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Spring Cleaning & Falling in Love – AGAIN

Dan Sayers

Spring Cleaning & Falling in Love – AGAIN

Spring cleaning can be one of those cathartic experiences that shifts your state of mind and encourages you to plan that dinner party you’ve been contemplating all winter. It can also send you down a rabbit hole or two if the clean-up involves tackling long-neglected drawers or bins of forgotten memorabilia. Instead of feeling rejuvenated, the experience can have you sitting for hours going through souvenirs and keepsakes that remind you of how much time has passed and how much things have changed. It can even bring the whole cleaning process to a complete standstill. This happened to me recently when I uncovered a box containing long-forgotten documents from my earliest days in the sport of dogs.

This year’s clean-up took me back to the year 1979. In a folder labeled “Hawkeye,” I found the AKC registration and pedigree of my first dog, an English Springer Spaniel. Also rediscovered were receipts from visits to the dog’s groomer and veterinarian. One handwritten slip from Down-Home Dog Grooming shows that I paid $23 in 1981 for a full groom. That seems like a real bargain today, since the average cost in 2024 can be anywhere from $90-140. Even more astonishing are the old vet receipts, which range from $12 for an office visit to $28 for a visit that included vaccinations and deworming meds. Although I save a bit of money now by grooming my own dogs, I’m still taking them to the vet where I rarely leave the office without dropping $500!

One of the biggest surprises was finding a handwritten note from Hawkeye’s breeder. In her letter, the lady suggests that I might enjoy going to the Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s all-breed dog show later that month. As I reread the note, I recall being intrigued by the idea of a dog show. I accepted the invitation without hesitation and spent the whole day immersed in a world I didn’t understand in the least. I know that I stayed till Best in Show and was in awe of the little dog that defeated every other dog at the show. How great, I remember thinking, that he was the winner and that the guy showing him got to take home that beautiful sterling silver trophy, or so I thought.

At that first show, I remember being delighted to see so many of the breeds I’d only seen in books. The Mastiffs, Borzoi, and Komondorok were even more extraordinary in person, lounging as they were in the benching area for the benefit of spectators like me. I recall wanting to learn as much as I could about each and every breed, and I must have gone on a serious letter writing campaign after the show because the box I’d opened contained dozens of letters and tri-folds from quite a few dog clubs. Much of the decades-old correspondence is from club secretaries who describe their breed in straight-forward language and extend an invitation to join their organization. Among the breeds I’d expressed interest in were the Curly-Coated Retriever, Sussex Spaniel, and French Bulldog.

The Frenchie correspondence jogged a particular memory of how I was introduced to the breed. In Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, I encountered a dog whose owner told me that his companion had been entered in a few shows. (The breed was not at all popular at the time and was not often seen at dog shows.) I remember that we talked a bit about showing dogs, and when I commented on his dog’s color—which appeared solid black to me—the gentleman showed me where his dog had fawn-colored hairs sprinkled throughout his coat. I later learned this was called “black brindle” and that the breed has a limited color palette. More than four decades later, it’s astounding to have witnessed the breed’s meteoric rise in popularity and how cross-breeding has created the very real problem of so many non-standard colors.

Ultimately, I decided on a different breed and joined the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America with the encouragement of a couple I’d met at a few local shows. By becoming a parent club member, I was introduced to other people in the area who also showed their dogs from time to time. I still have all their letters, each one proposing where we should enter our dogs or announcing that someone has finally come in season. As a member, I also received (and have kept) the club’s monthly newsletters which introduced me to members living in other countries. I’ve especially enjoyed rereading the letters postmarked Ireland, England, Australia, and New Zealand, as they’ve brought back so many memories of a time when everything was exciting and new. Some of the letters have made me laugh, whereas others have elicited a variety of different emotions. I do keep in touch with some of the folks who are still around, although the postcards and letters have largely been replaced by email and text messages.

Rediscovering the box of memorabilia has me feeling nostalgic about my involvement in the sport of dogs. Though there have been wins and awards earned along the way (with separate boxes for the photos, ribbons, and trophies), I realize that it’s the people who’ve shared my experiences that matter most to me. Their cards and letters provide a record of the fun times we’ve shared, and they’re a testament to our common commitment to the purebred dogs we genuinely love.

Having those memories at my fingertips again has certainly renewed my enthusiasm for the sport. Now, if I could just muster enough energy for that dinner party I’ll know just who to invite.

Their cards and letters provide a record of the fun times we’ve shared, and they’re a testament to our common commitment to the purebred dogs we genuinely love.