I don’t usually deal well with the question of why I’m motivated to do something. I’m always afraid it has something to do with hating my mother or being exposed to some toxic chemical in-utero. The trouble is my graduate work has been in Clinical Psychology and Social Work and so when presented with “why” questions I automatically begin digging into my deepest darkest.
Because of this unfortunate habit I know why I hate beets, why authority figures confuse me and why rainy days make me happy. I take particular delight in “Dr. Phil” shows and “Oprah” reruns because it seems their guests have suffered through these same self-discovery processes.
Anyway, I thought my dog show “hobby” was fairly safe from that “why” question. When was the last time you heard one dog show addict ask another, “why do you show dogs?” You know the reason why we don’t is because we don’t want to even think about the answer. We don’t want to know why we get up at 3 a.m., drive six hours to some remote fairground to haul 200 pounds on little wheels through deep gravel to cover ourselves with powdered chalk and step on doggy chocolates before standing in 100-degree sun for 30 minutes to get a pretty yellow ribbon.
I managed to avoid this question for the past 40-plus years. I just assumed this was my “sport.” I’ve read Maxwell Riddle, Pat Trotter and Anna Katherine Nicholas on the sport of showing dogs. And I also know that the Westminster Kennel Club is the second oldest sporting event in the US. Everyone considers dog shows a sport, so why shouldn’t I?
Well, I’ve always been different. I looked up “sport” on Dictionary.com (so it has to be correct) and it says, “A diversion; recreation; pleasant pastime.” Can we talk? Beg to differ? Diversion? Pleasant pastime? Have you looked in your checkbook lately?
I don’t know about you, but the word sport just doesn’t make it for me. In a short list my entire life sort of runs like this:
1. Two years spent choosing the “right stud.”
2. Two weeks of driving to my vet to get expensive progesterone tests.
3. Hundreds of calls culminating in flying a tiny vial of cold semen across the country.
4. Chasing the package around town because FedEx decided to deliver it second day instead of next day.
5. An expensive surgical insemination.
6. Nine weeks of worry and eating pickles with ice cream.
7. One very long night ending with an emergency C-section because of a stuck puppy.
8. Eight weeks of puppy poop.
9. Eighteen months of puppy uglies and shattered dreams.
10. One year of send-in-the-entry-and-drop-the-coat-especially-if-it-is-a-major and lots of pretty purple and white ribbons.
11. An additional 20,000 miles on my car and an equal amount of gray hair on my head to finally get the two letters Ch. in front of my dog’s name.
12. Go directly back to #2, do not stop anywhere for anything.
You could call all of this diversion and pleasant pastime. My better half wouldn’t. He calls it obsession.
Well, I have a better label for what I do. I prefer to call it “art.” Art is defined by Dictionary.com as, “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing or of more than ordinary significance.” Now doesn’t that sound more like what we do? Don’t you like having aesthetic principles and the expression of beauty more than having a pleasant pastime?
I feel like my dogs are my canvas and I paint with genes. I spend years sweating and picking up doggy chocolates to produce my expression of beauty. When the judge looks at my breeding he or she is looking at my creativity, my art form. And when I walk into the Bred-by-Exhibitor class I’m signing the bottom corner of my painting.
My better half, Chris, is a classical guitarist and he is painfully sensitive about his performances. I am, too. When he plays his music he offers a part of himself. I do too when I walk into the ring. I guess one can call any sport an art — it is a matter of degree.
Dogs and their breeding and showing have defined my life since I was 10 years old and actually dogs filled my dreams before that. They are my passion and one of the few things that make me, me. I know for many of us, dogs are more than amusement or a diversion. Now, don’t you think the “art of dogs” sounds much better than the “sport of dogs?” Wouldn’t you rather be called an artist?
Paul Chen has been showing and breeding dogs for 46 years. He has produced more than 50 champions, including Top 10 dogs and National Specialty winners. Professionally he is a social worker in AIDS and hospice. He is an AKC provisional judge for Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis, as well as Juniors.
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