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Ingenuity and a dash of humour!
Best ever Discover Dogs says Stuart Band


How can it be possible that Discover Dogs and Barack Obama should feature in the same sentence? In a moment which demonstrated exceptional ingenuity mixed with a dash of humour, Carline Kisko issued an invitation to the President-elect of the USA upon hearing that he was in the process of looking for a suitable breed of puppy for his two young daughters when they take up residence in the White House early next year. I kept my eyes peeled for a fleet of black limousines drawing up at the entrance to Earls Court all weekend but, regrettably, Mr Obama was unable to take up the offer of a guided tour of the event.

Over 28,000 others did take up that invitation though, a significant rise over the figure for 2007, to visit what was one of the best, if not THE best Discover Dogs to date. There really was something appealing for everyone who passed through the entry turnstiles. Although it appeared that there were fewer numbers milling around on Saturday than in previous years it was apparent that by early Sunday the final tally would probably equal, if not surpass, last year’s total.
Most of the floor space was given over to the breed booths. Manned by the stalwarts who are now ‘regulars’ the usual format of breeds under their respective ‘Group’ banners drew huge amounts of visitors. The aisles were wide, unlike their counterparts at Crufts, which meant that they should not be overcrowded. This is the theory but, in practice, it would not matter how wide they were as hundreds of doggie enthusiasts mingled with media people as they searched out their favoured breeds and discovered newer ones. This is the place where the larger, established breeds rub shoulders with their numerically-smaller ‘rare’ cousins. Royal Canin generously donates lots of canine goodies to all participants and thanks must go to this company for its continued support.

Breed Clubs had been requested to ensure that they highlighted health issues in both their literature and promotional material. This was partly as a result of the negative publicity which followed the transmission of that ‘infamous’ documentary. Those breeds which do have hereditary health conditions and which have followed published guidelines in conjunction with the Kennel Club over the years have never felt the need to hide such things from prospective owners. This was an opportunity to provide more detailed information, translated into layman’s terms, and to encourage questions from interested parties.

Some used a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ format whilst others used a more innovative approach by compiling their own illustrated posters. Many breeds do not have health issues and they too declared this to visitors to their breed booths. During my walkabouts I spoke to many breed enthusiasts about health issues and I have to say how impressed I was by the way in which they dealt with some very searching questions put to them.

There is a competition for the best breed booth which in the past has sometimes been awarded merely on the artistic talents of those who set it up and this year there were many which would warrant a mention for artistic approach in the vain of Strictly Come Dancing. However, there was a more serious side to judging this year and the winning breed booth was that of the Beagles. The runner-up was that of the Border Collies. Both had clearly devoted a lot of resource to dealing with health issues and providing information to the general public and for that they were suitably rewarded as were several other breeds which were commende for their sterling efforts.
From the time that the doors were opened to the public until virtually the minute the event closed there were activities in 2 smaller rings and the large Main Ring towards the back of Earls Court 2. Emphasis was put on how to deal with encounters with dogs both friendly and not so friendly with demonstrations on the Safe And Sound approach which has been promoted by the Kennel Club for some time. This scheme now forms part of the national curriculum in schools and has recently been launched in Scotland.

Dogs play an important part in the lives of so many people and, for those with mobility issues and other special needs, they can even be described as lifesavers. Thanks to a group of highly dedicated trainers Assistance Dogs ensure that some people are able to continue to lead independent lives by ‘working’ at home doing such things as switching on lights, collecting the post, helping load and unload a washing machine, removing bed covers, picking up dropped credit cards, etc., etc. I was rooted to the spot during these demonstrations and it was obvious that all of the dogs who were being trained up to a very high standard prior to gaining their ‘stripes’ thoroughly enjoyed what they were doing.

Guide Dogs For The Blind had a stand on which it was possible for members of the public to experience what it was like to be seriously visually-impaired or blind. Simply by putting on a blindfold and being introduced to a dog and a trainer they were led around a small obstacle course. The look of relief on their faces when the blindfold was removed at the end of the course had to be seen to be believed.

Some of the events in the Main Ring saw the seating filled to capacity. The Southern Golden Retriever Demonstration Team enthralled so many people with a display set to music. Mary Ray performed her Barnum routine with Richard Curtis and their talented dogs. Mary also held a master class during which she showed how simply sitting on a chair with legs crossed could be used as part of the training for future heelwork to music stars. She asked for volunteers from the audience to take part and I was highly entertained by a young girls who was shown how to get a dog to twirl around on the move and dance with her. Little did she realise how much of a star she really was and her ‘turn’ was warmly applauded by the audience. Mary had a stand at the event and, immediately after her performances, was to be found exchanging pleasantries and signing autographs or copies of her books and dvds with a friendly smile for everyone.

