Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Spring - Summer 2008

Our man Mike lived many lives before he started winning Hugo after Hugo
for his brilliant science fiction.  Here's one.

This is a picture of Mike with his dog Kim

Mike Resnick

Now that so many dog shows are turning up on product-hungry cable TV, I figure that Challenger’s animal issue is a good place to explain just what a dog show is all about and how it works.

To begin with, a dog show is nothing more than a gigantic elimination contest. At the beginning of the day, there may be up to 3,000 dogs in competition; each continues going into the ring until he is defeated, and when only one is left, the show is over.

Now, the notion of having 3,000 dogs walk into a single ring at the same time is just a little far-fetched, so the competition is initially divided into breeds, and each breed is subdivided into various classes.

In collies (which are what Carol and I bred and exhibited for over a dozen years) – and indeed in all other breeds – the sexes are divided for all but the final class. Males are judged first, then bitches, and finally there is an intersex competition for the Best of Breed Award.

The classes are as follows: 6-to-9-month-old puppies, 9-to-12-month-old puppies, novice (for dogs who haven't ever won a class), bred-by-exhibitor (which should be self-explanatory), American-bred (also self-explanatory) and finally the open class (for which all dogs six months and older are eligible).

Where there are color differences the open class is frequently divided. Thus, in collies, there is an open sable class (sable being that "Lassie " color which can vary from lemon-yellow to rich mahogany), open blue merle (the gray or mottled collie that we had inadvertently specialized in), open tricolor (the basically black collies, with white collars and legs and tan facial markings), and the very rare open white (for collies which have colored heads but predominantly white bodies).

Thus, after the judging of the various classes in males, only the class winners are still unbeaten. They in turn come back into the ring for what is known as the Winners class, from which the judge will select one male as the best of the dogs he has seen thus far, an award known as Winners Dog. As a rather meaningless honorarium, he will select the second-best dog as well, an award known as the Reserve Dog and not at all unlike first runner-up in the Miss America pageant.

Of all the males entered in the breed on a given day, only the Winners Dog will receive points toward his championship. Based on the number of dogs he defeats, he will win from 1 to 5 championship points in a day, and he requires 15 points to become a champion.

And as if that is not hard enough, the American Kennel Club has placed two further stipulations on the attainment of a championship: first, a dog must win at least two "major" shows, which by definition are shows that are worth 3, 4, or 5 points (which prevents him from beating a pair of stinkers fifteen times in a row); and second, he must win his two majors under two different judges, and must have won some of his remaining points under a third judge (which prevents him from following one judge who happens to like him all over the country and showing under no one else). The point scale varies from breed to breed and area to area; in the Midwest, where our collies did most of their campaigning from 1968 to 1983, a male had to defeat 2 other collies in order to win 1 point, 10 to win 2 points, 19 to win 3 points, 31 to win 4 points, and 53 or more dogs to win 5 points. The magic number is 19, since a dog cannot complete a championship without beating 19 or more dogs at least twice. The point scale was usually a little higher for bitches.

Once the points are awarded to Winners Dog, the same procedure is repeated in bitches. Then Winners Dog and Winners Bitch, representing the best non-champion in the breed that day, enter the Best of Breed competition against the champions, who compete only in this class since they have already amassed their 15 points and have no use for any more. One dog, usually but not always one of the champions, is chosen as Best of Breed, and a dog of the opposite sex is chosen as Best of Opposite Sex. If a male is Best of Breed, a bitch will be Best of Opposite Sex, and vice versa.

Finally, the judge chooses between Winners Dog and Winners Bitch and awards one of them Best of Winners. Best of Winners is occasionally a very important award, for it represents a way of picking up extra points without working very hard for them. Let us say that Winners Dog has won 3 points and Winners Bitch has won only 2 points. If the Winners Bitch is selected as Best of Winners, she has, by proxy, defeated all the males and is hence awarded that extra point that the Winner's Dog had won.

