Can you recall you first experience at a dog show? Were you overwhelmed? Confused? Did anyone greet you and befriend you, or were you left on your own to figure out what to do and where to go? And while you were going to wherever you were supposed to be, were you passing groups of happy, laughing people who all seemed like they were the closest of friends and had been for eons? Did you feel like the one outsider in this world? And what in the world made you decide to stay and play with the rest of us?! Two personal losses so far this September cause me to pause and reflect on the people who have shaped my brief time in the Dog Sports world.
I met Jackie Ragland just prior to her birthday in 2011. I had gone to a show at Bates Nut Farm, north of San Diego in California. Pam Winters, my mentor (even though I didn’t have a Peke yet!), had invited me to come meet some Peke people and to see Pekes in the ring. Eileen Wersh, whom I had previously met, was going to be there. It was a good opportunity for me to become more acquainted with “the dog world.” I was not prepared – upon first meeting her -- for the “force of nature” that was Jackie Ragland! She was charming, quick, astute, confident, knowledgeable, and disciplined. We got along from the first “Hello!” She talked me through the grooming that Eileen was doing – teaching me the dos and don’ts of Peke coat and maintenance. Then she talked me through what I was seeing in ring procedure – how to show the dog to it’s best, how to properly present a Peke, how to “read” the judge and work the dog and the ring to “show” the dog. She spoke of the importance of being at a show early and staying through the entire event not only to understand what was going on, but to meet people and to be seen – to become known from the beginning as a “dog show person” and not just a “show-n-go.” In between all of these lessons, she asked about my interest in Pekes and in dogs and what my background was and where I came from and…and…and…. That one day was packed with questions AND answers. I drove home with my head spinning, but excited that I had made a new, knowledgeable, and wonderful friend. My husband reminded me recently of how excited I was when I first met Jackie. I guess I raved about her more than I actually recalled. But because of my excitement, Frank was excited to meet her, too. And they got along fantastically from the beginning! That was my first impression of Jackie. From there, we became fast friends. She would praise me for the good things that I did with my dog or at a show, and she was just as quick to chastise me if I wasn’t doing something right. She was adamant and disciplined about grooming, and had a laundry list of suggestions about which brushes to use (and why) and which products to use. When I brought my first Peke home, Jackie called to check in on my new one and me. I remember telling her that he was crying when I put him in a different room to sleep and I just didn’t know what to do with him. She laughed and said, “He’s got your number already!” She then proceeded to remind me who was in charge, and how to assert that authority. Jackie was there through every step of my new life with a show dog. And when I finally finished him (in Del Mar under Anne Bolus), Jackie initiated a round of applause for my new Champion.
The details go on and on: the nuggets of information shared, the corrections to improve performance, and the general wit and wisdom of a life spent ringside. To a newbie, all of this information was a treasure trove just needing to be scooped up. I was blessed to have met someone who gave so willingly and selflessly. And that’s the crux – to have been so fortunate to have crossed paths with someone who cared and inspired and encouraged. I had a great mentor in the breed, and Jackie slid into that role a bit as well. But Jackie mentored me in dog sports and the world of conformation. Where would I have ended up if I didn’t have someone who cared to shepherd me through this new world? Would I have finished one Champion and never gone into a ring again? Knowingly or unknowingly, Jackie drew me deeper and deeper into the fantastical world of Pekingese, and I was smitten.
Our conversations about pedigrees fascinated me. Hearing Pam and Jackie talk pedigrees was terrifying and awe-inspiring at the same time. How could they remember so much detail? I wanted to be able to hold my own in one of those conversations so badly. (I still would like to be able to hold my own in one of those conversations!) But I found myself intrigued by the art and science of breeding. I found it more interesting than showing. When I told Jackie that I wanted to start breeding Pekingese, she said, “You need to buy a house.” She recognized immediately that my dreams and aspirations would rapidly outgrow my living arrangements, and that I could only go so far before being stymied by too many dogs and too little space. She was always practical. But she encouraged me to pursue my dreams, and she came to the clinic on the birth of our first singleton….and our second litter. She was excited and beaming every time. And she was never too busy to engage me in conversations about which matings to ponder or pursue. She even had a hand in how I acquired my foundation bitches. In looking back on my life in Pekingese, Jackie had a hand in most everything. And my life is richer for that one ringside meeting six years ago.
