When my kids were small, one of their favorite books was by P.D. Eastman. Written in 1961 and entitled, “Go Dogs Go”, it was the story of a great migration of dogs, some in cars, some in buses, some on foot, some wearing pretty hats, and some not. Where were all those dogs going? You don’t find out until the end, when the secret is revealed. They were going to a DOG PARTY! A BIG DOG PARTY! And when they got there, they were going to have a lot of fun.
And so, last Thursday, I loaded my van and headed off to Lompoc, California, home of Vandenberg Air Force Base, flower fields that supply most of the florist shops in California, and for Scottish Deerhound enthusiasts, the biggest annual dog party on the West Coast. I’ve gone every year to this big dog party since 1995, and most years I show my dogs there. This year, however was different—this year I left my dogs at home. My oldest deerhound is nearly nine years old—old for a giant breed dog– and the stress of leaving home, being groomed for show, living for a few days in a hotel room with only short leash walks for exercise was an experience he did not want or need. My two younger hounds, the Q sisters Queen and Quicksilver, completed their AKC championships and Grand championships long ago. They’ve won their trophies, and certificates, and the right to rest on their laurels. Besides, all I have to do is wave the nail clippers in their faces and they go into full on Heart of Darkness mode—“The horror! The HORROR!” I thought about taking my tiny rescue Chihuahua mix, just for company, but remembering that he is a screamer when I am out of his immediate sight and earshot, I decided to do everyone at the hotel and show grounds a favor, and left him home too. So off I went, camera in hand, to a dog show.
When the Christopher Guest movie, “Best in Show” came out a few years ago, I thought it was one of the funniest satires of the dog show world I could ever imagine. Not so, said my dog showing friends. They were appalled. They said, “We’re NOT like THAT!” They were wrong—we’re just like that, only more so. To this day, I enjoy quoting bloodhound man Harlan Pepper’s monologue about how he drove his mother crazy reciting a litany of nuts: “Pine nuts….macadamia nuts…walnuts…pistachio nuts….RED pistachio nuts…” If you haven’t seen the movie, please do, because I promise you will be entertained, even if you don’t particularly like dogs. God may love a terrier, with its cute little derriere, but don’t ever think that’s the whole story behind why we go to dog shows.
At our annual deerhound dinner on Friday night, my table companions were a military software tester who is also licensed to drive 18 wheeled tractor-trailers, an architect who builds airports, a former Oklahoma City cop who spent the last several years in Iraq training bomb sniffing dogs, a saxophonist who doubles as a librarian during the day, a former lead singer in a punk rock band who now teaches school in inner city Los Angeles, and his wife, a well-known photographer of rock stars. I don’t meet people like that in my regular life as a radiation oncologist. But better yet, on Friday afternoon as I was sitting in the deerhound booth selling raffle tickets to raise money for next year’s trophies, I was approached by a reader of this blog, who said, “Can you direct me to the doctor from San Diego who blogs about dogs and treating cancer?” That would be me, I said.
When real life intersects with my sometimes feeble attempts to explain what it is that I do, and how I feel about it, there’s the reward. As P.D. Eastman said, “The red dog is in. The blue dog is out.” It doesn’t matter. We all love our dogs. It’s the people I’ve met through the dog show world, and now, through this blog, that make it all worthwhile.