Dogdom's shaggy, unsung stars

The place was much more like an airplane hangar than a kennel, and the acoustics were as appalling as the space was large. Some remote person with a microphone was trying to make himself understood to us all. His voice dispersed like falling leaves.

But even if the acoustics had not been appalling, announcements would probably have been overwhelmed by the high-decibel count of canine self-expression.

This was the day of the mongrel - or "mutt" as dogs of confused background are sometimes more euphemistically known.

By reputation, Britain is a nation of dog-lovers. Attend a special show for mongrels like this one, and you have no doubt of it. Yet there is a need, clearly, for organizations like the one that ran this show: "Wonder Dog of the Year."

The show's organizer, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, is certainly aware of an unacceptable underbelly to our national reputation. Of course, pedigree dogs that have had to be "re-homed" are no less to be pitied than their gutter-cousins in similar straits, but the dog-loving fraternity does have a tendency to divide the creatures into classes.

There are, some feel, superior dogs and inferior dogs. They forget what poet Robert Burns almost said: "A dog's a dog for a' that!" They forget that there might not be mutts in abundance if pedigree dogs behaved properly, according to their so-called "breeding."

Those of us less concerned with the finer points of dog-judging - with the man-induced niceties of prize-winning physical perfectionism - have a softer spot for the rogue element of canine society....

Not Melissa. Not really.

A schoolteacher, Melissa bumps into us on dog walks. She always has a brief, friendly chat with our mutt. But then she talks 99 percent of the time about her show-going, prize-winning golden retrievers.

She always seems to have a crowd of them around her, but as they are all perfect models of retrieverhood, it isn't easy to tell which are new and which familiar. They are all mothers and daughters. Melissa seems able to tell them apart, though, which is a clever trick.

I told her we were going to the mongrel show. "Oh, yes," she said hastily - anxious, I'd say, to move onto higher matters - "that sort of thing is a good laugh. Oh, yes."

"Pedigree dogs are also allowed to attend," I remarked offhandedly, "but the mongrels take center stage, of course." I enjoyed saying this.

"Oh, yes," she said, "I took Honey [or Bunny or Goldie or Bonny, whichever] to a show like that once, and she won first prize."

She would, I thought.

"And I hadn't even brushed her," she added.

Quite.

We didn't take our mutt to the show. We weren't too confident of her precise reaction. But I must say that the dogs that did come in their hundreds treated the occasion with admirable circumspection.

Almost the first dog we saw was the one I would have awarded first prize, for sheer, downright, sublime mongrelhood. He was lanky. He was rough and hairy. He was as far from being any specific breed as could be imagined. The Kennel Club would shudder. He was not so much marked with black and white, but splotched and splattered. He was a dog without prior planning.

His owners were very pleased with him. They entered him for such competitions as "The Dog the Judge Would Most Like to Take Home" and "The Best Rescued Dog" (or some such phrase). He came nowhere near a prize in the first (his owner summarily dismissed that judge as "rubbish"). He won the second.

At the end of the entire show, he was up there with the finest from all the competitions. He should have won Best in Show. But he had done well enough, for a mutt, and the dog that did win was the sort of dog (my wife said) that a child would draw. Or, I added, that a committee would put together.

But my other favorite dog didn't win anything. Its owners had entered it in "The Dog With the Waggiest Tail" competition. Why they entered it for this remains a mystery.

This small black puppy, perfectly pleased with life, quite plainly had not yet discovered it had a tail, let alone what to do with it in the way of waving and swiping and revolving and whirling.

It simply sat down in the ring with its tail absolutely flat along the ground, straight out like a dormant rope. It never wagged once.

All the other characters were high-powered tail waggers - frenetic, frenzied, thrilled to bits. But what made this chap so lovable was his blissful ignorance of the whole point of the proceedings.

He hadn't a clue.

And that's what I call a thoroughgoing mongrel.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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