Owners and their dogs compete for best in breed at Alberta Kennel Club winter show

While following the signs to allocated parking at Spruce Meadows, our truck bumps along the narrow road. I try to catch a glimpse of one of the beautiful horses that calls this wealthy estate home. Unfortunately, it looks like these champions aren’t let out in the early morning. Despite this, I am excited for the main attraction — The Alberta Kennel Club winter show, my first-ever dog show.

Finally, we park and walk towards the hall hosting the winter event. The small road along the way still holds decorations from the Christmas season. A month ago they may have looked beautiful, but now look old and sad like they have been forgotten about. We are wondering if we are heading in the right direction when we hear a sharp barking sound in the background. As we round the corner I see a courtyard where owners wait for their star breeds to do their business. Families sit on wooden benches that surround a dead log fire while workers unload boxes from a white van.

Moving towards the entrance of the hall we pay the $10 entrance fee. A wet nose nudges my hand. Looking down I see an adult Doberman. His dark coat glistens and his eyes are shiny and friendly but as I go to pet him a deep male voice stops me.

“Sorry but please don’t touch him. I just finished polishing his coat,” the owner says.

While retracting my hand the owner smiles apologetically and I realize that the dogs here aren’t for petting, they are for show. For now, they are champions, not pets. Walking through the main doors of the event my senses are immediately assaulted by what is going on.

The rather small hall is packed with a few hundred people, but very few of them are audience members. Owners and their dogs excitedly stand around waiting to be called in. Others are in the arenas being judged while the rest are primping the dogs for their turn in the arena. I laugh to myself when I notice how some of the owners resemble their dogs: like the old man whose squished face looks like his English bulldog or the tall, thin lady whose hair colour is the exact same as her fabulous Afghan hound.

Towel covered cages stand in marked out sections on the floor and red tape is stuck to the wooden floor separating them from their neighbors.

Vast and different sounds surround me: dogs barking, people talking, laughter breaking in every now and then. The smell also stands out; like cleaning products and hairspray. With so many animals in one place one would not expect something as tolerable.

I am slightly overwhelmed by the amount of adorable dogs in one place, and as an animal lover, I want to pet them all — especially the beautiful Australian shepherds. Their intelligent eyes seem to watch me as I approach. A young female gets to her feet and sticks her little black nose through the metal bars of her cage. I am drawn to her and wish that I had a pet dog to call my own.

Contestants walk their dogs around the arenas in hopes of winning.

Photo provided by Cathy French photography

While moving to the arenas in the middle of the hall we try to find a place to stand where we won’t be in the way. We see that it is time for the judging of the Airedale breed. Three of the wiry haired dogs prance eagerly around for their turn to prove that they are best in the breed.

A judge dressed in a baby pink blazer carefully looks at each dog, mentally ticking off each of the categories she has to judge on the canine. Finally she nods and each dog individually trots around the arena while the judge watches. She then talks to each owner quietly before handing over a placed ribbon.

The competition is tough but the smallest of the three dogs, belonging to Vulcan resident Pam Garrett, wins. However, it is rather strange how little fanfare there is in the announcement of the winner. It is a quiet and low-key affair, very much like the setting itself.

“I am absolutely thrilled because she won the breed,” Garrett says happily.

Garrett’s happiness is reflected in many of the other competitors. For them this is where they can show off their hard work. For many of them, breeding, caring and showing their dogs is their job. These shows give them a chance to show off their hard work and spend time with other people with the same love of showing.

Finally, it is time to leave. As I walk out of the hall I wonder why such a great little event had so little advertisement. However, this isn’t the Kennel Club’s biggest show. In fact, in summer the show draws in over a thousand dogs and their owners. Sadly though, numbers have been declining in recent years along with the fact that the entrance fee has been raised.

The shows organizers want to produce more advertising but as a volunteer club the only revenue comes from the shows they put on.

As I climb into the car I wonder if the general public would ruin the majesty of the whole affair, but whatever does happen, these breeders put a lot of time and effort into caring for their animals and they should be rightfully rewarded for what they do.

aroberts@cjournal.com