Monday, June 10, 2013

The Apple Blossom Cluster FINAL

Word Count: 999
Intended Publication: Kalamazoo Gazette

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 proudly on the beauty table being washed, blow-dried, 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 off of Lake St. just outside Kalamazoo. Over 1300 dogs from the Midwest and parts of Canada compete to advance in five showing events that form the “cluster” from May 23rd-26th 2013, an event that was sparsely advertised in the Kalamazoo Community. This dog show is the largest grouping event in Michigan, and has been held in Kalamazoo for over 10 years.

“We lightly advertise it, but it doesn’t necessarily draw a really strong gate from the public. It’s a hobby and a sport that the group people like,” says Jim Frankhauser, the Cluster Secretary/Coordinator for the event.

“Some people do golfing, some people do bowling, some people do dogs”, explains Bob, member of the Holland Kennel Club, one of the five sponsoring clubs. The lawn outside is sprawled with hundreds of campers and RVs housing the owners, handlers, and dogs competing in this year’s show.

“Dog shows should be named as the evaluation of breeding stock”, says Frankhauser.
The judges determine which dog matches most closely to the “standard” of their breed.

“You want to have your dog compared against the standard because otherwise you lose track of where you are”, explained Linda Lockstein, showing two Chows from Ontario.

Judge Janet Nahikian judges 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.

The Expo Center and Fairgrounds, which hosts a multitude of large animal shows and flea and farmers market events each month, is a perfect venue for the show. The large rooms accommodate multiple show rings, and provide a separate prepping area for the dogs, 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, yanks a small metal comb through her Chow Chow’s mass of thick matted fur, practically falling over with release of each knot.

“You have to go from under her chin” Linda says about petting Maile, “she can’t see with all of her fur, and gets spooked.” She gets out a blow dryer, which one could easily mistake for a vacuum cleaner, and blasts Maile, flattening her fur. To finish, she ties a bib around her neck.
“Just so she doesn’t get wet.”

Like many owners, Linda is showing more than one dog today. She wheels Maile and her male dog, Traveler in their carriers to Ring 4 for their event.

The Chows are trotted in by their handlers who do a lap, and then lead their dogs up onto a ramp for inspection, 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, while a judge observes from different angles. Occasionally the judge feels the bone structure of the hips or shoulders, or quickly opens the dogs mouth to examine its teeth.

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 hastily removed the comb, did a small brush down, eyes darting around and then shoved it back in their hair while the judge’s eyes were on a rivaling dog.

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

Dogs hope to advance through a series of elimination rounds each day.
“You continue to compete until you’ve been beat, one dog comes out being undefeated”, says Frankhauser.
Dog and Bitch winners of each breed compete against “Champion Dogs” (exemplary in their breed), ultimately dubbing a “Best in Breed” winner. These winners compete against the winners of other breeds in their group, and the winners of each group compete on Sunday for the “Best in Show” award.

But, there are credentials to be earned for all dogs at the show. Ribbons are awarded for 1st-4th place at each level, and awards for smaller class winners are donated by breed organizations. Additionally, non-winning dogs can still accumulate points by beating other dogs, which accumulate over time to achieve Championship Dog standing.

“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 a 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.

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