Once the Best of Breed Award has been given out in 100 or more breeds, the original 3,000 dogs have been whittled down to 100 or so who are as yet undefeated on that day. When we were those, these breeds were now divided into six groups – Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, and the catch-all Non-Sporting Group – and very shortly only six dogs were still undefeated. (Since we retired from the game, they split Working into Working and Herding, so there are now seven groups.) These seven Group winners now enter the ring for the top prize of the day: Best in Show. Once that is awarded, the show is over, everyone packs up their dogs and grooming equipment, and the whole pageant moves on to the next day's show site.

Why do people who lose on a Saturday go right back against the same competition 20 miles away on Sunday?

Simple.

The judging of a dog show is entirely subjective. If Secretariat wins a race by 20 lengths and sets a track record in the process, no one can deny he was the best horse in the race; there is an official photograph of the finish that proves he was first across the wire, there is an automatic timer that proves he ran the distance 4 seconds faster than the second-place horse, and there are tens of thousands of spectators, each and every one of them ready to testify that he did indeed finish ahead of all the other horses. But a dog show depends on a judge's subjective taste. He may have an innate prejudice against the color of the dog you are exhibiting, or his own kennel may have been plagued by the very fault your animal possesses, or he may simply have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. Or, in altogether too many cases, he may be licensed to judge 50 or 60 breeds, and is the equivalent to a man who is a jack of all trades and master of none.

On what does a judge base his decision?

Each breed has a written Standard, a verbalization of the ideal dog, and theoretically the judge selects those dogs that most closely approximate their Standards. To do this, he will have the handlers trot their dogs around the ring so he can evaluate their soundness, he will examine each dog's head and body individually so that he can determine its structure, and he will have each dog strike an alert pose so that he can stand back and evaluate the animal as a whole.

Dog shows are held almost every weekend of the year, all across the country, at sights ranging from Madison Square Garden (infrequently) to out-of-the-way fairgrounds that can be reached only by the most circuitous of back roads (altogether too frequently). The only stipulation placed on them by the American Kennel Club is that shows being held on the same day must be at least 250 miles apart.

Okay, you’ve got the basics. Now let me give you a typical day in the life of a show kennel – ours. And let me take a show from May, which is Desperation Month for collies, because once they shed their coats they can’t be shown until the hair grows back five or six months later. This particular show occurred in May of 1974, and was a little more memorable than most.

On a chilly Saturday morning I packed three collies into my trusty Dodge minivan and headed north from Libertyville, Illinois to a pair of Wisconsin shows.

One of the three was Ch. (for “Champion”) Gully Foyle. (Recognize the name?) Gully, a burly, big-coated blue merle, was the Eddie Stanky of the collie world. Leo Durocher used to say of Stanky: "He can't hit, he can't field, and he can't run. All he can do is beat you." The same was true of Gully. There were dogs with better heads, dogs with better bodies, even a few dogs with better coats -- but Gully was the consummate show machine. He loved traveling (and a top show dog will log 30,000 miles a year or more), he loved strange surroundings, and he never relaxed in the ring. He knew exactly what was expected of him, and always did the job to perfection.

Around the house, Gully was a little on the dull side. All of his personality was channeled into his stomach (not necessarily a bad thing in a show dog, since they are "baited" with liver in the ring to make them look alert.) The best example came 1973, during the final days of the 17-year locust infestation. We had heard stories that 1973 was to be the "year of the locust", but laughed it off as merely leftover dialogue from an old Charlton Heston film – until the spring day the sky became black with them. They didn't exactly harm anyone, but for the better part of a month they were an incredible nuisance. Then, in midsummer, they began dying off by the millions. Every day I would go out to the dog runs, each of which was 50 feet by 15 feet, with my shovel, prepared to get rid of another 10,000 or so of the little insects – and never once did I find a single locust corpse in Gully's run. He was motivated entirely by his appetite, which exactly what was needed in a show dog. It was enough to make a man quietly proud -- once he finished retching.