Not long after I acquired my first show Peke, I encountered Bill Dumas. I didn’t know who he was. He was the “other guy” in the ring (besides the judge) that gave me a number and called me in and told me where to stand. By the time my path crossed Bill’s, I was only on my third show. I had no idea what I was doing. I had a pretty red puppy – that I adored – and I relied on that puppy to “do what he was supposed to do” in the ring because I still wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do in a ring. We won our class that day, but that was as far as we went. We did, however, win a best puppy placement for Pekes. And through the subsequent and obvious chain of competitions, that brought us to Best Puppy in Show. I worked that poor little dog so hard – the little bugger was always at attention and stacked “just in case” the judge looked over. And behold, in that special event, my little red Peke come out on top! Bill approached me afterwards and was highly complimentary of my boy, and told me how fond he and Shirley were of compact red dogs. He encouraged me to keep going and to keep showing. “You’ll have a lot of fun with that little one!’, he said. I was on Cloud 9 for having done so well with my puppy! And the compliment coming from “one of those people who actually knows what they’re talking about” was great! I was inspired to keep going back for more and more and more.
Outside of the ring, I encountered Bill again at a Pacific Coast Pekingese Club meeting. He and Shirley had been members for more than 20 years. Bill and I ended up on a committee to revise the bylaws for PCPC. I learned a lot from him about the business of dog clubs. His advice was practical in terms of what revisions would benefit the club into the future, and what could or should be removed to provide greater security and flexibility for the operation of governing the club. Bill also served as a Delegate for his All Breed club, and he spoke to me about the AKC, club governance, and Club Relations, and how it all fit together in one big puzzle. For my business mind, this information was the key to understanding how clubs worked – or, at least, how they should work. I’m no Parliamentarian, but the business stuff makes total sense to me! I’ve carried that information with me through Club boards, being an AKC Delegate, and being a show chair.
It was in this bylaws meeting that Bill told me about the AKC Archives, and how I might be able to find historical data about the club (because our history had been summarily thrown into the trash years and years before). Little did I know how impactful that conversation about the Archives would turn out to be. I’ve always been a history fan, and this particular club has such a long history that I was aghast to find that little of it remained outside of hand-me-down tales or idle gossip. The first chance I got, I hightailed it to the AKC Archives to start my quest! That was during Westminster 2015, and two and a half years later, I’m nowhere near being done recording PCPC history from the AKC Archives. (I have 112 pages of raw data covering shows held on and off from 1917 through 1984, but there’s still 14 years of Designated Specialty data to pull from 1969 on, and then we move on to the B Matches! More recent history is stored with the club, but there is a gap of almost 10 years, and Bill and Shirley are two members who are integral to getting that history recorded, and I deeply regret not getting Bill to sit with me and a recorder to capture that verbal history.) When I first saw Bill after that initial trip to the Archives, he beamed from ear to ear and said, “I told you so.” And he encouraged me every time to go back and research and record more.
In Orlando, at my first Delegate meeting in 2013, Bill came up to me and told me how happy he was to see PCPC represented. He told me which meetings were really important to attend and which meetings could be skipped if one had to prioritize to minimize travel expenses. He broke down the functions of each committee, and encouraged me to find a committee that I could become involved in and ultimately run for. In addition to providing an overview, he introduced me to other Delegates at the meeting – especially the ones from other clubs in Southern California. Those introductions opened doors for me to become more involved in dog sports outside of just showing and breeding my Pekingese. In fact, one of those introductions led to me sitting on the board of Los Encinos Kennel Club and becoming Show Chair for their annual Santa Barbara show in August. And remember: this all blossomed out of me taking my first show dog into a ring in Ventura, California!
We all start somewhere. And sometimes we go through phases where something is fun for a while, and then we just fall out of it. But the difference between someone who dabbles in a hobby or is retained and commits fully to that hobby is simply the first impression that they have of that hobby. I met someone ringside at a show where I was merely a spectator who inspired me to find my dog and enter a ring on my own. And by entering a ring with that very dog, I met someone else who encouraged me to become more involved outside of the ring – to give back to this sport. My first impressions of Jackie Ragland and Bill Dumas set a tone for me as I continued to grow in dog sports. I felt welcomed, and important, and valued, and appreciated. In a short time, I went from the guy who wanted a pet Pekingese to breeder/exhibitor; AKC Delegate; director on the boards of PCPC, PCA, and LEKC; Club Historian; and Show Chair. When you next go to a show, think about the impact you can have on the guy standing next to you. What first impression will you make ringside?