Monday, June 3, 2013

Apple Blossom Cluster Means Spring!

She’s been waiting for this moment ever since she was born. She is the most desirable in a long line of family legacy. She sits proud on the beauty table being washed, blowdried, powdered and tweezed, eyebrows trimmed, teeth brushed.
Eminem thumps through her head: One shot do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime.

“12 month bitch #20 on deck!” Woof!

The doggy stakes are high at the 2013 Apple Blossom Cluster Dog Show, held at the Expo Center in Kalamazoo, MI. Owners and handlers from all over the state and other regional locations in the Midwest and Canada brought over 1300 dogs to compete for “Best in Breed” awards between May 23rd and 26th.

“Some people do golfing, some people do bowling, some people do dogs.” Explained Bob, member of the Holland Kennel Club, one of the sponsoring Kennel Clubs to host the event. The lawn outside is sprawled with hundreds of campers and RVs housing the owners, handlers, and of course dogs competing in this years show.

The show inhabits the entire expo center, with white picket rings in each room for the obedience and breed classes. There is a large warehouse for grooming and prepping the dogs, with rows and rows of tables stationed, equipped with roll-away kits to primp the dogs. Vendors line the side wall selling collars, key chains, and embroidered paraphernalia.

In Ring 4, bulldogs are trotted in by their handlers who do a lap, and stop on the far wall, hastily crouching next to the dogs, molding their legs into a perfectly aligned stance. They cup the chin of the dog in one hand, and the tip of the tail in the other, pulling up to evoke presence and pride from the dog, while a judge observes from different angles. She moves to the front of the line, and the owners rotate around their dogs in synchronization, arranging the chin fat of the bulldogs into a nice ruffle of expression. Occasionally the judge will feels the bone structure of the hips or shoulders, or quickly open the dogs mouth to examine its teeth.

Unfortunately, in the world of dog showing, not all dogs are created equal, leaving the judges to determine which dog matches most closely to the “standard” of their breed, bring home the highly coveted prize ribbons accordingly.

Judge Janet Nahikian judged the Toy Chihuahua category.
“We look for three things: type, soundness and showmanship. And how well they’re built and how well they move… we look at the confidence a dog has. You know, you want them to say ‘here I am’. I look for beautiful head properties, the dog that moved beautifully and fit the standard.” Nahikian is from Coloma, Michigan and has been judging since 1986.

Awards are given in a small area in between the show rings, and the beauty room where blow dryers whizz, wafting scents of shampoo.

“The same shampoo doesn’t work for everybody, some have straight hair, some have frizzy hair.” Says Julie, a professional dog shower from Flint, “You know that soap they use for oil spills and things? It works really well for dogs, and its really nice and cheap.” She begins to apply sharpie to the eyelids of one of her Border Collies.

At a nearby table, Linda Lockstein, a small older woman from Tilsinburg, Ontario is yanking a small metal comb through her Chow Chow’s mass of thick matted fur, practically falling over with the force of the release of each knot. The loosened fur poofs up into the air and floats away onto a nearby object or person. We chat, and I ask to pet Maile.
“Oh no, you have to go from under her chin” Linda explains “she can’t see with all of her fur, and gets spooked.” She gets out her blowdryer, which one could easily mistake for a vacuum cleaner, and blasts Maile, like a dog in a convertible on the freeway. When she’s finished she then ties a bib on her, the strings barely meeting around Maile’s mane.
“Just so she doesn’t get wet.” Linda explains. She wraps her tiny arms around Maile’s waist, only a bit larger and stronger than the dog, and lifts a stiff, perplexed Maile safely onto the ground.

Outside the ring the competitors are friendly, congratulating one another and making small talk,
“How many of those do you have at home?”
“About 6. Before Christmas I has 11, but I had a lot of extra males, so…”

Some owners are juggling 6 to 7 dogs at once, hastily lifting them out of their carriers, showing them quickly and then putting them back in to remove the next nearly identical dog. For many handlers this is their way of assigning credential to their breeding.

The owners are dressed in suits, which quickly become covered in dog hair, and many women show with a comb sticking out of their ponytail, for quick touch-ups before or even during the class. A few owners while holding their dog in position, hastily removed the comb, did a small brush down, eyes darting around and then shoved it back in their hair while the judges eyes were on a rivaling dog.

Even though owners do feel a sense of competition, at the end of the day, they still have their dog, even it its not a prize winner. One Dockson owner coo-ed in child-directed speech:
“Oh I love her! She’s a loser, but I love her. Well, she’s a loser today, but we don’t care.”

