Dog people make no bones about it.
They wear shirts with painted portraits of their pets, drink coffee from "I Labs" mugs and spatter their bumpers with "Have You Hugged Your Puppy Today?" "Dogs Are Kind to Dumb People," and "Happiness Is a Warm, Wet Tongue."
They choose names that would make a baron blush: Kubla Khan Shalimar O'Zvezda, Tuckaway Bottoms Up Gusto, Yummie Vom Sonnenbacktal. They tie ribbons in poodle topnots and tilt tam-o'-shanters on fox terriers.
They dress 'em up, and then they take 'em out--driving hundreds of miles, week after week, panting after the silver platters of the show dog circuit. For some dogs, yesterday's Old Dominion Kennel Club show at Centreville's rain-battered Bull Run Regional Park was the ninth match in 10 days.
"It's almost a religious following," says Joan Scott of Wilmington, Del. "It's the competition. Some people walk into their first ring and they're finished--hooked."
The Old Dominion show, the culmination of the Cherry Blossom circuit, drew more than 3,500 dogs, representing 128 breeds. Despite the mud and the morose sky, the competitors were bright-eyed and, in some cases, bushy-tailed.
Of course, fashion being what it is, poodles' tails are shaved half bald. And komondors may have tails, but under that coat--a multitude of long, white Rastafari-like cords--who can tell?
Dogs shows are canine cotillions, where the debutantes' paws tremble a little, the old hands hardly prick up an ear, and the dowagers sit down much of the time.
According to a Reston veterinarian with clients in the show, dog shows are full of the cotillions' kind of social sniping. "You wouldn't believe the back-stabbing that goes on."
The tent where Scott's toy poodles were being groomed smelled of hair spray and baby powder. Dogs stood stiffly on dressing tables amid combs and scissors. Dog carriers were stacked five and six high; customized wooden houses, plastic airline carriers, folding wire boxes.
Outside, like a carnival midway, were the concessionaires, the puppy portrait painters, the novelty dealers. The merchandise ranges from the practical (ceramic refrigerator magnets in various breeds, repellants, vitamins, bulk dog food) to the decorative (doggie needlepoint canvases, T-shirts, sheets covered with furry faces) to the luxurious (leads and leashes in dozens of shades to complement the coat, and protein pet shampoo with extra body conditioner).
"This is Dorothy Perkins; she just came in from London," says breeder Derry Krauss of Mercersburg, Pa., introducing a Welsh corgi. "I'm looking for roses to plant in her kennel."
The haute in canine couture and culture is not surprising, considering the aristocratic tendencies of certain breeds. The borzoi, for example, is as pale, thin and patrician as Gloria Vanderbilt. The chow, despite its wrinkled Buddha face, has a red-gold mane and a slow, leonine tread, and the Irish setters, their long necks high, are the Tallulah Bankheads of the dog world.
There are also the natural beauties, like Johann Sebastian Bach, age 9 weeks, and too young to do much more than peer out at the damp world from a friendly towel. And Coats Stony Ridge Dingo CDX, who flew over a fence with a fierce pure joy in his eyes--an Australian cattle dog and "a jumping fool," according to his owner, Jeanine Coats of Manassas.
One puppy never even made an appearance. Donnie, a 7-month-old golden poodle puppy, spent the afternoon securely zipped inside the jacket of 7-year-old Connie Priestly of Alexandria. Donnie is a medicinal dog, given to Connie to ease the pain of the stitches in she had to have in her forehead.
Whispered Connie, "He helps."