Look, I know what you’re thinking. Worse, I know what I’m thinking. Dogs. I’m writing about dogs, specifically an upcoming dog show.
This cannot be good, right?
In the business of sportswriting — yes, dear reader, it’s a job — the writing of dog shows isn’t exactly the kiss of death, but it’s considered pretty doggone close. At the very least, it a collie’s drooly, sloppy lick across the side of the cheek. Yuck. No one writes about dog shows anymore. Not here in the sports section. Not anywhere. The story is all but an extinct breed.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like dogs. Love ’em. But when you’re a sportswriter and you’re actually assigned a dog show story, that’s the boss telling you something. Either you’ve just started in the business and covering the dog show is a test, a cub reporter’s rite of passage. Or you’re near the end of the line (ahem), and the boss is trying to shoo you out of the department like you’re the old mutt who’s just been sprayed by the skunk under the front porch.
Well, that is not the case here. At least not yet. I am writing about the upcoming Ladies Dog Club Show of my own free will. I swear so on the cold, ever-twitching nose of my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. I wanted to do this. These ladies, and their dogs, deserve to have their day.
The Ladies Dog Club, Inc., which was founded 100 years ago here in the Hub of Hound Dogs, is setting up shop next weekend, Friday through Sunday, on the grounds of Wrentham Developmental Center. There will be thousands of dogs competing, especially on Saturday and Sunday, when the serious showing, barking, snacking (bacon bits!), and judging begin, each day around 8:30 a.m.
The only cost is the $5 pittance to park, which in itself makes the 100th anniversary Ladies Dog Club Show the blue ribbon winner, Best Sports Deal, of the weekend. Five bucks. Heck, I could feed my dog, Brock, on that for a week, if only I could stop him from begging at the dinner table, which ends up being both incredibly expensive and dumb. It really is a horrible, annoying practice. But the way I figure it, small price to pay for unconditional love and unwavering companionship. I know Donald Sterling would agree wholeheartedly.
“What’s happened? It’s like dog shows don’t even exist anymore,’’ mused Charlotte McGowan, a Ladies Dog Club member since 1971 and its immediate past president. “We can’t seem to get any coverage anymore. I don’t know the reason, but it’s too bad, because it really is a wonderful sport.’’
McGowan entered her first dog contest in the mid-1950s when she was a schoolgirl in Norwood, eager to win a prize with her once-abandoned mutt, Specky. In order to enter the show, she first had to write an essay about why she and her dog were best buddies.
“I wrote a very convincing letter and that got us in,’’ she recalled some 60 years later. “But the truth was, my dog didn’t like me at all. He didn’t like any kids. We only had him to begin with because he showed up one day at my aunt’s back door and she told my mother that we needed to have a dog. I remember the conversation, my mother saying, ‘We’re not ready for a dog!’ And my aunt saying, ‘You can come and get him tomorrow.’
“That was it, we had a dog. I was thrilled.’’
The trip on show day took the McGowans downtown to Mechanics Hall on Huntington Avenue. Eleven-year-old Charlotte McGowan took the floor with Specky, her certified best buddy, and shouted her command.
“And when I called him,’’ she recalled, “he peed on a post and ran for my mother.’’
Nonetheless, McGowan, who now lives in Newton, has remained a lifelong dog lover, devoted to her near-infantry of Papillons and the good work of the Ladies Dog Club. She is one of the club’s 78 members, all women, although there is an auxiliary of nine other members, six of whom are men.
“Fine gentlemen, all of them,’’ McGowan noted quite proudly. “Most of them, I think all of them, are husbands of ladies in the club. Now the Eastern Dog Club, their club’s a little older than we are and they’re all boys. We’re all girls, but we don’t discriminate. We include our six gentlemen, and we rag on [Eastern] a lot because of it.’’
The whole dog show thing was a Globe staple when I started here as a copyboy in the early 1970s. The perception in the sports department was that the Taylor family, the paper’s owner for a century-plus, considered dog shows an essential part of a big city paper’s coverage. Veteran sports scribes John Ahern and Clif Keane reminisced, not always fondly, about their assigned dalliances on the dog beat, typically noting that the assignment had been ordered by one of the Taylors’ offices “out front’’ on Morrissey Boulevard.
One of Keane’s oft-repeated stories had him being reprimanded by an editor for allegedly reporting too far down in one of his stories that a dog died during show competition.
“The dog died and I buried it,’’ lamented Keane, who, the record should show, routinely had a way of, shall we say, enhancing stories in such office retellings.
McGowan isn’t exaggerating one bit when she says there will be 1,351 dogs competing in Saturday’s show in Wrentham, followed by another 1,230 on Sunday. True story. Thousands of four-legged creatures, great and small, gnarly and nice. The place is sure to be jumping, as dog shows do, as they have for the Ladies Dog Club Show for the last 100 years.