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, competitive dog snobs enter professional dogs that can trace their lineage back 153 generations. The Key West show - it benefits the Kritter Patrol, which 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 dogs, most of whom, if you had to identify them, would fall under the category of: "probably some kind of dog."
These are hard-working dogs that spend their days carrying out the vital dog mission of sniffing every object in the world, and then 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.
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 one of them 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.
Many owners were also wearing costumes, including one man with a motionless Chihuahua; the man had dressed both the dog and himself as butterflies. The man wore a sequined pantsuit, antennae and a pair of wings.
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 100 percent objective, inasmuch as her own dog, Peggy, was entered in most of the events. Edith consistently gave Peggy high ratings despite the fact that Peggy is the ugliest dog in world history. Nevertheless, thanks in part to Edith, Peggy won the Trick Dog category, even though her trick consisted of trying to kick off her underpants.
Actually, that was a pretty good trick. 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 onstage and wave a dog biscuit at it, or play a harmonica, or gesture, or babble ("C'mon, Ralph! Sing! C'mon! Woooee! C'mon!) in an increasingly frantic but futile effort to get the dog to do whatever it was supposed to do, while the dog either looked on with mild interest or tried to get off the stage and mate with the next contestant. My personal favorite in the Trick Dog category was a small 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. 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 push for Peggy, we decided, after agonizing for close to three-tenths of a second, to give the top prize to Sam, the motionless Chihuahua dressed as a butterfly to match his owner, who got emotional when he accepted the trophy. We judges were touched, though we did ask him to make Sam move his paw so we could see that he was, in fact, sleeping and not deceased. Because you have to have standards.