Best in ShowTuesday, March 13, 2012
This weekend, I watched Crufts*. I don't mean I watched it in a "it came on while I was doing the ironing and I was too lazy to change the channel" kind of way, or a "had it on in the background while I wasted hours of my life on Pinterest" kind of way. I mean I sat down on my couch and, quite deliberately, watched it. I checked what time it was coming on and watched the clock compulsively until it started. I perused the programme of events online to see when the hounds were being shown. I expressed opinions on obscure dog breeds about which I know precisely nothing. I even, in a brief spurt of enthusiasm, followed Clare Balding on Twitter. All of which led me to ponder the following question:
What the f*ck has happened to me?
I've never been a dog person. The only dog I had regular exposure to as a kid was my friend's springer spaniel. She would bark hysterically every morning when I appeared at the back gate to collect my friend for our walk to school. What I initially mistook for joyful exuberance turned out to be a post-traumatic reaction to being tripped over and trodden on by me one too many times (accidentally, I hasten to add). She would scrabble frantically at the kitchen door in a vain attempt to evade me and my clumsy hooves, the fact that I had been present in the house when she first arrived from the breeder completely overshadowed by my subsequent inadvertent trampling.
Coincidentally, this is pretty much the reaction I receive from infants too (I have a bad habit of dropping them on their heads. WHOOPSIE) and so throughout my adult life I have always proclaimed, with a breezy indifference, that animals and children "just don't like me."
I can't explain the mysterious transformation that culminated in us acquiring Smidgen; the process was so incremental that it's impossible to point and say, "there, that's it - that's the moment I became a dog person." It's a bit like falling in love. You're merrily bumping along, skimming the surface like a stone, until one day you look down and realise you're actually waist-deep, and sinking fast.
So now, for better or worse, I'm officially a dog person: boring friends to tears with tales of sleeping patterns and gastric worms; befriending strange and slightly shifty rottweilers on buses; conducting in-depth research on different brands of dog food; and, yes, watching Crufts. (This fundamental personality shift doesn't bode well for if we ever have children. Am I suddenly going to start finding breast pumps and Supernanny terribly fascinating? File under: Worrying.)
And even while part of me is despairing at what I've become, another part is screaming, "where has this been all my life???" Because - and I don't know if you know this - Crufts is actually AMAZING.
As well as the almost deadly levels of cuteness on display - the pomeranians! the dachshunds! I die! - there is just something so wonderfully bonkers about the whole thing. People travelling from all over the world to have their dog fondled in front of thousands of people. Lengthy features on the history and preservation of otterhounds. Animals who experience more grooming in a single day than I have in the last month. A dog wearing an actual RAF cloak with actual medals.
And oh lordy, the heelwork to music. Heelwork to music! The ice dancing of the dog world! Who knew such a thing existed? When Mary Ray strode out into the arena clad in her M&S dungarees and ill-advised headscarf, I had a feeling it would make uncomfortable viewing, and I was right. The dog was clearly some kind of genius, but surely even he was cringing as Mary swept away the last shreds of his dignity with her patriotically-striped broom. I could just picture his wolf ancestors shaking their heads sadly, wondering how it had all come to this. You know, if they were watching it on TV.
But despite the nonsense, there is a genuine sense of pride underlying the whole affair. It's impossible to remain scathing in the face of such passion and commitment. Frankly, I would rather live in world where people care so deeply about something, even if that something is training their dog to dance around a broom. I would rather be the kind of person who high-fives her husband when the greyhound makes the cut in the hound group, and then goes in the huff when the borzoi wins (the borzoi? I mean come on, that thing looks like a greyhound and a retriever welded together). What it comes down to, I suppose, is that I'd rather be a dog person than not.
Pretty sure kids still kind of hate me, though.
What about you? Are you a dog person? Or - *shudder* - a cat person?
*Random fact: Did you know that it used to be called Cruft's, before the Kennel Club "rebranded" the show in 1974? The Waterstones apostrophe's got NOTHING on the Crufts apostrophe. I like to imagine it slumped in the corner of a bar somewhere, pickled in gin and yelling "dachshund" and "kooikerhondje" at random.
All images © onEdition via the Kennel Club flickr stream