How Don and Pam of Woebgon Bassets Got Started Showing
By Don Bullock
In recent years I've seen many articles about showing dogs, but nowhere do I see one where someone tells newcomers how they become involved in the sport. While the information and ideas I include in this article don't explain what to do they chronicle how my wife, Pam, and I got involved in the sport of dogs. Perhaps my comments on our experiences as we got into showing and eventually breeding will help someone else.
The most important factor for anyone is selecting a breed. You have to look for a breed that you are totally infatuated with. It's a breed that you can't seem to stop looking at and one that gives you a lot of enjoyment. The breed you choose should also be one that you can keep in your home and yard as well as one that fits your lifestyle. Finding the right breed may take some research on your part.
For us that breed was the basset hound. We have no idea why. After getting our first dog, a beagle Australian Shepard mix, at the dog pound we decided to go looking for another dog a year later. For some reason we specifically went looking for a basset hound. There she was, a basset named Maggie waiting for us to take her home. While Maggie didn't have the greatest temperament, especially for a basset hound, we became enamored with the breed. I guess you could say we were hooked.
Like many people today we made many mistakes in acquiring our dogs. After getting a basset from the pound we thought that buying one with AKC papers would be better. We figured that a "papered" puppy would be better bred than our rescue basset. Wow, were we wrong. Lucy was a cute puppy but a very poor example breed type. In relation to the Basset Hound Standard Lucy had a lot of major faults including being very very skittish,
We decided that our next basset hound should come directly from a breeder. Fortunately in those days (1990) the Kennel Club of Beverly Hills advertised their shows in the Los Angeles Times. The ad included the whole show schedule so we knew when and where basset hounds would be judged. Pam and I decided to play hooky from the church choir that we sang in to attend the show. In those days their shows were only held on Sundays.
We arrived al the L.A. Sports Arena where the show was held and were in awe of what we saw. There were beautiful dogs everywhere. It took some time wandering through all the dogs to find our way outside to a grassy area where basset hounds were to be judged. Out there we saw some of the most beautiful bassets we had ever seen. On the way out we had stopped to buy a show catalog so we started looking at the numbers people were wearing and finding them in the show catalog. We tried our best to figure out who the breeder was for each dog we saw in the ring especially those that we really liked. One male stood out. He was exactly what we thought a basset hound should look like. No, we had no idea there was an AKC Standard for Basset Hounds much less what it said. We just liked what we saw. He ended up being selected Best of Breed that day.
While we were at the show we were able to talk to a few of the exhibitors about their dogs. Most were very happy to talk to us after the bassets were finished. Someone mentioned that the local basset hound club was going to have an all day show just for basset hounds. We didn't know such shows existed and got all the information. Pam and I decided right then and there that another day of hooky from the church choir was necessary.
We arrived at the park where the Basset Hound Club of Southern California, Inc. was holding their Specialty Show just before sweepstakes was scheduled to start. There was a lady selling catalogs right next to the ring so we bought one and found a place next to the ring for our chairs. Fortunately we thought of taking some chairs that we used outside on our patio. What could be better than seeing basset hound puppies with handlers trying to get them to walk around on leads and to stand still. It was hilarious. Pam and I both enjoyed the sight.
After the sweepstakes was over a gentleman, Ralph Scarrow, from the club saw us and started welcoming us to the show. We must have looked a little stunned and confused because he told us just about everything he could about dog shows in just a few minutes. That was wonderful and greatly appreciated. We also met a young couple, Ron and Mary Lukins, who welcomed us as well. We even bought a wreath with a basset hound on it that Mary and Ron made. To be honest I don't remember most of the rest of the day except we enjoyed everything we saw and the people we met. Showing seemed to be something that was a lot of fun and the dogs we saw were fantastic. Being surrounded by that many beautiful basset hounds was amazing.
After that experience I started researching dog shows. Finding information in those days, before the Internet, was much more difficult than it is today. I must have written a letter to the AKC because I ended up with quite a bit of information on shows and showing. My impression was that it seemed to be something that was close to impossible to do. Since our Sundays were already taken up with church and singing in the choir we decided that we just wanted a pet.
A few weeks after the show we did what a lot of people looking for a puppy do except in those days email wasn't available. We wrote a letter to just about every breeder listed in the Basset Hound Club of Southern California Show Catalog. Since we were teachers we told everyone that we wanted a puppy during the summer months so the puppy would be old enough for us to leave with our older dogs when we started back to work in the fall. We even gave a description of our ideal basset hound. Today I look back and laugh at how naive we were. Like many who now contact us looking for a basset, we thought someone would have a dog just like what we wanted when we wanted it.
