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Published Friday, May 8, 1998, in the Miami Herald

Gone to the Dogs
By DAVE BARRY

Cartoon by Jeff MacNelly


Recently it was my great honor to serve as a judge in the Key West Kritter Patrol Dog Show, which is considered one of the most prestigious dog shows held in the entire Key West area on that particular weekend.

This is not one of those dog shows in which serious, highly competitive dog snobs enter professional dogs that can trace their lineage back 153 generations and basically spend their entire lives sitting around being groomed and fed, like Zsa Zsa Gabor. The Key West show -- it benefits the Kritter Patrol, a local group that finds people to adopt stray dogs and cats -- reflects the relaxed attitude of Key West, where the term ``business attire'' means ``wearing some kind of clothing.'' This is a show for regular civilian dogs, most of whom, if you had to identify them, technically, by breed, would fall under the category of: ``probably some kind of dog.''

These are not pampered show animals, but hard-working, highly productive dogs that spend their days industriously carrying out the vital ongoing dog mission of sniffing every object in the world, and then, depending on how it smells, either (a) barking at it; (b) eating it; (c) attempting to mate with it; (d) making weewee on it; or, in the case of small, excitable dogs, (e) all of the above.

When I arrived at the show, the last-minute preparations were proceeding with the smooth efficiency of a soccer riot. There were dozens of dogs on hand, ranging in size from what appeared to be cotton swabs with eyeballs, all the way up to Hound of the Baskervilles. Naturally every single one of these dogs, in accordance with the strict rules of dog etiquette, was dragging its owner around by the leash, trying to get a whiff of every other dog's personal region. This process was complicated by the fact that many of the dogs were wearing costumes, so they could compete in the Dog and Owner Look-Alike category. (There are a number of categories in this show, and most of the dogs compete in most of them.) Many owners were also wearing costumes, including one man with an extremely old, totally motionless, sleeping Chihuahua; the man had very elaborately dressed both the dog and himself as (Why not?) butterflies. The man wore a sequined pantsuit, antennae, and a huge pair of wings.

``Look at that!'' I said to the other judges, pointing to the butterfly man.

`Oh, that's Frank,'' several judges answered, as if this explained everything.

Perhaps you are concerned that I, a humor columnist with no formal training or expertise in the field of dogs, was on the judging panel. You will be relieved to know that there were also two professional cartoonists, Mike (``Mother Goose and Grimm'') Peters and Jeff (``Shoe'') MacNelly, both of whom have drawn many expert cartoons involving dogs. Another judge, named Edith, actually did seem to know a few things about dogs, but I believe she was not totally 100 percent objective, inasmuch as her own dog, Peggy, was entered in most of the events. Edith consistently gave Peggy very high ratings despite the fact that Peggy is -- and I say this with great affection and respect -- the ugliest dog in world history. I think she might actually be some kind of highly experimental sheep. Nevertheless, thanks in part to Edith's high marks, Peggy did very well in several categories, and actually won the Trick Dog category, even though her trick consisted of -- I swear this was the whole trick -- trying to kick off her underpants.

Actually, that was a pretty good trick, considering the competition. The majority of the dogs entered in the Trick Dog event did not actually perform a trick per se. Generally, the owner would bring the dog up onto the stage and wave a dog biscuit at it, or play a harmonica, or gesture, or babble (``C'mon, Ralph! C'mon boy! Sing! C'mon! Woooee! C'mon! Wooooooeeee! C'mon!'') in an increasingly frantic but generally futile effort to get the dog to do whatever trick it was supposed to do, while the dog either looked on with mild interest, or attempted to get off the stage and mate with the next contestant. My personal favorite in the Trick Dog category went to a very small, very excited poodle named Bunny whose trick, as far as I could tell, consisted entirely of jumping up and down and making weewee on a towel.

As you can imagine, it was not easy serving as a judge with so many strong contestants, both on the stage and hiding under the judges' table. Nevertheless, when it was all over, approximately 43 hours after it started, we had to pick one dog as Best in Show. It was a big decision, and although there was a strong and objective push for Peggy, we decided, after agonizing for close to three-tenths of a second, to give the top prize to Sam, the old, totally motionless, sleeping Chihuahua dressed as a butterfly to match his owner, Frank. Frank got quite emotional when he accepted the trophy, and we judges were touched, although we did ask Frank to make Sam move his paw so we could see that he was, in fact, sleeping, and not actually deceased. Because you have to have standards.

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