Competitions

Perhaps as a result of the recent economic downturn there were not so many stands selling ridiculously-priced canine apparel and trinkets. There were many traders reporting good sales figures from reasonably-priced items which were literally flying off the shelves. One new product which attracted my attention was a pooper scooper on a lead which incorporated a bag as well as a container to hold any deposits during the course of a walk. I was similarly intrigued by a product called Aqua Paws, a mineral water derivative especially for our canine friends. I can vouch for its appeal to dogs as my own dog lapped it up enthusiastically. Another one which caught my eye was the smaller version of the paw washer for toy breeds. This resembles a large insulated mug with a lid but it cleverly cleans muddy paws by inserting them into the container and ‘brushing’ them rather like a glass washer found in pubs.There are numerous competitions at Discover Dogs which appeal to both the show fraternity and the public. The Companion Dog Club organizes a companion dog show and, in a quirky way, declares a Best In Show one day in bitches and a Best In Show the next in dogs. Annette Conn, a renowned behaviourist, author and trainer judged the bitches and she found her Best in Show in an Old English Sheepdog/German Shepherd Dog cross called Millie. She was entered in the OAP class and belied her age of 10 by acting like an overgrown puppy. Her owner, Debbie White, said that they had only ever entered 4 shows. Just goes to show that, just as in our show world, novices are frequently successful at even the highest level! The Best In Show dog was judged by Carolyn Menteith, another well-known trainer, author and behaviourist. She selected a Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross aged 11 called Indi, owned by Michelle Wood. He too came from the OAP class and like Millie was a rescue with a tear-jerking tale to tell. Tissues were the name of the day around the ring as the various owners told the story behind how they came to acquire their companions.

The Kennel Gazette Junior Warrant Winner of The Year semi-finals were judged by Simon Parsons, associated with Pembroke Corgies and Pekingese and Sarah Hattrell, known for her Standard Schnauzers. Between them they reduced the 57 qualifiers to a total of 10 who will appear in the finals at Crufts next year. They were: Day’s Keeshond, Allforus Dice Master For Spitzcav; Hodge’s Leonberger, Stormchaser Ta Pinu; Jansons’ Deerhound, Nixophel Crystal Amethyst; Patrick’s Siberian Husky, Coldasice Cebelrai & Wiggins’ Affenpinscher, Kilbarchan’s Xtra Copy For Scapafield along with: Allan, Harlow & Gregory’s Australian Shepherd, Allmark Careless Whisper; Fort’s Dalmatian, Shulune Fantazy On Ice; House’s Gleadsbury Whataliberty; Kuech’s Boxer, Boese Pillow Talk & Raven & Hobbs’ Newfoundland, Mayoss you Two.

The Junior Handler of the Year Finals was held for the first time at this venue. The Junior Handling Association (JHA) under the steerage of Liz Cartledge, assisted by Irene Terry, holds its semi-finals each year in conjunction with Richmond Ch. Show and is now sponsored by Agria Pet Insurance. Fourteen young people handled their charges under Jaxson Manser, himself a former handler, earlier in the day. He reduced these to a shortlist of six: Charlotte Dalgarno with a PBGV; Page Allen with an Australian Shepherd Dog; Hollie Kavanagh with a Dobermann; Jenni Tobijanski with a Sealyham Terrier; Amy Balch with a Weimaraner & Bethan Willaims with a Tibetan Terrier. They then appeared in the Main ring in the afternoon to handle Golden Retrievers supplied by the Southern Golden Retriever Society before coming back in with their own dogs. The winner, who will represent the U.K. in the International Junior Handling competition at Crufts 2009, was Hollie Kavanagh. I spoke to her later and she said that she was ‘speechless’ but delighted to have won. Bethan was 2nd, Amy 3rd, Page 4th, Charlotte 5th and Jenni 6th. They all received an Agria goody bag along with prize money donated by various Ch. Shows and the J.H.A.

‘Scruftts’ the Family Cross Breed of the Year finals is held at Discover Dogs and is the culmination of a series of qualifying shows held nationwide throughout the year. 60 dogs came together in the Main Ring to be judged by Summer Strallen, who is currently starring in the West End production of The Sound of Music. She chose, Jaffa, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier/Shar Pei cross who is owned by Lindsay Truss. Lindsay is deaf & visually impaired and communicates with Jaffa by hand signals. He was interviewed after her win through her interpreter and said that she was ‘over the moon’ to have won. I saw Wendy Richards, a former judge of Scruffts, visiting the event. She was looking well, given recent media reports of her terminal illness, and was able to look around anonymously in the crowd.

The Young Kennel Club was very much in evidence with activities in its own dedicated area. There was a YKC Groomer of the Year qualifying competition and this was hotly contested by several very talented individuals. This may ensure that those of us who judge will see an increase in dogs with clean teeth and clipped claws in future years if these young people have anything to do with things! I also saw Val Foss putting some YKC Junior Handlers through their paces and eventually selecting as her winner, Ashley Butler.

Despite spending a fortune at the various trade stands, including some doggie Xmas gifts and a few fun items to go into my partner’s Xmas stocking I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s event. It has certainly set the standards for Crufts 2009. Well done to all of those who worked behind the scenes so hard to ensure its success, with a huge thank you to the stars of the show, the dogs on the 157 breed booths along with their dedicated owners/handlers.

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