An important event in the dog world takes place very soon – the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Dog breeders, handlers, and their furry charges will gather later this week in New York City for the 139th annual show, and the “pick of the litter” will be seen on national television.
There are many events leading up to the televised segment, which showcases the best of breeds within seven groups: Terrier, Sporting, Non-sporting, Herding, Toy, Working, and Hound. Discover the various breeds within these groups at this website: http://www.westminsterkennelclub.org/breedinformation/.
Two new breeds will be featured at the 2015 show: the Wire-haired Vszla and the Coton de Tulear. I am always excited to learn about new dog breeds, to read about their personalities, origins, and roles in life today. The world of dogs is certainly amazing!
Speaking in elementary schools this year, I’ve focused on the various jobs dogs have in life: herders and protectors of livestock, such as the border collie and Great Pyrenees; K9 and military dogs, including the Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd; hunting and retrieving dogs such as the black Labrador, setters, and spaniels; guide and assistance dogs, including golden retrievers and yellow labs; search and rescue dogs, such as the bloodhound and giant schnauzers; and therapy dogs, which can be nearly any breed, large or small. Even one of the Michael Vick fighting dogs turned out to be an excellent therapy dog; Hector visited nursing homes, hospitals, and schools, a great testament to the resiliency within dogs (and to the fact you can’t judge a book – this case a dog – by its cover, err, fur!). One of those “Vicktory Dogs” lives in Wyoming, and though I haven’t met Little Red personally, a photograph of her that I bought in 2013 at an auction to help support Black Dog Animal Rescue hangs in my office, quietly testifying to the trait of endurance and the beauty of hope. Dogs with Jobs is a presentation I’m giving often to elementary aged children, opening their minds to the amazing world of dogs and concluding with a reminder that the job of “friend” (which most of our dogs have) is also an important one!
I am amazed by dogs: their intelligence, ability, forgiveness and perseverance, among so many other traits. Even those brought into rescue, although it may take some time for them to trust people again, eventually discover their true personality when given a loving, stable home. Organizations such as National Mill Dog Rescue and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary rescue, rehabilitate, and re-home dogs (and in the case of Best Friends, other creatures) providing a critical service to the animals in our nation that are abused, neglected, and unwanted (at least for a short time!), giving them love, acceptance, and hope in addition to the food, water, and shelter they need. I am in awe what these groups do, how much they want to help and how they strive to place a pet in a loving home.
During my lifetime I have been blessed to share life with five dogs. Many know about Sage, my blind springer spaniel, but dogs have been part of my life since I was a child. I was 11 when I had my very own dog; he was a German Shorthaired Pointer that would not hunt for my dad. “Whitey” was my companion on our little Iowa farm, following me through field and forest. A few years after he died, I picked out a ½ shepherd, ¼ fox terrier, and ¼ coyote 8-week old puppy. “Bridgette” and I also shared jaunts in the woods, both in Iowa and in Wyoming. Her honey-colored, wavy hair and brown mask made most people turn and stare at her stunning beauty. “Sam” came into my life during my late 20s, an unclaimed stray cocker spaniel I adopted from the Bozeman, Mont., Humane Society; he was my life’s co-pilot for more than 10 years. “Sage” became part of my life after I married my husband Greg, and because of this sweet, special girl I am an author and speaker. This blind English springer spaniel taught me SO MUCH about life and faith, and I continue to share her story – and those lessons she taught – nearly three years after her passing from cancer. “Cody” and “Mary,” our 17-year-old cocker spaniel and 9-year-old ½ springer, ½ cocker, bring us great joy (and many challenges due to age and health). Both are rescue animals and both are therapy dogs (Mary formally trained, Cody just because he “is”). I am thankful for each one of these companions because each dog has brought beauty to my life.
Dogs are incredibly special. They wait by the door for us to come home. They search for lost children and hikers. They lead their blind humans safely across busy streets. They rescue drowning people, even complete strangers. They protect their homes, livestock charges, and humans from harm. They bring smiles to the faces of sick children in hospitals and lonely elders in nursing homes. And they place their heads on our knees when we cry and lay beside us in bed when we’re sick. Whether they are herders, hunters, service animals, or simply friendly companions, dogs are bestowers of light to our lives and teachers about life as well.
Will you be watching the Westminster Dog Show on TV next week? It’s scheduled to air on CNBC and USA Networks on Monday and Tuesday evenings, Feb. 16 and 17. Learn more about the TV schedule at http://www.westminsterkennelclub.org/2015/show/tv.html. Which dog will win the Best in Show? Stay tuned to find out!
And, those of you who prefer cats: I promise to write something about kitties next time!
Gayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and two dog devotion books: Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God and Devotions for Dog Lovers 2: Sage Advice. She is also a contributing writer to five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including The Dog Did What?, released August 2014. She’s also authored a guidebook for owners of blind dogs, available on Kindle. She has a passion for pets and volunteers for and donates a percentage of her writing revenues to several animal welfare organizations. Her speaking engagements include presentations for children and adults about the lessons people can learn from pets. Visit her website at www.gaylemirwin.com.