You just can’t beat it!
If there is a better dog show for the general public than Discover Dogs, I don’t know what it is.
They flocked in their thousands to Earl’s Court 2 on November 13th and 14th and were rewarded with a show of excellence. There were 180 breeds on display, plus a whole number of competitions and demonstrations – three rings were kept fully active all day on each of the days, and the crowds had a delightful time.
I was there in a working capacity, commentating on the five classes each day in the Companion Dog Club Competition. These were all the fun classes – Prettiest bitch/Handsomest dog; Best Rescue, Best Condition, Bitch/Dog most like its owner, and Best Performer. I had a super time, together with my two Judges, Carolyn Monteith on the Saturday with the dogs, and Annette Conn with the bitches on Sunday. This was truly friendly and companionable competition, as one would both expect and hope. The Companion Dog Club celebrates the company of dogs, and is a club for all dogs and their owners. The club provides regular canine newsletters, offers and updates, and helps owners to get to know other dog lovers in their area. It also gives the opportunity for spending time attending events with ones dog, with the ultimate accolade of qualifying for the competition at Discover Dogs. Qualification for the event was nicely original, I felt. Each owner had to write a short pen-portrait of their pet, explaining how the companionship had altered the owners life. Some of those stories came to the fore, when we judged the Best Rescue.
Some of the stories were quite harrowing, and all I can say is thank goodness that there are some wonderful people out there who are prepared to take on dogs that have had dreadful things done to them, and suffered great neglect. It is something about which each and every one of them should feel very proud. All were, in the judges mind, winners, and it was so difficult for Carolyn and Annette to pick just one to take the prize. In the event, Michelle Brown and Sam won on the dog day; Peter Kaye Wilson and Mandy won the Bitch day. I reproduce their pen portraits, but they only tell a fraction of the story.
Michelle wrote: “I have had Sam for a year and a half now. He was a rescue dog and came from Valgraye’s Border Collie rescue, and both of our lives have changed. Sam is now not nervous around people and we have started doing Agility. Both of our lives are enriched and I couldn’t be without him.”
Peter wrote: “Mandy was rescued from a life of neglect. She was found suffering from mange and serious lung problems. After nursing and caring for her over the past five years we have built a special bond together. Last year she saved my life on the farm, and she is my special companion.”
I should make special mention of the Young Kennel Club, in whose ring the competition took place. The girls and boys of this splendid organisation helped us by stewarding the event, and they did a first class job. It all ran very smoothly. In between the classes, the YKC showcased their many activities with demonstrations of Handling, Obedience and even some Heelwork to Music.
The dog charities supported the event by turning up en masse – There was good representation from the Dog Trust, Battersea Dogs’ Home, Dogs for the Disabled, and Canine Partners, and I was pleased to see that a number of celebrities who support these charities attended, Wendy Richard and Derek Martin from EastEnders, both good friends of mine, signed hundreds of autographs on the charity stands, for which they and we are most grateful. Wendy keeps Cairns and Derek claims to have a “pedigree” mongrel. Keith Chegwin, a colleague of mine from the 70s (doesn’t time fly!) also attended and presented the prizes for Scruffts, that super alternative to Cruft’s, the finals of which took place in the main ring at Earl’s Court in front of huge crowds who went wild with enthusiasm for the dogs on display.
Actually the main ring had a continuous programme of events, equalling everything that one usually sees in the Special Events Ring at the NEC – agility competitions, relay races, demos of all kinds, Mary Ray and Kath Hardman with her Heelwork to Music, I also caught sight of a team of handlers doing formation Heelwork to Music. Grand stuff, great entertainment and all involved in that ring deserve the highest praise.
I think it would be fair to say that the show was the best possible advertisement for dog ownership. I know that those involved with Discover Dogs are the converted, but it is only through education that we will get rid of those owners who treat their dogs with disrespect, or keep them for the wrong reasons. In the companion dog show, we watched two lovely Staffies performing tricks – one dog, and his daughter. It was one of those heart-warming moments, because the Staffordshire Bull Terrier suffers more than most from its image which has been created over the years by some very bad owners. Yet these two were the cutest animals - they both skateboarded and had been trained to switch on lights, ring bells, and retrieve. I loved them, and Suggs, the dog, owned by Jo-Anne Essex won the best Performer prize to huge acclaim on the Saturday.
