Final Judgment


I packed up the wife and the self and headed out to the big Dog Show. I wasn’t sure why. I have dogs at home.


“Our dogs aren’t purebred,” the wife explained. “We’re going to see real breeds.”


“Dearest,” I pointed out, “I can look at Bo and Lucy and see at least four real breeds and a couple fake ones.”


“Darling, you know I love our puppies just as they are. But I’d like to see what those six breeds might look like by themselves.”


We arrived at the Show and waded through a sea of pedigreed canines, all doing what dogs do, followed by their handlers doing what handlers do after their dogs do what they do.


“And we can’t bring our dogs, why?”


“They’re not purebred.”


“They afraid we’ll get mutt cooties on them?”


“Well, they don’t want an – incident.”


“Like when Bo stepped on the Chihuahua?”


She glared at me and we went in.


The circus within had sixteen rings, with a ringmaster in each and a gaggle of clowns milling around watching the “action.” We joined one such to watch a breed whose name was bigger that it was.


Inside the ring the dogs trotted round, their handlers trotting beside them, as the judge watched them with a cruelly appraising eye. A secret signal was passed, and the conga line stopped. As one, the handlers dropped to their knees, producing brushes from unimaginable places, and surreptitiously combed into place a few windblown hairs. Sighing, the judge beckoned, and the first dog was presented. The handler picked it up by the snout and something near the tail and set it on a table. I cringed and turned to my wife.


“I know, dear,” she soothed. “They get used to it.”


“The handlers?”


“The dogs.”


The judge examined it carefully, fondling bits I’d have to pay to have handled, sighted down its back, and sent it to the back of the line. I checked my watch. That hour had lasted three minutes.


And so it went for another twenty-five dogs. A dog went up, the line jerked forward, and the handlers fell to their knees and preened.


Finally, there was a final trot around the ring, three flicks of the judge’s hand, and all but three handlers dejectedly exited the ring. Awards were given, the crowd clapped politely, and the ring was cleared for the next show.


“So what are they looking at?” I murmured to the wife.


“Conformity to the standard.”


I ruminated. “What standard?”


“The breed standard.”


Again, I ruminated. “So they’re looking for the most average dogs.”


The wifely voice took on an edge. “No, dearest,” she said. “They’re looking for the dog that most embodies what the breed should be. The winners get to breed.” She looked at me distantly. “The losers do not.”


I reflected on my own reflection, considered myself outwardly and inwardly, and decided that, on the whole, I was just as glad to be a mutt.