A Junior’s Return

From the monthly column "Becoming". ShowSight Dog Show Magazine, March 2019 Issue. Click to subscribe

In 1997 my 16-year-old daughter, Andrea, and I traveled to Louisville for the all-breed shows and a Basset specialty. I didn’t take Junior Showmanship seriously in those days, and usually gave a Basset puppy to my daughter to train and show in Juniors. This, of course, did not work out well for her. As other Juniors showed their push-button Goldens and Dobes, my daughter had young Bassets who resembled 40-pound bags of Jello on 6-inch legs that collapsed at will. It was a great plan for me. I was starting to show my Bedlingtons, and I needed the time to learn grooming and training for them. Andrea was beginning to receive a lot of kudos from fellow Basset exhibitors because she really did a nice job with them, so my plan was to give the Basset babies to her while I worked with the Bedlingtons. I know. This wasn’t a stellar plan. I recognized that when I actually started observing the Junior Showmanship ring and watched her struggle. She rarely won.

That year in Louisville was different. That show I gave Andrea my Special Basset, Ch First Class Peterbilt, to show in Juniors. Peter was the most magnificent show-Basset I had ever had. Along with wonderful breed-type, this dog could move, and he loved to show. He didn’t care who was on the other end of the lead, it was his party and you were invited. Andrea had helped me train him, so I was quite comfortable letting her show him. In my typical out-of-it Mom-fashion, I stayed at the set-up to groom the Bedlingtons, and Andrea took Peter to show in Juniors. She came back a couple of hours later with a Best Junior Ribbon! I didn’t know it was the Junior Showmanship regional finals. It was a huge win, and I had not witnessed it. She did it without applause or audience. She did it on her own in stiff competition. I was so proud of her and I vowed to pay much closer attention to the Juniors ring after that.

I did pay closer attention, but by the time this big win came around, Andrea was tired of losing in Juniors. She still showed Bassets for me, and she was highly sought after to show Bassets for other people because she had learned them so well, but Juniors was never again an attraction for her. A couple of her contemporaries approached me to say how good they thought she was at handling, and wondered why they were not seeing her in the ring so much anymore. I passed along the compliments, but Andrea had already decided Juniors was not the ring for her. She never liked the Bedlingtons, and she enjoyed winning. She could win in the Basset ring, but not enough in the Juniors ring to keep her reinforced. I was fine with that at the time, but in retrospect I realized it was an opportunity lost. She was a great handler, and she deserved better than I allowed her in the Juniors ring.

Two short years later Andrea was off to college in Minneapolis. That was the end of Juniors, and the end of our regular travels together. Our world shifted. Her younger brother traveled with me occasionally, but he hated to show dogs, so Juniors was never an option for him. And four years after Andrea left for college her brother died, and our whole world shifted again, only bigger. Life as we knew it could never return, even if we wanted it to.

Our small family has gone through a lot of trauma and challenges since my kids were in high school. After Jacob’s death Andrea got pregnant, married, had a second baby, divorced, and fought a tough eating disorder and alcohol addiction problems. There were years when Andrea and I did not speak to each other. Holidays became odd. For me, the one thing besides my marriage that remained constant was dog breeding and showing. It added a measure of stability to a life that was out of control in many other ways. My dog-show world provided a stability that my personal life didn’t have, and I immersed myself into it. I formed wonderful relationships with great breeders and handlers from all over the country, and I read everything I could understand about genetics and breeding and ways to raise happier, sounder puppies. I worked hard on my boarding and grooming business, but my true passion was breeding dogs. I could not save Jacob or Andrea from the darkness, but I sure could breed dogs.

As Andrea began to emerge from her darkness, we began the slow dance of learning how to interact with each other again. By this time Andrea was in a stable relationship and had moved to the Milwaukee suburb where her boys were enrolled in school. Grandsons helped a lot. Someone once said that grandchildren are the reward for being a parent. True statement! My grandsons became an absolute joy in my life, and I knew that I needed to do whatever it took to keep them around. As luck would have it, the older grandson has a passion for animals, and we had plenty of those to keep him occupied. We even taught the boys how to help with kennel chores and puppy socialization.

As Andrea began her recovery, she left her job as a parole officer in Milwaukee. When her car died and she had no way to get to work, I suggested she find a grooming shop within walking distance, reminding her that she had done some grooming when she was in high school. She took a job at a local PetsMart, and went through their basic grooming program. About a year later one of my lead groomers left, and I asked her if she wanted to join our staff in her family’s business. She took some time to think about it, then decided to give it a try. That was four years ago.

It has worked out far better than either of us imagined. She discovered that I am a better boss than she thought I was a mother, and I discovered how talented she is as a groomer. Then she started talking about getting involved in grooming competitions. When she said she would need a Poodle, I told her I knew just where to get a nice standard, but there was a caveat. If she got a Lakeridge Poodle, she was going to have to show it in conformation. And there was the problem of bringing a standard Poodle into her home with a partner who swore he hated Poodles. Andrea took about a year to think about it, and I put in an order for a black standard male from my friend Debra Ferguson-Jones in Seattle. Since most of Debra’s Poodles are white, I figured we had some time to get things worked out. After a lot of thought on Andrea’s part, and several false starts with puppies from Debra, Andrea flew out to Seattle in November and brought home a 5-month old white female puppy. I am not quite sure how a black male became a white female, and I don’t really care at this point. Andrea and her partner are absolutely in love with the new dog! She got some brief grooming lessons from Penny, and a promise from a couple of Poodle handlers near us to help with the spray-ups at shows, and a miracle happened. After a 20-year absence, Andrea returned to the dog-show ring!

She tells me it’s been really hard. She’s been gone from dog shows for a long time, and Poodles are way different from Bassets. She was really worried that she was going to look stupid, so I made sure she came to some training classes, and I watched a lot of Poodle handling to pick up some of the finer points of showing the breed. Fortunately I have a few Poodle handlers coming to my training classes, so she’s getting some pretty good advice—and has even picked up a new grooming client who has a young black male standard to show! It also didn’t hurt that she had to go shopping for show clothes since she didn’t have anything in her wardrobe that was appropriate. Shopping for the two of us has always been a bonding experience, so this was actually a good thing.

Andrea entered her puppy in two shows of the Park Shore weekend. Her nervousness was not helped by the timing—her first show was the day after we returned home from her Grandfather’s funeral. Fortunately, standard Poodles had a late show time, and she set up with a young groomer who helped her with the final trimming and spray-up. Her puppy looked magnificent, and she handled her like it was the most natural thing in the world. I took videos. The Junior that had shown naughty Bassets for me 20 years ago was all grown up showing a breed she has always loved—her own dog, trained and groomed by her. I didn’t think this day would ever come. I didn’t think that young girl with her Bassets could ever forgive me for ruining her experience in Juniors. And yet, here she is. Welcome home, Andrea!

In Andrea’s own words:

“I did something big this week! After a 20+ year hiatus, I’ve re-entered the world of dog shows! I stopped in high school and life really hasn’t slowed down since. I decided it was time to get back to something I love and enjoy! Returning hasn’t been easy, especially since I decided to do it my way this time with a breed I’ve always adored but know nothing about. Thankfully, I have a village of support and I can’t thank everyone enough…

It’s never too late to do the things you love! Just make sure to ask for help (and then show gratitude) along the way. P.S. Meet Stevie, Lakeridge Dreams at First Class”. 

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