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Existentially Elizabeth: October 2021

Existentially Elizabeth: October 2021

Two weeks before this National I had the pleasure of acting as the Handler Judge for the American Bullmastiff Association’s Top 25 conformation event. Ray Carlisle was the brainchild of the DPCA Top Conformation event, first held in 1974. Since then, little has changed about the event other than creating three judging stations so dogs could be judged at those stations rather than one at a time in the middle of the ring by three judges simultaneously.

Over the years, other Breed clubs have created their own versions of the Top Conformation event using the DPCA’s as a starting point. It is interesting to see how the various parent clubs’ qualifications and the events vary. For example, the American Rottweiler Club uses a formula that awards points for not only Best of Breed, but also Best of Opposite Sex. Additionally, Select Dog and Bitch at their National receives points. The American Whippet Club sells admission tickets for $5 and ringside tables that seat four for $250. Some clubs allow previous winners to compete again providing they qualified for that year.

The entrants for the Bullmastiff Top 25 were judged in a closed session (only owners, breeders and handlers were allowed) starting at 2 p.m. One at a time the dogs entered the ring to be judged in an order predetermined by prior draw. The judges took turns going over the dog while the other two waited 8-10 feet back or walked around the dog at a discrete distance as they marked their sheets. There was one steward to alternately hold the examining judge’s clipboard. It took about 2 hours to judge the 18 dogs that attended. This aspect of the judging was performed in typical judge/show attire and was a much more relaxed and intimate atmosphere for the dogs, handlers and judges. Score sheets, merely identified as judge 1, 2 or 3 were collected after each dog’s examination and tabulated. The sheets were made available to the owners after the evening event.

Calling for semi-formal wear, the doors opened at 6:00 p.m. for a light buffet ranging from cheese and fruit to a carving table with sandwich rolls. The well-stocked bar was well attended by a line of patrons. At 7:30 the event began with the introduction of two previous winners. Then the fun really began! Under a spotlight the dogs came into the ring one at a time to their chosen song, were introduced, went around the ring once or twice and then went to the center. As their song was turned down, the dog’s bio was read aloud and when finished the song was turned back up until it finished. Meanwhile the dog free stacked, was taken down and back on both diagonals and around again at the handler’s discretion.

Many of the dogs, conscious of the energetic atmosphere were quite the clowns – bouncing and grabbing at their leads to tug while circling the ring, some with constant streamers of drool glittering in the spotlight, and a few doing tricks. The fans of one entrant, affectionately called Hanna Banana, threw large stuffed banana toys into the ring as she gaited around. Never have I been to an event (including our own Top 20 Agility) where everyone in the room ceaselessly laughed and smiled so much throughout as we celebrated these deserving dogs. Because the serious judging was already out of the way, there was a far more relaxed and celebratory vibe as the entrants just got to revel in their hard-won accomplishment.

Wrist bands applied when they entered, everyone in attendance was given a ballot to select their favorite dog as the People’s Choice winner. As they turned in their ballot, their wrist band was cut off, assuring that each person cast only one ballot and thus reflecting the true judgement of the audience.

The Doberman Top 20 has remained largely unchanged for nearly 50 years. But that is no reason for it to continue unchanged. Perhaps it is time to look at what other clubs are doing and shake things up a bit.

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