Goodbye summer, and hello fall, as we begin counting down to the sixtieth annual Montgomery County Kennel Club Specialty. On October 9, [1994,] this show of shows will again summon to Ambler, PA, more than two thousand terriers from the heart and hinterlands of the U.S. Some of us will be leading first-time hopefuls into the ring to compete in Sweepstakes and the Puppy Classes. Others will be vying for a final, elusive major to place that magical CH before the name of our favorite entry. Still others will contend for the best of the best, whether BOB or BIS.
The occasion of a great and prestigious show is an appropriate time to delve beneath our anxiety, exhilaration and anticipation for a few calming observations. When I consider the phrase "the sport of dogs", two words come to mind: rivalry and competition. Most dictionaries define these as one and the same: A contest among opponents for a coveted prize or honor. Yet close as they are in literal meaning, the words rivalry and competition separately imply certain attitudes and actions so different as to seriously affect all who breed, exhibit and judge dogs.
Rivalry is a groundswell word, suggesting turbulence by its very sound. It is used much more often than its synonym, competition, to indicate brash actions, overriding ambition and uncontrolled emotions. (The pistol-and-rapier duels of olden days are invariably described as clashes between "rivals," not "competitors"!) In today's canine events, the real rivalry is of course between humans, not animals; and standard weaponry usually consists of egotism, arrogance, deception, gossip and envy. No holds are barred, and the fair, honest ethic of "sport" is ignored by the opponent whose motto is "All's fair in self-love and showbiz."
Another identifying quality of rivalry is obsession. "Me," "I," and "My dog" are terms echoed endlessly in conversations among rivals. In fact, the type-A, classic rival is unable to separate his or her own id, ego and superego from the identity of his dog. A show-ring defeat is perceived, literally, as a personal rejection, because Type-A finds it totally incomprehensible that the judge has "denied" him the purple-and-gold ribbon or the tricolor rosette.
Competition can be every bit as intense, arduous, stressful and aggressive as rivalry. But unlike the latter, which is bristling with negativity, competition is positive. Even as the dogs of two major opponents strut for the ribbons, the true sport ethic somehow prevails, and mutual respect survives the victory of one and the defeat of the other. Competition, not rivalry, allows us to view our opponents clearly, often enabling us to learn more from losing than winning. This is because the true competitor, or contender, does not feel compelled to deny the soundness, balance, attitude or beauty of every dog in the ring except his own.
In the canine fancy, it is interesting that some of the fiercest and most formidable competitors have in time forged lasting friendships. These seemingly odd couplings can happen because competitors, unlike rivals, are free to grow in the knowledge that beyond last week's defeat or next week's victory lies the prize of far greater importance -- that of producing better dogs and, even, of becoming a better person.
Good luck, all, at Montgomery!
Nat R. LaMar
ANTIC, Fall, 1994
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