Primal Miss P

Showdog Sensibility

I was tickled by the new winner of the Westminster Dog Show — Miss P — a lovely 4-year old beagle — the great niece of the 2008 winner Uno she has impeccable pedigree but was considered a surprise winner. Full disclosure: the story got my attention because Miss P is one of my pet names from grad school. That and I grew up around dog shows — my first dog — Cinderella — a sublime doberman RIP won the puppy class. I remember everything about that show. Cinders looking peppy as ever before and after the show in Ooty at the Botanical Gardens. I was wearing better clothes than I was usually allowed to wear to play with her — a pink dress with white lace and white lace socks with white shoes and white cap — it was early in May and I was nearly 5 — I remember this because Cinders came to me on my 4th birthday.

I did not know how Cinders bore being around so many other dogs in little crates but she was an amenable little thing and through some miracle was declared the winner after they looked at her teeth. It is as much a mystery to me as it ever was why Cinders won that puppy class — please don’t imagine I doubted her infinite superiority to every other dog in existence — even now in the recesses of my soul I know that she is the sister I never had. I was later educated that the judges of pedigreed dogs have aesthetic ideals for each breed that the dog is compared against — it is not merely enough that a dog is polite and poncy in the ring but she must suggest fitness for purpose in the field —see the standards for a Doberman Pinscher. When the prizes were distributed a day later (a grey whippet won best in show), I was inconsolable in discovering the puppy class got merely a certificate — no ribbons or cups. I don’t know how I was pacified but I recall that I claimed I was crying for Cinders not for myself.

But Cinders she was just fine — happy to wolf down in one gulp any treats I shared with her — and that is what is the best thing to remember about dog shows and arbitrary competitions in general — as delightful as the pageantry of it all is — and there is nothing quite as tense as a row of perfectly groomed animals behaving equally beautifully under a shamiana (party tent) one of which is your first dog — the results are meaningless to how you feel about the dog and you want to go through life with your animalism intact. That rude wild joy that defines their natures. I know I am often accused of my anthropomorphic view of animals but in this instance I feel the caninomorphic position of people is far more useful.

Dogs of all animals are best at the “so what?” ideal of aesthetics. They enjoy the fun of it all — the journey away from the daily loungeabout with their ears flapping and suffer the grooming ritual and I’m sure they enjoy meeting and mixing with new dogs — these are pack animals and company is pretty crucial to their serenity and they must understand each other’s barks far more than they understand interminable human petting. If they’re in the mood they don’t growl or bite or disqualified and keep getting treats even as they are being judged on how well they can help in retrieving or hunting or guarding or whatever the raison d’etre of their “breed” is meant to be. But when they’re done it doesn’t matter either way to their inner dogness — they are still as wild as they ever were.

It is this sense of primal animalism that is worth adopting in the daily competitive world — to be tame and friendly and obedient when one chooses to be as ultimately so much of human competition is just another dog show and it’s fun to be part of it but we are neither enhanced nor diminished by our involvement in these contests — it’s only fun. We have to come out just as wild and whole within as a forgetful puppy whether we win or lose. Look at Miss P — she’s retiring to motherhood. How totally quaint and reflective of the natural order of things. Miss P will have more wooers because she won Westminster but she’s a hound and no posies can take that from her!

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