When Gully wasn't eating – and his diet consisted of anything smaller than himself (or larger if it was cut into pieces) – he spent his days and nights lying atop his dog house, very much like Charlie Brown's Snoopy. Once, after hearing one joke too many from a visitor, I decided to break Gully of the habit by erecting an A-frame dog house. The next morning, when I went out to clean the runs, I found Gully on the roof, his front feet wrapped over the top of the A-frame, his back legs suspended in space. At this point I gave up and gave Gully his old roof to lie on.

The second of the three dogs was Elf, a tricolor bitch who was fast closing in on her championship. Elf was an unusual case, the kind of dog Albert Payson Terhune would have loved to write about. Some dogs, like some people, try very hard to live; Elf, in her happy but empty-headed way, tried just as hard not to. She was one of the few collies on the grounds that we had bought rather than bred, and when she stepped out of the fiberglass airplane crate that brought her she was just about the prettiest puppy either of us had ever seen. She remained that way for almost three days. Then she got progressively uglier, and progressively bouncier, until it reached the point where she was offered as a pet, first for $100, then for $75, and finally for free. There were no takers.

This is a picture of the dog, Elf
Elf

So we decided to train her for the show ring, on the unlikely chance that she might some day look like a show dog again. Training Elf was not like training other dogs. She bounced. And bounced. And then bounced some more. At one point I recall suggesting, only half in jest, that we nail her feet to the floor until she learned what was expected of her. We never got around to it, and she never quite learned what was expected, either.

Finally, when she was seven months old, and bearing the official name of Nightwings (which made her Bob Silverberg’s favorite dog), she was entered in a huge show in Cincinnati – and lost about as badly as a dog can lose. We decided that the competition might be easier further away from home, and she was sent to a handler in Texas. She was perfectly healthy when she boarded the airplane, and just about dead when she got off. No one knew what had happened during the flight. It took a veterinarian in Texas some two weeks to save her life, and she was then returned home.

She was entered in a show in mid-April of 1971, at which time she would be 10 months of age, but two weeks earlier, while Carol and I were away, she was the victim of the only serious dog fight the kennel had ever seen. (We never found out quite what happened, but we knew it had to be her fault. She just naturally got on people's – and collies' – nerves.) When we came home we found her lying on the ground in a state of shock. I immediately raced her to the vet's, where her front legs required 47 stitches – and while her legs were being sewn up, she began wagging her tail and finally jumped around so playfully that the vet was forced to anesthetize her.

Convinced by this time that the God of Dog Shows simply didn't want Elf to get into the ring as a puppy, we decided to breed her – just in time to discover a mild vaginal infection that made breeding her impossible at that time. Unbothered by all of this, Elf bounced her way to her first birthday, managing to sprain a leg while jumping up to visit Gully on his roof.

She was entered in another show in September, but when Carol was brushing her coat out prior to putting her in the car, Elf suddenly yelped – and blood began pouring down her leg. It turned out that she had done so much playful thrashing around while getting her stitches that one tuft of hair had been inadvertently stitched into a wound, and the brush had pulled it out, opening up the wound as well.

Elf bounced along for another three or four months, and was then bred. She whelped 8 puppies, three of them of unquestioned show quality. As each of the 5 pets was sold, Elf was offered to the prospective purchaser at the same price. There were no takers, and so the little tricolor bitch, still addle-pated and undaunted, remained in Libertyville.

In late August of 1972 we were preparing to go to California for a science fiction convention when we received a phone call from Stan Flowers, a professional handler who occasionally exhibited our dogs when we couldn't get to the ring ourselves.

"I've got a couple of nice judges coming up on Labor Day weekend," said Stan.

"Forget it," I said. "Everything is out of coat."

"Are you sure?" urged Stan. "These two have put your dogs up before. They like what you breed."

"No," I said. "The only thing I've got in coat is a pet bitch that nobody wants."

"Let me take a look at her."

So I packed Elf into the car, drove the five miles to Stan's house, and unloaded her.

Stan looked at her and grinned. "You think this is a pet, huh?"

"Yeah," I said. "Don't you?"

"I think she's the best collie in your kennel, including all your champions."

