When Fergus was six months old, I entered him for the South of England Irish Setter Club Championship Show. In those days it was held in a Leisure Centre at High Wycombe and was about a four hour drive from home. This was to be his first experience of a Championship Show and it very nearly was his last!

On a freezing cold January morning, I set off with my friend and our three Irish Setters. She had been to this show the previous year and so was familiar with the venue. As she insisted that there was only a small strip of grass at the venue for exercising the dogs, I decided to stop at the service station on the M40 motorway, in order to give the dogs a good walk. Because we had quite a long journey, we had, as usual, set off at some godforsaken hour of the night, arriving at the service station at 6 a.m.

Donning our wellingtons, we set off towards the field with the dogs. My friend went in one directiona dn I went in the other. After being cooped up in the car for so long, both Flynn and Fergus were pulling with excitement, caused by delicious new smells wafting into their nostrils. Both were on flexi-leads, which I relased when I reached the field. All was well, with Flynn galloping in a straight line and Fergus rushing round in large sweeping circles, until Fergus spotted a rabbit. He immediately gave chase……with me on the end of the lead and my feet instantly left the floor! The rabbit suddenly vanished, so Fergus immediately started running round in circles, frantically following its scent, copied by Flynn, who was also running round in circles, but in the opposite direction. As I frantically tried to stop them and reel in the flexi-leads, all at the same time, I shouted anything I could think of to stop them. “STOP! WAIT! STAND! STAY!” They were of course, conveniently deaf and all previous training went out of the window. As this was happening, I began to notice lights appearing in the building at the side of me and I suddenly realized that it must be a Travel Lodge, so I would imagine, that at such an early hour, we were not very popular.

Both the dogs were still cavorting around in circles, chasing the elusive rabbit, who by now, had long disappeared, whilst I struggled to stay upright and hang onto the flexi-leads. My arms felt as if they were about to leave their sockets, as I was literally being pulled in both directions at once. As all this was happening, I hadn’t actually realized that both dogs were running in circles……but i opposite directions around me! So before I knew it, there I was at 6 a.m. in the pitch dark, literally tied up and unable to move, stranded in the middle of a field, at the side of the M40 motorway. I had no option but to yell loudly for help. The friend I had travelled with quickly came to my assistance, but it then tok both of us about 15 minutes to untie me and unravel the leads, not helped by the fact that we were both helpless with laughter. I didn’t dare let go of the leads in case I lost the dogs, who of course, woud have shot off in ot pursuit of that rabbit. We were both laughing so much that I honestly thought I would need cllean underwear! Luckily, I didn’t. Needless to say, by the time we had unravelled the dogs and myself, I was totally exhausted and of course, neither dog had been to the loo, which had been the whole point of the exercise in the first place. I really didn’t care any more at that point, as I’d had enough. So, we put the dogs back into the car, while we went for a cup of tea to help me recover, though a stiff drink might have been more effective.

By the time we arrived at the venue, it was raining quite hard, neither of the dogs had been to the loo and I had forgotten to bring their rain coats. As I walked towards the strip of grass in the car park, I saw a gate, which led to a huge field behind the leisure centre. Realization dawned, that we needn’t have stopped at all at the M40 services! Having duly toileted the dogs, they were saturated and my spectacles were so wet, I couldn’t see where I was going. After all this, I still had to negotiate the entrance to the venue, which was down down a set of very steep, slippery steps, with two crazy dogs, a show bag and benching blankets. My friend very kindly took the benching blankets and bags, while I struggled to hold and manoeuvre, what appeared to be, two bucking broncos on the end of leads. Meanwhile, other people managed up to as many as six Irish Setters, plus bags, seemingly with the greatest of ease, negotiating the steps without any difficulty as they did so. All of them looked at me as if I were totally crazy, whilst I struggled to hold the dogs, stay upright and walk down the steps, all at the same time. Their offers of help were noticeable by their absence. It was, of course, enhanced by the fact that I couldn’t see anything through my saturated spectacles.

When we finally found our bench, it was to discover that I only actually had twenty minutes in which to dry my puppy, brush him out and give him some practice before the class began. I hate doind everything in such a rush and don’t feel that it is at all fair to the dog, so I’m sure my feelings of rising panic, travelled down the lead to Fergus. He was so excited to see twenty other Irish Setter puppies. As if I didn’t feel wrung out and flustered enough, he started to ‘peform’ as well. He was up on his hind legs, making running movements in the air with his front legs, talking loudly, because he desperately wanted to pplay with everyone around him. In short, it was like having a kangaroo on the end of a lead! One of his litter brothers was in the same class and he, of course, was impeccably behaved, as were all the other puppies in the class. This only served to make me feel even more inadequate, after all, by now, I was supposed to know what I was doing. But going by the performance so far, it was looking decidedly debatable! I couldn’t do anything with Fergis in the class, as he was so intent on the dogs either side of him. He stood still for the judge, but I was so nervous that I didn’t even stand him correctly. Then when he moved down the mat, he suddenly began jumping at the lead, which he’d never done before. I smiled sweetly at him, even though I really felt like throttling him, wondering why he’d chosen this particular day to be such a pain. I felt as if I just wanted the gorund to open up and swallow me. It was only when I came out of the ring, that I discovered what everyone else already knew. In my highly nervous state, I had inadvertently left my slobber cloth in my back pocket. As I ran down the mat, it waved about and it was this that Fergus was jumping at, for to him, it must have looked so enticing.

Flynn seemed pleased to let his nephew entertain the ‘crowds’ for once, for on this particular occasion, he actually behaved himself, giving such a good performance, that he managed to win his first 1st place at a Championship Show, which thrilled and delighted me. Needless to say, I was equally delighted to arrive home without any further mishaps, but I was very much aware that I had learnt some very valuable lessons during the course of the day.

As a result of this escapade, from then on, the boys were always walked separately when on new ground, whilst I was constantly on the look out for stray rabbits!

© 2008 Michelle Webster

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