Every five years all of us in the dog fancy don fashionable hats and period outfits to celebrate a commemorative version of an iconic dog show. Since its reincarnation in 2000 by a group of dedicated fanciers, the Morris and Essex Kennel Club dog show has become a modern classic with a serious nod to its traditional roots.
M&E sprouted in 1927 when Mrs. Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, niece to the oil baron, sprayed large white tents across her polo field to host thousands of show dogs. The scene at her “Giralda Farms” estate became the annual setting of her signature kennel club in Madison, New Jersey. She personally financed the show for decades. It became a valuable place to come study the best dogs while appearing on the social scene. Mrs. Dodge made it special by offering sterling silver trophies, lavish flower decorations, catered meals for VIPs and the famed boxed lunch for all exhibitors. Only the war years silenced the great show which ended its run in 1957.
If you want to know more about the original M&E, a new book, The Golden Age of Dog Shows: Morris & Essex Kennel Club, 1927-1957, with a forward by William Secord, famed canine fine art historian and gallery owner, promises not to disappoint dog show historians.
Morris & Essex Kennel Club 2015
Last week M&E’s 2015 edition did not disappoint. A record-breaking 4,666 show dogs made it the largest, outdoor one-day dog show in American History, something Mrs. Dodge would have been proud of. For the previous two shows, in 2005 and 2010, my employment dictated I remain a spectator. But this year, unencumbered, I became an exhibitor for the first time. My kennel of three Norwegian Elkhounds would be among the thousands.
Because this is a special show, I decided it would be a fitting tribute, rather a retirement of sorts, to bring my 12-year-old veteran bitch Jinx, officially known as Ch. Elvemel For Your Eyes Only, CGC, to her final show. Her show career ended a decade earlier due to my AKC employment restrictions. The day she earned her championship I was barred from showing her. I remember how I cried winning that major at Bucks County Kennel Club on a blustery May morning in 2005.
She is the culmination of 20 years of careful breeding, one of the best bitches I’d ever produced. She’s showy with no off switch, a handler’s dream. A direct line back to my foundation bitch, I never got to show her as a special. As an owner/breeder/handler, giving up showing and breeding my dogs to work at AKC to promote showing and breeding dogs was a bittersweet burden.
It’s Show Time!
My dogs know when its time to go to a show. The cues are everywhere: baths, grooming, packing the van and cooking the liver. The morning of, they see us scurrying around the house gathering last minute items, leashes in hand. They are smart, they have memories of fun and excitement. Jinx was especially animated last Thursday. I could hear her brain, “Dog Show! Dog Show!” She knew, after all those years, where she was going. We left at 4 am since we heard the lines to get to the rings might be long. We arrived at 6 am and unloaded ringside in the dark, under one of those large white tents, now sprayed across Colonial Park in Somerset, NJ.
After walking the dogs around the well-appointed grounds, past trophy displays, floral arrangements, and fashionably dressed folks, I gingerly placed Jinx on the grooming table. Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark! Jinx announced. Some things never change. After primping the old bitch, show lead on her, we headed to the ring. As the steward called our number, we proudly walked in. Our heads held high, her’s looking for treats, mine trying to keep my fancy hat on my head in a blowing wind.
It’s customary at shows, when veterans (dogs over 7 years old) are gaited around the ring, to give them a round of applause. Most veterans are returning ‘show veterans’ with long careers. For Jinx, she was here because she belonged here as the fruits of my labor as a breeder. She was here so others could study dogs, could study her. As the judge went over her aging body, she sparkled. Those beautiful dark brown eyes still captured hearts. As we gaited around the ring for that final time, applause as Jinx pulled the lead between us taught, I felt those tears well up again. This time, it was pride, not sadness. The owner of her sire was watching ringside. She commented how watching Jinx was like watching Jag move gracefully around the ring. As a stud dog, he had stamped his quality on her. As a breeder, I had recognized that and matched it well with Jinx’s dam. It was good to know that after decades of studying dogs, as a breeder, I finally got it right in a beautiful bitch who disappeared for a decade from dog shows.