I did a double-take and looked at Elf again. Yes, she had a nice coat, and yes, she wasn't quite so ugly any more, but it was hard to think of her as anything but the resident kook. This was the bitch who, three days before whelping her litter, had climbed onto the kitchen counter, waited until I walked by, and then jumped into my arms, thereby causing me to slip a disk in my back. This was the bitch who, when singing, could reach K above high Q, usually at three in the morning. She had a lot of talents, but winning dog shows would never be numbered among them.

"I'm not going to pay you to take a pet in the ring," I said at last. "I could enjoy my money more by burning it on cold winter nights."

"Double or nothing," said Stan. "Pay me twice my fee if I win, nothing if I lose."

"Sold," I said.

A week later we returned home and found out that we owed Stan double his fee. Elf had won 4 points, 2 at each show.

"Luck," I said.

Two weeks later, at her next show, Elf not only won the points but went Best of Breed over champions.

She showed four more times in October, going Winner's Bitch at two of the shows for 4 more points and Reserve Bitch at the other two.

Then, as cold weather returned to the Midwest, she perversely began losing her coat, and we drove 500 miles to Nebraska with her, hoping to find a major before she was shed out completely. The Nebraska Collie Club, held the day after Thanksgiving, drew an entry of more than 40 collie bitches, quite enough for a major, and the judge was an old friend, Noel Denton, who usually liked our dogs.

Carol spent two hours grooming what was left of Elf's coat, applying chalk to the huge white collar to make it even brighter and then brushing it out, trimming feet and whiskers, making each hair on her body stand out proudly and beautifully.

"This is it," Carol announced when she was finished. "We won't be able to get her into another show for months." She pointed to the pile of hair, more than enough to fill a 50-pound grocery bag, that lay on the floor near Elf's grooming table.

I walked into the ring with her, and evaluated the competition. There'd be no sweat winning the class; all I had to do was keep her calm enough to take the Winner's Class as well.

Noel began walking around the ring, looking at each dog in turn, and I decided it was time for Elf to strike a pose and hold stock-still, displaying her body, neck, legs and expression to best advantage.

Look at me, boss! said Elf. I'll bet I can touch the ceiling!

The ceiling was 60 feet overhead. Elf made a valiant attempt to reach it.

When she landed, Noel was staring at her. "Okay, pose her later," he said. "Let's see her move now."

I began trotting across the ring, praying that Elf would run in a reasonably straight line.

You're O.J. Simpson and I'm Dick Butkus and I've got to stop you from scoring a touchdown, said Elf. She hurled herself happily against the back of my legs.

I finally made it around the ring and wound up in front of Noel again. He bent down to examine her head, checking to see if the sides of it were properly smooth and the teeth formed a scissors bite. Elf decided it was mountain-climbing time and just about got her back feet up to Noel's shoulders before she fell off. The crowd at ringside loved her. I began trying to remember any old recipes I might have seen for boiled dogmeat, while Carol covered her eyes with her hands and began walking, trancelike, back to the grooming table.

Elf was given a second-place ribbon and, having time of her life, bounced all the way back to the grooming area. When the show was over an outraged Noel Denton sought me out.

"Who taught you to handle a dog?" he demanded furiously. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself! This bitch might have won the points today if she had behaved!"

I handed the leash to Noel. "Show me how," I said, trying to hide a malicious grin of anticipation.

"I certainly will," said Noel. As he was speaking, Elf did a back flip.

Noel blinked once, handed the leash back, and walked away without another word.

She was bred to Gully a month later, aborted the litter with her usual good luck, and never coated up in time to find a major entry. Thus, when she came into season in the summer of 1973, she was bred to Gully again and produced a litter of five puppies. Once a bitch weans a litter she sheds down almost to the skin; with her usual over-enthusiasm, Elf had lost so much hair that she had once again been out of coat for most of the winter and spring shows. And now she was going up to Oshkosh with me, hoping to win one of those elusive majors before the size of the entries dropped off and she had to wait until autumn again.

