Dog days

The first floor of McCormick Place smelled like Kibble. Approaching the second floor, the smell faded a bit, and a more acrid smell took its place. Stepping off the escalator, the smell became undeniable. It was urine. And it was in puddles on the floor and gracefully sprayed onto the chairs lined up in rows around small astroturf greens. Shan Jumper, an owner showing his dachshund Jerry McWire, gently berated his tinkling companion. “Oops, Jerry, Jerry boy!”

Dogs of all breeds had come to the convention center prepared to take their run around the ring at the International Kennel Club of Chicago’s 150th Annual Dog Show. The animals seemed to be in one of two states of mind: either thrilled by the attention and excitement of the spectacle, or bored by the tedium of waiting for hours while being endlessly pulled and prodded to absurd perfection as their owners hoped for Best in Show. A collie getting his white paws powdered with chalk languidly looked up at his groomer, while a shih-tzu fussed as her owner lovingly adjusted the bow holding the fur above her eyes in a hairspray-hardened tuft. The dogs getting primped looked remarkably similar to those rendered in bronze statues by vendors at the show. LeeAnn, a breeder, explained, “Sometimes you win $500 or something, but most of the time you just bring home a ribbon. You don’t ever make back what you spend… Some people don’t go out for dinner or to the movies, they do this instead.”

Afforded some downtime, a young handler was fast asleep in a chair with the silky head of a Springer spaniel nestled in her lap. A border collie and its owner snacked on the same stale bagel nearby. People do it for the dogs, Jumper insisted. “The dogs really like it. The ones that don’t, well, they usually don’t work out.” An incredibly muscular young man in a tight shirt held the end of his dog’s lead as the dog furiously thrashed a plush toy. A woman’s voice floated over from the next row, “Excuse me, do you know where the workshop about the advantages of fresh, chilled or frozen canine semen is?” Tired from a long day and with no ribbons in sight, the young man looked up, his face reflecting the look of the dog in one of the crates behind him. It’s all fun and games, their expressions seemed to say, until this is your life.