DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald
CORTEZ – The Durango Kennel Club kicked off its annual dog show on Friday at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds with the usual showcase of triumph, loss, ambition and love.
Outside the fairgrounds, a smartly dressed woman was urging her perfectly coiffed dog to pee on a post, ahead of the competition.
“Come on Jack! Lift that leg! What if you go in the ring?” she chided.
Jack, confused by this command, stared at his right hind leg.
Inside the cavernous fairgrounds, Theresa Tafoya of Albuquerque was readying Kartellas Flynnrider, her tiny Pomeranian, for competition. In the context of dog shows, the height of beauty for Pomeranians appears to be teasing their hair to the extent that they look electrified.
Tafoya escorted Kartellas into the ring, her face a mask of concentration. After five minutes of sitting, scampering and circling, the judge awarded Kartellas the blue ribbon. Tafoya’s grin was wider than those featured in toothpaste commercials.
Just as Tafoya was rewarding Kartellas with a treat, a pack of small dogs, their long hair bound in cascading sprigs, descended.
Their owner, a middle-aged man, was crying, his hopes of victory in the obedience competition apparently dashed.
For owners, the agonies of preparing dogs for competition are numerous, said Laurie Archambeau, who was escorting Aurora, her 3-year-old toy poodle, toward the exit. The Kennel Club mandates that poodles’ hair must be shorn in one of three styles. Aurora was wearing the Continental clip, which looks like a punishment that French King Louis XVI might have visited on his enemies.
Archambeau said that most groomers-for-hire are not up to the Continental clip. “It’s difficult to find anybody who can do it. You have to work with it constantly,” she said.
Cathy Nelson, who has worked with the Durango Kennel Club for almost 25 years, was show chair on Friday. Nelson said, “We have to coordinate really well.”
More than 347 dogs competed on Friday and more are expected today and Sunday.
“One of the nice things about dog showing is that, while slacks are allowed, there’s certain level of dress at kennel shows. People don’t come in cutoff shorts and T-shirts. If you’ve got a beautifully groomed dog, your attire should be beautiful too,” said Nelson.
Nelson pointed to an incredibly complicated flowchart that outlined the ways in which dogs progress from round to round, entitled “The Road to Best in Show.”
Male dogs and female dogs compete separately until the “Best of Breed” competition.
“There’s been a tendency over the years for male dogs to do better than the bitches,” said Nelson. Nelson attributed male dogs’ victories to their lustrous coats – females shed their coats twice a year when in heat – but she wondered, “is it prejudice?”
Roberta Chowning was applying a liberal coat of hairspray to her dog as her husband, Don Chowning, a professional dog handler, said that dogs can’t tell when they lose, but “they get very excited when they win.”
The Chownings attend 60 dog shows a year, from Montana to Wyoming.
“It’s very expensive. It was $30 to enter this competition. Plus the travel. We’re on the road a lot. We work them at home, train them while travelling,” he said.
Their dogs eat only raw meat, raw beef, raw chicken.
Dogs’ diets are paramount not just to the quality of their coats, but to the balance of their stride. This was apparent in ring two, where the golden retriever competition was afoot, with the owners running their dogs around the ring.
One lithe retriever seemed to be gliding, while the belly of its more corpulent owner flopped up and down.
Three Lhasa apsos – which look like miniature Ewoks of the Star Wars series – were recovering from competition. Their hair – which had been perfectly flat-ironed – fell in curtains around their face and body.
Owner Linda Jarrett started showing dogs in 1972. She said Randy is one of the top 10 Lhasa apsos in the country.
“She’s very well put together, and she’s extremely well-behaved. Sunny isn’t a grand champion, like Randy and her brother Thunder,” said Jarrett, shaking her head.
Nelson, with the Durango Kennel Club, noted that almost every dog owner there would be dealt a little defeat. The key is to take it in stride.
“If you take it too seriously, like any other activity, you’re crazy,” said Nelson. “The dog who wins Best in Show is the only dog who goes undefeated. There’s an old saying, ‘There’s only one dog that wins a dog show.’”