Top Notch Toys - October 2021


by Michael and Cathy Dugan

I used to think that when I thought of a vacation, I was getting ready to go to the City of Light—Paris. One of my favorite places, I got to know it well over the years, going there as often as I could. When Cathy and I spent our honeymoon there, she remarked that I knew my way around Paris better than I did Sacramento. Taking a car- riage ride in Versailles, lounging around in a café enjoying a great aperitif was how life should be led, or so I thought. BUT:WhenCathy and I got married several years ago, I fell down the rabbit hole of dog shows; many, many dog shows. Now the vacation is more likely to be at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona for the five grueling days of the Mission Circuit. Instead of the famous “mistral” winds in Provence, I got to experience the Santa Anawinds of south- ern California. Ah, the life! THE ROOKIE DISCOVERS A SECRET WORLD: Like most people who have one of the 80 million dogs that inhabit this country, I grew up with dogs as pets and en- joyed the simple pleasures and devotion that comes from a canine companion. Feeding them, brushing them out once in a while, bathing them when they got too close to a skunk, playing fetch; that was pretty much as complicated as it got. I considered myself a dog person, a perfectly good owner who took responsibility for the animal in my care. I mean, of course I had heard of dog shows andWestminster and wondered who those crazy people where who took that kind of stuff so seriously. I had no idea what the business of dogs was all about, but I do now. Cathy has been breeding dogs successfully since 1987 and when we were seeing each other I got a glimmer of what the show universe was like. One of the first shows I attended with her was in Pleasanton, California, a pleasant simple enough place east of San Francisco. Wandering around a county fairground on a hot weekend, I began to think, “What the hell is this all about?” There were people, dogs, vendors and officials everywhere all working with deadly focus and concentration while dogs and handlers swept in and out of a show ring in some kind of incomprehensible

"Ace" in water performance work

order. I tried to follow and understand what was happen- ing to no avail. Cathy tried to fill me in on the rules, classes, standards and judging rules, why some dogs got ribbons and others did not. She had a dog named Olivia who won sweepstakes and winner’s bitch out of the 9-12 puppy class, whatever that was. I was appropriately pleased and im- pressed even though I didn’t why. I thought, “Wait a min- ute, I’m a lawyer with anMBA and a masters in psychology, how tough can this be to understand?” I was clueless. I was a long way from being a good show owner, much less a great one. Cathy had been breeding dogs for many years and prior to that had bred and trained horses. Aviator Kennel fin- ished several champions every year, almost always shown by Cathy or a friend of hers. She went to dog shows almost every weekend competing with good dogs and winning the occasional big championship. She rarely used a profes- sional handler and was considered a successful breeder and owner of show dogs. She did virtually no marketing and had a small workmanlike web site. She spent a lot of time on her dogs and genuinely enjoyed the experience. Still, looking back over the last few years, we both realize that Cathy wasn’t a great show owner yet, even with her ex- perience. Now, the trend is breeder-owner-handlers in the ring; something that changes almost everything – we’ll talk about that later.

34 • T op N otch T oys , O ctober 2021

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