The third of the dogs I packed into the van was Kim, Gully and Elf's 7-month-old blue son. Kim, officially The Gray Lensman, had been something special from the moment he was born. Very rarely can a breeder look at a litter of still-wet newborn puppies and spot a top-notcher, but Kim was one of those exceptions. He was simply the best male we ever produced, and we know it the second he popped out.

So much for beauty. Emotionally, he was even more scatterbrained than his mother. Physically he was stronger and bouncier. He outweighed her by a good 25 pounds, and was capable of doing far more damage with only half the effort.

Take, for example, dog crates. Almost all show dogs ride to and from shows in metal crates, and for a very good reason: if the car should have an accident, the crate will protect the dog and you won't have to spend the next few days scraping his remains off one of the windows. (And, in the case of Gully, it kept him from sitting on your lap and helping you read the traffic signs.)

Kim didn't like dog crates. Since his strength, even as a puppy, was measured in megatons rather than foot-pounds, getting him through the tiny door of a crate was usually a 10-minute undertaking. Once he was inside, however, the door was locked and he could be driven safely to his destination – until the day he became the first collie on record to break out of a locked crate. It occurred on the way to a handling class when Kim was five months old. There was a huge crash, and a moment later Kim trotted to the front of the van, proudly carrying a horribly misshapen metal door in his mouth.

The Oshkosh Kennel Club was Kim's first dog show and he acquitted himself well, winning a large puppy class. When three bitches didn't show up, the entry fell below the level of a 3-point show, and I withdrew Elf, who didn't need any more minor points. Gully went Best of Breed again, for the 10th of some 22 such awards he was to win during the year.

Gully didn't win the Working Group, a loss which carried no disgrace with it, since there were some 30 Best of Breed winners competing, almost all of them champions, rather than the vast numbers of non-champion dogs involved in the individual breed competition, and I packed up the dogs and headed for the Oshkosh Holiday Inn. (Dog people soon become experts an the best motel chains, as well as individual motels within those chains: this one has enough room to set up three crates and a grooming table next to the bed, that one doesn't have enough grass to walk the dogs; another one has good food but lousy water, and so forth.)

The next morning I prepared to drive to Appleton, some 30 miles north of Oshkosh, for the Sunday show. I opened the door to the van, took Gully's leash off, snapped my fingers, and the big blue dog jumped into his crate. I repeated the procedure with Elf.

Then I brought Kim out to the van, absentmindedly unhooked the leash, and gestured to a crate.

I HATE CRATES! screamed Kim, and ran off in the general direction of the highway. He had gone about 50 yards when he spotted a puli practicing his obedience routine with his owner, and ran over to see if this was some game he could join.

The puli took one look at the 85-pound instrument of destruction bearing down upon him and didn't wait to find out whether or not it was a playful puppy. He took off like a bat out of hell, with Kim in hot and happy pursuit, and me and the puli's owner racing after the pair of them.

Around and around the Holiday Inn we raced, through pass-throughs and under playground equipment. Then, as I was turning a corner, I stepped into a fresh pile of dog stool, slipped, and crashed foot-first into a glass wall with a bone-jarring thud. Thinking that I had invented a new sport, Kim raced up, tail a-wag, ready to participate. I grabbed him by the neck, limped painfully to the van, threw him bodily into a crate, and drove to Appleton.

By the time we reached the show site, my foot was swollen to almost twice its normal size from the collision, and I paid a group of helpful boy scouts to unload the dogs and grooming equipment and place them right next to the show ring. I then went around borrowing pain-killers from my competitors.

When asked why I didn't go home, I replied doggedly that Bernard Esporite was judging, and that Esporite had given Elf a Reserve three weeks earlier, and that the bitch that went Winners on that day had finished her championship in the interim and wouldn't be competing and that no goddamned little bruise was going to keep me out of the ring

(Well, nobody ever said dog breeders had to be smart.)

Kim was the first dog in the ring, and I hobbled around painfully, praying that we would be second so as not to have to return for Winners class. Esporite fell in love with Kim, giving him the first-place blue ribbon and gaiting him around the ring half a dozen times in Winners class before finally giving the points to a more mature sable dog.

