The Beginning After the End
By Jean C. Keating
Divorce after 19 years of marriage brought an abrupt end to life as I knew it and threw me, alone and bruised, into an unknown future. Faced with such events, men often buy sports cars they think they need. Women burden their financial situation with expensive purchases like diamond earrings which they never wear. Both sexes often enter into long-term job security arrangement with a shrink or two, just to have someone who will listen to their troubles.
Smugly, I decided not to fall into such weak-minded traps. Instead, I bought a show dog. I reasoned that a dog would give me the feeling of family and that showing a dog would be a hobby in which I could engage without benefit of a partner. Except for the dog, of course. Besides, I figured the dog would listen better than a shrink, and I wouldn’t have to wait for an appointment either.
My father often told me that God looks after fools and drunks. I don’t think my addiction to Coca-Cola counts as a drunk, so that leaves fool. As it turned out, I’d have spent less in the long run if I’d bought a bunch of sport cars in different colors to match my outfits and agreed to supporting a shrink for life. But it wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying.
With blissful ignorance, I persisted in my efforts to carve out a new arena of fun as a single and went off to some local dog shows. At my second show, I spotted the breed with whom I decided I wanted to share the rest of my now-single life. With total disregard and ignorance for the difficulty in getting a show-quality, Papillon bitch, I determinedly called the breeder of the dog I’d just met. Probably because the breeders were wonderful, caring people and read the good intentions behind the impetuousness , I soon became the proud and willing servant of a gorgeous black-and-white darling named Debonair Maaca Choice. Her father sired over 37 champions before I lost count. He was a Sire of Distinction many times over. Her mother had whelped 10 champions before Maaca and was a Dam of Distinction. It showed in their daughter’s proud carriage and confident walk. I was humbly appreciative that she’d consider me as her companion.
The breeder warned me that Maaca ‘sang’ rather than barked. Of course, I didn’t listen at the time, being far too busy marveling that this delightfully, self-assured little package was really going to join my life. Four weeks later, at the opening of a show in the Tar Heel Circuit, I got my first experience with what the breeder had tried to explain. Papillons were shown first one morning, so Maaca was there in the arms of her handler’s father while the show opened with taped music of the National Anthem. Everyone else went silent, except Maaca, who proceeded to scream at the top of her lungs through the entire musical rendition. What her ‘singing’ lacked in tone and rhythm, she made up for in enthusiasm and volume.
It didn’t take me long to determine that another Papillon trait was assertiveness. At a second show that weekend, I carried Maaca’s crate to ringside—a no-no already— then opened it and invited her out in preparation for putting a lead around her neck. A group of Airedale terriers were getting ready to enter the ring just behind her crate. One handler saw his chance to demonstrate his entry’s ‘terrier-like qualities’ by pointing his dog toward Maaca and instigating his dog’s charge at my tiny friend. Bad move for both handler and Airedale. The handler meant to impress the judge in the Airedale ring—and he did, but not in the positive way he intended. First off, he picked the wrong toy on whom to try the stunt. Instead of cowering from the larger dog, Maaca let out a scream that could be heard in the next state and charged the Airedale. With hands that acted more from accident than design, I grabbed and held her while she struggled to reach the Airedale. She screamed her defiance of him and his handler, and probably hurled insults at his ancestors going all the way back to the beginning of time. The vet came running from six rings away, convinced that a dog had been fatally hurt. The Airedale cringed behind his handler, and I was evil enough to note later that the offending handler and his charge placed dead last in their class.
And if you believe elephants are the only animals that never forget, you never met my Maaca. To the end of her days, she would start screaming anytime she saw an Airedale. I guess she was still determined to continue the blood-feud with any possible ancestors or descendants of her original nemesis.
Between attending classes to learn how to hold Maaca’s lead properly and practicing how to walk around the show ring without stumbling over my own two feet, my nights were fully occupied. Weekends flew by with predawn risings to drive to dog shows, all of which seem to be in neighboring states or down roads that weren’t properly labeled on my map. I was too busy being a willing servant to the royal one to miss another human at the dinner table. My companion listened quietly to all my troubles, sang a bit in sympathy and never sent me a bill for the services.
I quickly learned that she carried in her genes more knowledge of dog shows than I would ever acquire. Our first two shows were successful only because she nearly tripped me to get me out of the line of sight between her exalted self and the judge’s eyes. I finally took the hint, took the coward’s way out and hired a professional handler to accompany her into the ring. I retired to a chair at ring-side from which I could marvel at her performance.
She could tell the judge from the steward before she got within 10 feet of the entrance to a show ring. Goo-goo eyes and butterfly-ear waves were reserved for judges. Ring stewards might stand over, handle and monitor the ribbons, but they handed them to the judges who decided the winners. I never once saw Maaca waste a glance on a steward. Somewhere in her DNA resided the ability to tell who was judge and who was steward along with the reasoning that only judges awarded the treasured ribbon. She was a conformation champion within five weeks, and an AKC Champion before her 12 month birthday.
Of course, all these travel costs, show entries, and handler’s fees didn’t come cheap. About the cost of a quarter of my pink sports car I would estimate.
But life was fun. So we decided, Maaca and I, to make it even more fun with the addition of some little Maaca’s. Naturally only a mate several states away would do, at yet more expense for travel and dowry—otherwise know as stud fee]. And our precious little puppies couldn’t be whelped or begin life anywhere but in a baby play pen with matching blankets, comforter, puddle pads, receiving blankets and toys. I began to suspect that I was somewhat strange when my vet remarked that his two sons had less baby stuff than my first litter and moreover, none of his children’s stuff matched. But, says I, don’t all babies need a complete set of Winnie-the-Pooh including a large stuffed Pooh-Bear with which to sleep? I had to concede the point that I might have gone a bit overboard when my accountant remarked that I could have bought the other three-quarters of my sports car for the money I’d spent in vet bills, nursery fixtures and supplies and food supplements.
So, my dad was right. God looks after fools in spite of themselves. Oh,
I could have had the sports car, but it would have grown old and rusty.
With my choice, I never lacked for a listener, or someone to share my joys
or sad times, no appointments necessary. It was hard to remain down, no
matter how bad the day, with active little fur-people dancing around, wanting
to be petted, kissing my ears or licking my face. And their comic races
to and fro around the house at hearing me laugh intensified the happy times
even more. I returned home each night to one or more happy, wiggling bodies
in my entrance way, dancing on back legs and pawing the air in joy at my
return. The house was filled with the warmth of love along with the occasional
dog hair in my soup.
© 2002 Jean Keating
All Rights Reserved
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