Chick Wit: A lesson in dogged endurance

Posted: February 24, 2013

When was your last field trip? Was your mom still packing your lunch?

Mine was earlier this month, when I persuaded my boyfriend and my best friend to accompany me to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

The best part about Westminster during the day is that you can see all the dogs "backstage." Prep areas are designated by breed, and each exhibitor sets up shop differently. One bichon frise's station was decorated with a T-shirt with its face and name in airbrush script hung like a banner, like something you'd see in a tribute to Tupac or a prize-winning boxer.

A human boxer, that is.

But here, the dogs were the celebrities, and I was starstruck. We were members of the grubby public, weaving through rows of Pomeranians posing for photos like Kardashians, Yorkies with smoother hair than a supermodel, and greyhounds slim enough to wear sample-size couture.

Their groomers could have a great side business doing people. I want the Silky Terrier Blow-Out for my next party.

At one point, I lost my boyfriend. I used my Terminator-Girlfriend Sightâ„¢ to scan the crowd for any girls hoping to give new meaning to "professional handler."

I caught him staring, but not at a woman. He was drop-jawed at the strangest-looking dog I'd ever seen. Medium-sized and the color of burnt toast, the dog was completely hairless except for a wiry little Mohawk.

"It's a Xoloitzcuintli!" my boyfriend said. He explained it was an Aztec name for this ancient dog once bred to guard the dead. The handler had been showing Xoloitzcuintlis for 17 years, which is how long it takes to correctly pronounce the name.

Meanwhile, my best friend was busy snapping pictures and asking questions about certain breeds, ostensibly to help her brother choose a dog back in Boston. But as I watched her coo over a sheepdog, her inquiries began to sound like "I'm asking for a friend."

I see pet hair in her future.

My dog is a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, so I was dying to see the Cavalier breed class. I worried that my less-obsessed friends might get bored watching 30 nearly identical dogs prance around a ring, but they were game. We picked our favorites and placed imaginary bets on the winner. Our judging standards were: cute, really cute, insanely cute, and shiny coat.

Toward the end, one of our favorites got eliminated. But just our luck, the handler brought her dog right behind us to watch the rest. I couldn't wait to pet the dog, but when I turned around to ask, I saw the woman was upset; her face was flushed and she fought back tears.

I went into comfort mode. "He's beautiful. We all loved him from the start."

"Thanks. He should still be in there," the woman said, crestfallen. "He's so good, he should've gone farther. There are dogs in there that, that . . . " She shook her head before saying anything unsportsmanlike. "He's just a terrific dog." She held the wiggly pup closer to her chest and softened. "But thank you."

In the end, the winner was chosen, a beautiful dog selected from a group of equally beautiful dogs, but I couldn't get the woman out of my head. It's unusual to see someone so unguarded and emotional. She lost and she was disappointed, angry, sad, the works. She wanted it, she wanted to win, and she wasn't afraid to show it, even in the face of defeat. Her guts and her passion impressed us more than any cup or ribbon.

It made me think of my friends and me. My friend and I want to make a living as authors. My boyfriend wants to be a rock star. We have big dreams, and we're at the stage of our lives where we have the time and freedom to try to make them happen. But we're also of a generation that lives under the hipster ethos that there is nothing worse than caring too much, and it's better to enjoy something ironically than to fess up to wanting something you might not get.

I realized I'd never been as bravely open as this woman about wanting something, going for it, and believing I deserve it. Her dog lost and she was taking it hard, but you knew she would be back.

And so would we.


Look for Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella's latest collection of humor essays, "Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim." Also, look for Lisa's newest novel, "Don't Go," in stores April 9. Write to Francesca at francesca@francescaserritella.com.

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