds–until I realized how much work you would have to do (while I got to go shopping)!

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