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Allan Unleashed

A friend recently posted a short video on Facebook that warmed my heart. If we could all follow her example in the coming year, it would make our dog show world a better, more welcoming place.

A young girl visiting the prestigious Kennel Club of Philadelphia dog show the week before Thanksgiving made her way to the Afghan Hound benching area and admired the dogs being prepared for exhibition. She caught my friend’s eye, and in due course was handed a pin brush and invited to groom two of the dogs. The girl’s face conveyed a look of utter joy, as she moved from one grooming table to the other, too excited to decide which glorious Afghan she would gently brush first. The dogs softly wagged their tails, acknowledging their new groomer’s presence and enjoying her attention. My friend, who is a loving mom as well as an exhibitor, offered audible encouragement as she caught these precious moments on video.

So much good was done in this brief exchange. A budding dog show enthusiast was welcomed into the fold, no matter her age, inexperience, or lack of an entered dog. The hounds that stood calmly as a gentle young stranger brushed them confirmed the stable temperament that well-bred show dogs of all breeds possess; the same quality that makes them confident, adaptable companions.

Back in the 1960s, I met one of my very first mentors under similar circumstances. As a dog-crazy preteen, I found a copy of Dog World magazine at a local bookstore, and the die was cast. I saved my allowance to buy a subscription and inhaled the contents of every issue when it arrived in the mail. The magical world of dog shows was opened to me. We owned an elderly Beagle, and my parents made it clear that an Afghan Hound was not in the cards, although this was the breed that had won my heart, even before I ever saw one in the flesh. I was too young to drive, but my father indulged me by dropping me off at the local dog show early in the morning, to spend the day immersed in this fantasy world. The world was a simpler, safer place back then. Parents didn’t worry about their children being abducted or molested. A famous Afghan Hound breeder, whose ads I had read, saw me watching her groom and beckoned me to her setup. After we chatted for a few minutes, she must have seen some potential because she handed me a brush and said absentmindedly, “Alright, young man, make yourself useful.” And there I was, grooming my first Afghan! Later that day, finding herself with one more dog than she had hands to exhibit, she turned over the show lead to me and pushed me into the ring. I still have that gently folded first-place ribbon and cherish it for the lifetime of memories it evokes.

At the end of that day, she told me she had entered the same dogs the following week and could use my help. I didn’t think I could push my luck and get my father to drive me to another dog show, but she dismissed the thought and asked for my phone number. Sure enough, she phoned my parents and offered to pick me up. That was the beginning of many memorable dog show weekends, and our friendship continued long after I got my driver’s license. This delightful English lady and her equally eccentric sister taught me so much about the breed and the sport. She shared her photo albums, her pedigrees, her dogs, but most of all, her time. She practiced paying it forward half a century before that phrase was ever coined.

At a time when long-distance phone calls were costly and long before email had been invented, we corresponded . . . an enthusiastic kid and a generous, knowledgeable breeder. I still have those letters, too.

We all lead busy lives today, never more so than when we are at a dog show. It’s all too easy to brush away spectators who ask if they might take a photo of our dogs. Yet it takes but a moment to direct them to the ring where our dogs will be shown and invite them to take photos a little later. Never has it been more important for each of us to be an advocate, an ambassador, for the sport we love.

I hope the little girl who got to brush Afghan Hounds at the Philadelphia show will attend more dog shows. I’m confident she watched the National Dog Show on TV Thanksgiving Day and relived very special memories. Perhaps one day she will even have her own show dog to enter. The most important thing is that kind exhibitors made time for her to experience a life-changing moment.

Let’s aspire to do the same at our next dog show, and share the joy of this sport that has captured us for a lifetime.

Allan Reznik has been an Afghan Hound fancier since the early 1970s and also owns and exhibits Tibetan Spaniels. He is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster who has served as editor-in-chief of several national dog publications. He appears regularly on radio and TV discussing all aspects of responsible animal ownership. Allan is an AKC permit judge of Afghan Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Tibetan Spaniels.