This is a picture of the judge, Mike and the dog, Gully
Judge, Mike, Gully

At this point I considered taking my shoe off to relieve the pressure, but decided I'd never be able to get it on again over the swelling. An hour later I walked into the ring with Elf, who was bouncier than usual. She won her class, and returned a moment later in Winners class. Esporite had narrowed down his choice to two bitches, Elf and a lovely locally-owned sable. He decided to base his decision on proper movement.

We went around the ring once, then twice more. Then we ran in an L-shaped pattern, then a T-pattern. Then, just so he would be sure he was making the proper selection, Esporite ran the entire class around the ring twice more. Just as I was sure my foot wouldn't hold up for another step Esporite pointed to Elf, and the little black bitch celebrated winning her first major by jumping on me and knocking me down.

"Thank God that's over!" I grated as I hobbled out of the ring.

"What about Gully?" someone asked.

So it wasn't over after all. I sought out Jean Greenwood, a friend who had bought a number of dogs from us when starting her kennel, and asked her to take Elf into the ring.

"And remember," I said. "It wasn't a major in males, so do everything you can do to let the male beat you for Best of Winners. Don't take any liver into the ring, don't let her stand right, the whole bit."

"But why?" she asked

"It's a common courtesy," I replied. "She can't win any more points today, but the male can get a major if he beats her -- and maybe someday, when we have to go Best of Winners for the extra point, somebody will do the same for us."

Then I was in the ring again. Gully tried his very best, but I simply couldn't keep up with him as we gaited around the ring. As for Elf, she evidently had decided to make a good impression on her new-found friend; everything that she usually did wrong for me she did right for Jean. A few moments later Esporite awarded her Best of Breed over Gully, who was Best of Opposite Sex. Best of Breed of course made her Best of Winners as well; I gave an apologetic look across the ring to the owner of the Winner's Dog, decided that I couldn't stay on my foot long enough to pose for victory photos with Elf and Gully, and hopped off to a telephone to tell Carol the news. Carol was properly overjoyed about the major, but a little too busy to celebrate. The milk had gone bad on the bitch who had whelped a few weeks earlier – the reason she had stayed at home – and she was being forced to wean the puppies earlier than usual.

I hunted up another batch of boy scouts, had them load the van, and stayed just long enough to watch Jean handle Elf in the Working Group. Elf was back to emulating a rubber ball again, and while the spectators loved it the judge had scant use for such antics and ignored her throughout the class.

Then came the 4-hour drive home. I had borrowed a knife, cut my canvas shoe off, and wrapped my bare foot in my coat. Since the temperature was about 70 degrees, I opened all the windows and pointed the van toward Illinois.

By the time we reached Milwaukee, it was 35 degrees out, and since I was driving in a short-sleeved shirt, I was damned near frozen. I pulled the car over to the side of the road in order to close the windows – and discovered that I couldn't walk. So I shivered for the final 90 minutes and at long last pulled into the driveway. I turned off the motor and began honking the horn, waiting for Carol to come out and help me make it to the door – but Carol was in one of the back rooms, teaching toothless puppies to eat raw hamburger, and didn't hear. Finally I got out of the van, hopped to the front door, and opened it, yelling for help.

Carol unloaded the dogs, put them in runs, and drove me right to the hospital, where the injury was diagnosed as a badly torn ligament complicated by gross stupidity, and I was fitted with a pair of crutches.

"That's about the dumbest thing I ever heard of," said the doctor as he finished applying an elastic bandage to the foot. "Why didn't you come home the minute it happened – or at least get someone else to show your dogs?"

"It was a major," I said, as if that explained everything.

"What the hell does that mean?" asked the doctor.

"Let me put it this way," I said. "if you were on the eighteenth tee, five under par, and you sprained an ankle, would you quit?"

"Hell, no!" came the explosive reply.

"This is the same thing."

Now that it had been explained in medical terms, the doctor's expression softened.

"Did you break par?" he asked.

"Yes."

"I guess it was worth it at that," said the doctor.

And, strangely enough, it was.

 

 

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