One evening we got a call from one of the breeders. She had a basset puppy that she was thinking of selling and she thought he'd meet our criteria. Pam and I were thrilled. The breeder who called was, Gail Allen, the one who bred the basset hound that was Best of Breed at the Kennel Club of Beverly Hills show. Yes, we were very excited! Pam made arrangements to drive down to her home that was at least three hours away and got the directions from Gail.
A few weeks later we drove down to see the puppy. When we got to the Gail's home we were greeted at her gate by a large pack of basset hounds. There were at least twenty of them. Pam and I were in basset heaven. We didn't know that one person could possibly own that many. It was very tempting to slide through the gate and be surrounded by bassets but just as the thought crossed our minds her very large mastiff showed up. Just like kennels have often done through out history Gail had him as a protector for the pack. A few minutes later she showed up at the gate and moved all the dogs into a yard so that we could get in the gate. As we walked through her property we suddenly realized that this breeder had more bassets than the pack that met us at the front gate. They were literally everywhere. After all the formal introductions were over and she explained some things about her ranch Gail took us over to an enclosure. There she introduced us to Chili. Right away I was in love. Chili cuddled with me as I held him and I knew he was mine. Pam on the other hand had talked to the her on the phone and asked why we were seeing Chili instead of the dog they had talked about. I remember the two of them talking about why there had been a switch but I didn't care. I wanted Chili. We made arrangements to come back to pick up Chili (Tailgate Chili Willie) a few weeks later.
The appointed time finally came. We returned ready to take our new addition home. As we talked to Gail and her partner, Gillie, they mentioned that Chili could be shown if we were at all interested. They tried their best to explain everything and told us about a match that the Basset Hound Club of Southern California was having. Gail even gave Pam a recipe for liver brownies that she used to bait her bassets in the ring and told us she'd love to see us there. They also sponsored us for membership in the Basset Hound Club of America and gave us the application.
The evening of the match we showed up with Chili. I decided that perhaps showing him might be fun. Chili had other ideas. He was fine as long as we were outside the show ring but as soon as I entered the ring with him Chili refused to move. Those liver brownies didn't tempt him at all. He knew that I wanted him to walk around the ring and he decided that he wouldn't let me have my way. Ralph Scarrow was ringside at the match watching Chili and tried to help me after we left the ring. No, Chili wouldn't move for him either.
We did end up showing Chili in AKC shows but he wasn't enamored with the idea. While he was a beautiful boy showing just wasn't Chili's idea of fun. At his third show as the judge was going over Chili she decided to take a second look at his bite. We both discovered that Chili's bite had gone slightly undershot which is a fault in basset hounds and one that every judge looks for. His show career ended abruptly.
After a couple of years of going to shows and watching the bassets Pam and I decided that we needed to try showing again. We approached Sue Shoemaker of Shoefly Bassets. We had gotten to know Sue and her dogs fairly well. Sue was very friendly and we loved her dogs. They had the basset hound type that we liked and more importantly in temperament they were very sweet.
When Sue and Andy Shoemaker had their next litter Sue offered to sell us a dog to start showing. A boy in the litter that we later named Shoefly's Samuel Adams caught our eye. He was a very handsome basset with plenty of type and extremely sweet. Sam became our first show dog.
Unlike Chili, Sam loved the shows. He was a natural once he discovered what I wanted him to do. In those days clubs that had shows were required by the AKC to hold matches in addition to their shows. Sam and I used the opportunity offered by the matches to hone our skills and partnership.
I also discovered a handling class close to home. Unfortunately the person running the class had no idea how to present a basset hound. That part I had to learn from Sue and watching others but the class gave us practice and Sam the opportunity to be around other breeds of dogs.
Once Sam was six months old we started entering him in shows. He was so excited. Sam just loved people and other dogs. I still recall vividly that the first show was the Beverly Hills Kennel Club at the Sports Arena, the location of our very first foray into dog shows. As we entered the ring Sam got so excited that a big wad of foam and bile came flowing out of his mouth. Obviously the judge wasn't amused and called for a clean up. Sam was still Reserve Winners Dog that day.
Sam continued to enjoy showing. He and I really treasured the opportunities we had together in the ring. Again, my hopes of showing a dog to a Championship were foiled. One day one of Sam's testicles swelled up to an enormous size. Later we learned that it's a condition called mechanical torsion of the spermatic cord. While I continued showing Sam after we got the swelling reduced eventually our show career toward that Championship abruptly ended. A judged disqualified Sam from a show. While that needs to be done by three different judges to permanently disqualify a dog I knew we were done. That was our last show together in the ring.