And I guess that is the point. If you spend time with your dog, and play with it, you can get it to do almost anything, whatever the breed. There was even a Lakeland Fell-hound making an attempt at Heelwork to Music. Well done everyone.
It is amazing how many people involved in showing dogs disapprove of dogs doing tricks. “It’s like a circus act,” one very well-regarded judge and breeder said to me recently, referring to HTM. What nonsense. The dogs love it – particularly the more intelligent breeds, because it gives them something to do, and what is more, they are the sole object of their owners attention whilst they work. Circus act or not, the benefits to dog and handler are immense.
I was pleased to see Osman Sameja at the show, having met him at the Our Dogs stand. He had the most delicious Yorkie under his arm, as one would expect. But this wasn’t a home-bred Sameja dog. It was an import, originally bred in Cuba, but bought by Osman in France. Now we know that Osman breeds wonderful Yorkie’s. I’ve lost count of the number of times he has appeared in the Toy Group judging at Crufts and of course he has one BIS at Crufts as the jewel in the crown. So if he thinks this dog will enhance his breeding lines, then I certainly would not argue with him. When he walked him, the dog was a natural, with a delightful gait. I can’t wait to see him and his progeny in the show ring.
The British and Irish Dog Breeds Preservation Trust had a stand at the show, and had a very busy time with the punters. I managed to have a chat with John Richardson who was manning the stand on Sunday. I’ve known John a good few years since he first interviewed me at my home which was then in Northamptonshire. I thought it was excellent that this new group, only formed in August this year, had got together such an impressive stand. The trust was formed by enthusiasts concerned for the future of a number of native breeds which appeared to be at a low ebb of popularity.
The “Trust” is dedicated to preserving native breeds through education, preservation and promotion. They will do this by emphasising the positive aspects of those breeds under threat, and by encouraging their ownership, ensure a secure future for the breeds. Some of the breeds under threat may not be readily recognised by members of the general public – the English Toy Terrier is often thought of as a Dobermann puppy; many of the larger terriers are frequently mistaken for Airedales, and so on. But I think many people would be surprised at the breeds which are genuinely under threat, with only a few new registrations each year. I list a few of the 28 breeds – Clumber Spaniel, King Charles Spaniel, Lakeland terrier, Irish Terrier, Cardigan Corgi, and the Smooth Collie. And amongst the hounds, the Bloodhound, Otterhound, Greyhound and Deerhound.
Extraordinary names to find on the list. I suppose one reason for the decline in these breeds may be that they no longer have very specific functions, or that there are similar breeds that may do their job better. I would be interested to hear some views on the subject. But in the meantime, should you be enthused about preserving some of these native breeds, you can find out the benefits of being a “Trust” member by telephoning Sue Breeze on 0871-781 9007, or by writing to the British and Irish Dog Breeds Preservation Trust, 13, Hollands Place, Blakenhall, Walsall WS3 3AU
One last word about Dogs for the Disabled, a charity for which I am a Vice Patron. They have launched a new initiative to train dogs specifically to help disabled children in the UK, and the first two pairings are already enjoying life together. After several months of training, two very special dogs, Viggo and Vicky have become the first “skilled companion dogs” to help children. The two cross labradors are litter brother and sister, and have been paired with Tom and Kayleigh respectively. Tom is only 11, and lives with his Mum in Milton Keynes. He has suffered from birth with cerebral palsy and finds it difficult to use his hands. Viggo and he are already becoming a very successful partnership. Kayleigh recently turned sixteen, and with her dog Vicky has found that she could become more independent. Previously she had been very quiet and shy, but her personality has blossomed, and she is already talking of competing in the paralympic games in Beijing in a specialist sport called Boccia. This new training scheme for the dogs is called Pals with Paws, and it promises to be as spectacular a success in the UK as it already is in the USA. I send my best wishes and support to Tom, Kayleigh, Viggo and Vicky, and to all at Dogs for the Disabled. Keep up the good work.
If you have anything you want to get off your chest, or anything you’d like me to publicise or if you have any doggy tittle-tattle, then please contact me via my website on www.peterpurves.com or via email firstname.lastname@example.org I will be pleased to hear from you.