Top Dog

Only the Best Win Best in Show

Sylva gave her Joe’s gleaming brindled coat one last wipe with a damp cloth, then stood back a little to look at him. He was immaculate. His tiger striped coat was perfect, his bib and feet pure white, with not one stray coloured hair – hours last night with a pair of tweezers had seen to that.

‘Come on Joe, we can do it.’ Joe looked into Sylva’s face and the two seemed to exchange a complicated message of reassurance and arrogance. Sylva knew this dog was great, Joe knew he was great, she knew they should win, if … If the judge was honest and hadn’t been got at, if no-one did any of the vast number of things that could be done surreptitiously to ruin another dog’s chances. ‘Accidentally’ tread on its toes, drop food in front of it, make a loud bang to spook it.

Sylva knew all the tricks, she’d practised some of them herself. Huh, some? Most! She should have been able to rely on her perfect handling skills and her perfect dog to win, but sometimes a little extra was necessary. But today would be her day, no tricks needed, she could feel it. She knew Joe could feel it too.

She loved this dog. She watched as Joe stared down another dog, a young male who dared to look in Joe’s direction. The other dog dropped his head and looked away, acknowledging Joe’s superiority.

As Sylva flicked a stray lock of hair back over her shoulder and flicked an imagined speck of dust from Joe’s back she looked at the other dogs and handlers waiting in the assembly area with her. Nothing there as good as her and Joe. Today was the day.

Of course, it helped her chances that Erica was in Sydney to show her dogs in the Royal Easter Show today, most of the really top dogs were there, but even so, Best in Group was still Best in Group, even if she only beat a hundred and seventy dogs instead of two hundred.

Good luck to Erica, Sylva thought, if she wins in Sydney it will only be because I’m not there with Joe. It hurt Sylva though to think of the way they’d cheer and yell Good onya! if Erica won. They never did that for Sylva. They’re jealous, she thought, jealous because my dogs are better, jealous because I’m better than any of them.

‘Relgrian Klughunds to be ready please’, came the call from the ring steward.

Sylva felt her stomach turn over. Her hands shook, like they always did. She watched the other dogs to help control the nerves. They were trash, all trash. Nothing could touch her dog for style, for presence. But the nerves caused what ifs, what if she lost, what if she did something stupid, what if they all laughed. Once she was in the ring she’d be fine, training took over in the ring, training and that deep desire to strut in front of them all and say, Look at me! Look at me!

That was what kept her coming back every time, she needed them to acknowledge she was the best. She wanted them all to cheer and shout and say well done, you deserved to win. But they never did. The best she ever got was the odd clap here and there. Idiots, jealous fools, she’d show them. She’d show them she was every bit as good as her wonderful sister and their sainted bloody mother.

The judge went through the classes – baby, puppy, junior, intermediate, Australian bred, and then it was Joe’s class, open.

The steward called Joe’s number. Sylva flicked her hair back again, took a piece of liver from her pocket and then they both strutted into the show ring. The judge went over Joe, checking his confirmation, then watching him trot around the ring. Joe won the class – the only other dog with him was a pet, in Sylva’s opinion, and the judge’s too it seemed.

Then it as time for dog challenge. Joe was perfect. He held his head up proudly, eyeballed the dog behind him into submission, then ignored everything except Sylva. And, of course, the piece of liver Sylva carried in her mouth for him, if he behaved. Once around the ring they went, Joe slightly in front and Sylva exuding confidence alongside him. Joe got dog challenge, with the judge making up his mind before the dogs had completed their circle of the ring. Sylva smiled graciously as she shook the judge’s hand.

She didn’t bother to watch which dog got reserve challenge. She went back to her tent to get Sez ready for her class. Maybe she could get bitch challenge as well.