“We do it for the love to the breed, and the love of the dogs, and because we’re kind of crazy,” Faith of the Holland Kennel Club explained.
“Yeah, we’re all kind of crazy,” Bob echoed.

At the photography stand an owner with paw print tattooed up her ankle takes about 10 minutes placing her Chihuahuas paws just so, trophy towering over the dog. Once the owner is ready, the photographer tosses a toy laxadazically, the dogs ears perk up at a perfectly candid angle, SNAP! Kodak moment.

1014 Words
Intended Publication: Claws and Paws Michigan Dog Publication


  1. Great great great piece Charlotte. I haven't done this yet this quarter but I actually laughed out loud while reading your piece. 3 TIMES! It is wonderfully quirky and the pieces style/ elements of humor pair with the bizarre nature of what you're writing about perfectly.

    I think my favorite moment was when we hear the interview with the woman who has the border collies and then you abruptly leave us with that image of her applying sharpie. True genius. no joke.

    I think the lede of this piece is just to give us an insight into a world, through the profile of one specific show and its contestants, we (most of us) no nothing about.

    Because your piece was so well written and largely polished I am left with only a few small things to critique. 1. I would just go back and reread the piece. There were a few small typos that you will easily spot and fix. 2. I think your piece might be a bit cynical (right word?) for your intended publication (but the piece shouldn't change). consider a new target.

    Great job,


  2. This piece definitely has a "Best in Show" quality, where the quirkiness of all the characters you bring in makes the piece very entertaining to read. I really appreciate how many voices you put into this piece, I think it really works for a story like this.

    I don't have much criticism to give at this point. I guess it might be nice to hear about who attends these things aside from the dog owners themselves...I don't know if there are such people but they definitely would have a different perspective!

    Really great job! I will try and have some better comments tomorrow at workshop!

  3. Solid Char. Way to find great material. The scenes and moments you describe are the strongest aspect of this story. The woman applying sharpie eyeliner. The owners sneaking brush-strokes in the middle of the competition. Those are great, telling details and you deliver them well.

    The weakest aspect of this piece is the lack of conflict. It's funny and quirky enough to keep the reader going, but at the end I'm not sure what the complication is.

    Good work. More tomorrow.


  4. Charlotte,

    Once again, your piece was really entertaining and interesting. You found some really excellent, quirky subject matter here, and you treated it in a way that is funny without being mean (which is difficult to do).

    I get a fantastic sense of concrete detail throughout the piece. Everything is very vivid, and you caught a lot of the weird little details that make dog shows interesting--the sharpie on the eyeliner, the blowdryer, and the petting under the chin are all great.

    Moreover, the big-picture stuff is all good, too. I felt like I was there.

    I also loved the lede. A dog bumping Eminem is a hilarious image, and personifying the dog made me go "Wuuuaaaah?" at the "12 month bitch" line. You got me hook, line, and sinker right away.

    I do think that the story needs some element of conflict, though. It works as it is, but it needs something to drive it more, I think. Perhaps you could maintain the broad focus, but give a little insight into the conflict for each character you introduce? I like it a lot as it is, though. Great job!


  5. This is hilarious. I was engaged throughout—this is a really strong draft. The quotes you got are priceless. People are so peculiar.

    I feel grounded in character and images, I'd like a little more on location, maybe. Where does this competition fall/how is it viewed in the context of the community? (I don't know why that seems important to me.) I wonder if that's where some of the tension that Colin's talking about would come in.

    So funny.

    See you!


  6. Charlotte,

    This is incredible! I laughed a lot while reading it. I just keep thinking about the woman applying Sharpie too her dog! haha!

    I think you use a lot of really good quotes and the descriptions are very vivid. Both of these elements really make your piece come to life.

    To be honest, I am having a really hard time thinking about any real criticism. I know a lot of people have commented that there is a lack of conflict, but I am not sure what your conflict would be here. I think this is just an enjoyable read and peoples' quirkiness was enough to keep me engaged.

    I'm sure we can talk this all out a bit more in class. Great job and see you soon!

  7. The initial scene in this piece is ridiculous and hilarious! You immediately drew me in, and since I knew (or thought I knew) that you were writing about a dog show, I couldn’t believe you managed to trick me into thinking otherwise. That was a wonderful beginning.

    Overwhelmingly, I’d say this piece has all the aspects it needs to be polished into a final draft. My biggest comment would be to solidify the piece in the Kalamazoo community, especially since the intended publication is a Michigan publication. Give us some concrete details about the Kalamazoo dog scene (is that even a thing?), helping the average Michigan reader relate this to their knowledge or understanding of Kalamazoo.

    See you in class.


    from chandler