Yesterday was a dog day at Rosecroft Raceway. If you insisted on counting them, you would have come up with 1,816 dogs, convened for the 70th all-breed dog show of the National Capital Kennel Club.
There were huge white fuzzy ones, long-nosed hairy ones, and some who seemed to have neither hair nor nose. There were stiff ears and floppy ears, and ears that curled over just at the top. There were long tails, short tails, curly tails, draggy tails, frizzy tails and tails that held up a whole curtain of hair. There were tiny, bug-eyed ones that barked a lot, and others that came up to your chest and didn't bark at all. They didn't have to.
Everywhere you looked were dogs. Most of them stuck pretty close to the people they came in with. No one fought. They hardly ever do, at these affairs. There was a lot of anxious tail-wagging.
Over behind the show rings, two-dozen dogs were being groomed for the big moment, standing stock-still on tables while their people fussed with them, spraying powder and perfume, combing, brushing, tweaking, murmuring incantations of hope over them. Some tables came with a kind of gibbet which held the dog's head stylishly high.
"You have to teach the dog how to stand, how to make the most of himself," said Damara Bolte of Leesburg, Va., a professional dog handler for 25 years. Most people hire handlers (at $40 and up per dog) to show their animals in the ring. It makes for efficiency in a business that has been booming for a decade or more.
"My business has tripled in three years," said Bolte, "and I don't go after it particularly, I don't advertise, but let them come to me." And well they should. Of the dogs she handled, three won best-of-breed awards yesterday.
Her speciality is the basenji, imported from Africa. She likes its neat size and sleek coat.
"I don't do hairy dogs. It's so much trouble. Their coats can sunburn, you know. And terriers have to be kept out of the rain because rainwater softens their hair, which is supposed to be hard and bristly."
She has "20 or 25" dogs, she said casually. She bred mastiffs for 25 years but now sticks to basenjis. With a full-time job working in animal husbandry at the National Institutes of Health she gets up at 4:45 every morning and spends two hours with her dogs before driving to town.
"I don't do a whole lot else," she smiled.
There are now 800 dog shows every year in this country. Everyone likes to say it's just a hobby. It is that, but it's also a business, a big one.
At the stalls set up along every wall, you could buy dog signs ("Caution Show Dogs Do Not Tailgate"), dog crockery, dog toys, brushes, combs, leashes, collars and food, also dog paintings and books, decals, crates, cosmetics, individual breed jewelry. You could also by bumper stickers that say, "Have You Hugged Your Doberman (collie, terrier, springer, vizsla, bloodhound) Today?"
All the dogs gathered for this giant social have enormous names: Creager's Pride of Mactavish, Meadowlarks's Moonlight Magic, Baptist Corner Yankee Spice and so on. The dogs never pay any attention to those. The dogs know what their names are, even if the people don't.
There's Muffin, and Brandy and Sheba, Heidi, Sam, Fred and Princess, Peanuts, Misha, Honey and Bruiser. According to the latest list, these names have taken the place of Fido and Spot and fifi.
"We are looking for Old English sheepdogs in Ring Four, please," the speaker booms, and suddenly you note a batch of Old English sheepdogs milling around. The breeds seem to go in batches. See one golden retriever, and you'll see six. Even if they aren't being called up, there is just something about a golden retriever owner that attracts other golden retriever owners.
People do appear to stay with a breed. Florence Sage has been raising German shepherds for 57 years.
The story comes out gradually: Daughter of a British officer killed in India, she was a 16-year-old British army ambulance driver in World War I (this May she'll be 80), based in a hospital near the front in France. The Germans used the dogs for couriers and first aid, and often wounded German prisoners arrived at the hospital with their dogs. Nurses would feed the dogs, and they'd stay.
"One day I was standing in the yard counting my pay," said Sage, "when a Frenchman grabbed me. I think he was after the money and not me. Anyway, this gray shadow shot through the air and hit the man and bit him in the seat of the pants. I was so grateful I decided I always wanted to have German shepherds around."
Marrying an American in 1924, she moved to the West Coast and raised shepherds. She moved to Brentwood, Md., in 1943 with her second husband, who died 12 years later.
"There's money in dogs," she said. "I know -- I put it there! The fact is, you can't make any money in dogs if you're going to raise them the proper way."
She has bred seven champions, but now is down to one middle-aged couple of German shepherds whom she doesn't breed. A student of genetics, she works only by line-breeding, breeding within the family tree but not within the immediate family, which would be in-breeding. The other extreme, cross-breeding, mixes different families of dogs.
As a young woman, she studied to be a veterinarian, worked with cows and came up with Washington state champion cows three years running.
"I've never raised my hand to a dog," she said. "I punish them by voice. There's one, all I have to do is not speak to him, and it breaks his heart. No, if you beat them with your hand or even a newspaper, that hand or paper becomes something to be hated, a enemy. You don't want that."
She is distressed by the guard dog fad. "You should never make a killer of a dog." Her dogs will bark and show teeth at an invader but will instantly accept anyone she will accept.
Some breeds are fiercer than others, but there are dogs and there are dogs. Mrs. Robert Bigelow of Yorktown, Va., has a Doberman pinscher -- famous for ferocity -- but when someone comes into the yard, it's the wire-haired fox terriers who have to wake up the Doberman.
Her family has been raising dogs since 1926, had 27 breeds but always favored the wire-hairs, now in their ninth generation.
"I have to say, though, there's nothing like a golden retriever.I have a golden who retrieves my wire-hair pups for me when they roam off."
Isn't that just like a golden, some would say. But then, there are people who have something nice to say about any breed, so there must have been a lot of nice sayings going the rounds yesterday, for there were 119 different breeds in the show.
Oh yes, the best of show was a bloodhound named Ch. The Rectory's Micha, owned by Drs. Stephen B. and Susan J. Harper of Vienna, W. Va. m