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Age is but a Number

A woman walks a dog at a dog show.


Age is but a Number – Says Veteran Handler After 17 Years

The Coton de Tulear was introduced to the Non-Sporting Group at the National Dog Show back in 2014. At that time, my Coton, “Monkey” (GCHS Hopecrest’s Monkey Business), was the first to strut the blue carpet in the Non-Sporting Group at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center’s Stadium Show Ring.

Almost a decade later, we brought Monkey back to compete in the Veterans Class at the National Specialty for the breed as well as at the National Dog Show. He was the oldest Non-Sporting dog at the show, and one of the oldest dogs to compete in the cluster. Having a 12-year-old in the ring started me pondering a bit about this hobby and the passage of time, and what age means for us and for our dogs.

Considering how to attract the younger ones is certainly something we should remain focused on, but in making it a primary focus, are we missing something?

I began showing dogs at 30 years old. I was the mother of three young children, two of them under the age of three. At that time, I was the youngest Coton breeder in the country. I am now 47, and my youngest will go off to college next year. I am still one of the younger active breeder/exhibitors in Cotons. The vast majority of my fellow fanciers are between the ages of 55-75.

We often sit around and talk about how we can continue to draw young people into the sport and develop a passion for dogs within them. Considering how to attract the younger ones is certainly something we should remain focused on, but in making it a primary focus, are we missing something?

The truth is, the majority of young people that I know are working full-time, trying to sustain a life on salaries that have not kept up with inflation, and also trying to find themselves. Dog sports might be a possibly for them, but let’s face it, we have an expensive and time-consuming hobby. But, do you know who is more likely to have free-time, disposable income, and the ability to travel? People born before 1980!

As I looked around on National Dog Show weekend, I couldn’t help but notice there were many vibrant and active people in the benching area who had a little grey in their hair and a little life experience under their belt. As science advances and the embracing of healthy lifestyles becomes the norm, many of us can expect to have good health and physical stamina long into our 80s and 90s. So, instead of being focused only on finding a Junior Handler to show our dogs with us, maybe we should be looking to our neighbor whose kids have recently headed off to college.

Gwyneth Paltrow recently told the press she was not going to call herself an “empty nester.” Instead, she was embracing becoming a “free bird.” My fellow free birds are more likely to be able to make and keep the time and financial commitment of showing and sustaining a generational breeding program, and can still do so easily for another 20 years or more.

age in dog shows
Photo by Diana Han

But it isn’t just free birds that might be great candidates to become show partners or guardian homes for our dogs. My friend, Susan Bloom, got her first Biewer Terrier at 71 years old! “I started showing
my girl and fell in love with everything involved,” Susan said. “I loved taking her into the ring, learning to be a team, meeting new people, and watching the wonderful dogs.”

Susan is now 75 and showed her first bred-by bitch in the classes during the National Dog Show weekend. Susan purchased herself an RV and now enjoys dog showing as her primary hobby.

At 12, my Monkey walked into the ring in Philadelphia like he owned it. He then went on to travel to New York, where he spent hours with David Frei and John O’Hurley as part of the pre-event publicity team. He finished off that day at the Empire State Building as it was lit up in blue, white, and orange, to honor the show. Traveling with us was my friend, Charlene Marshall, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday!

Margery Good, breeder/owner/handler of the National Dog Show Best in Show winner, “Stache,” has been on the dog show circuit for over 50 years. She still attends over 100 shows a year and is at the top of her game.

Moreso than ever, age is but a number! Maybe we should embrace it as part of the future of our sport rather than worrying about it. And maybe one day soon, dog shows could replace pickleball as the fastest growing sport among those over the age of 35.