Sue felt very sorry about what happened and offered us a boy out of her next litter. By the time she had the litter and we went to see her boy Pam and I were getting somewhat skeptical about being able to get a dog to show. Sue tried to assure us that this time would be different.
The puppy, as with most basset hound puppies, was definitely cute. I still wasn't sold on the idea of starting again. We continued our visits about every other weekend for a couple of months before finally deciding that Sue's boy was right for us. Because he was a little smaller than many basset hounds we decided to call him Shoefly's Bud Light in keeping with our beer theme.
Buddy turned out to be just that, my buddy. His temperament around the house was magnificent. He was always a happy boy, always wagging his tail. That happiness continued in the show ring except when it came to stacking. Buddy just couldn't stand still. He wanted to romp and play not stack (stand) for the judge.
Even in spite of Buddy's lack of stacking skills we did manage to win. At the very first show of the Burbank Kennel Club on March 13, 1994 our very first win came with Buddy from Mrs. George G. Wanner. That day he was Winners Dog, Best of Winners and Best of Opposite Sex to Best of Breed. I was hooked. The rosettes from that first win are framed and hanging in our home today.
In an attempt to do better with Buddy in the show ring I found a handling class in Pasadena taught by Julie Kay who had shown basset hounds professionally. She knew the breed well. Buddy loved going to class. Pam and I had the habit of getting to the class early because we had to allow time for traffic. I still vividly recall Buddy's response when another basset hound would show up. He'd see them across the parking lot and start getting excited. The classes were excellent and Buddy did well in class. Thanks to the patience of Julie I improved greatly too.
Buddy though was still giving me problems in the ring at shows. One day Sue volunteered to take him into the ring to see what he was doing. She thought that she could give me pointers if she showed him. I was excited at the opportunity to watch Sue show Buddy. It was fun to watch Sue try to show him. As Sue exited the ring she looked at me and exclaimed, "He's a little shit!" Sue couldn't believe how difficult Buddy was to show.
A few months later Andy Shoemaker, who was becoming frustrated that Buddy wasn't winning, asked to show him at the Riverside Kennel Club Show in Lake Parris, California. For those who don't know Andy, he had a lot of showing experience and at one time showed some top winning bassets. Andy is also known for not holding back when expressing himself. I told Andy that I'd love to get his opinion of what I needed to do to show Buddy better. As soon as Andy and Buddy entered the ring I could see the expression on Andy's face. He was getting more frustrated as time went on. Needless to say Buddy didn't show well for Andy either. Andy came out of the ring and exploded. He talked so fast that I couldn't get every word but I did catch the fact that Andy didn't know why we were showing Buddy and that he'd never finish. That's not the encouragement and help I was hoping for.
I continued to take Buddy to class and enter him in some shows. Again it was the Beverly Hills Kennel Club Show. This time it was being held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Butch Dixon, a basset hound owner and very good handler took me aside with Buddy. I still vividly remember Butch asking, "Why isn't this dog winning?" Butch liked Buddy and thought he should have won that show. He took us outside the building and tried to stack Buddy on the sidewalk. While Butch did a much better job at stacking him than I did he could see that Buddy didn't like to stack. Butch suggested trying to stack Buddy continually at home instead of waiting for handling class and shows. He wanted me to stack Buddy everywhere I encountered him in the house and yard. More important than the suggestion of what to do was the confidence I gained from talking with Butch. He said there was no reason for Buddy to be losing to the competition.
Buddy became very leery of me over the next few months. I stacked Buddy in the kitchen, our bedroom, outside, in our family room and even in our walk-in closet in the master bedroom. He never knew when I was going to get down on the floor and stack him. After a while he started enjoying the extra attention. I made sure that it was a positive experience every time. He seemed to start getting the idea. We got to the point where we'd time how long Buddy would stack for me and that time period slowly increased every day.
I had also noticed that Buddy especially didn't like the mats that were used at indoor shows. I'm not sure what the problem was but I decided to work on that aspect of stacking too. Pam and I bought a piece of the rubber mat material that was long enough for me to practice on and set it out in our front hall where I had room to stack Buddy. Buddy even got to the point where he'd actually go in the front of the house waiting for me to stack him.
Finally in May of 1995 Buddy won our very first major win at a show. It was at the Malibu Kennel Club Show under Judge Alvin Krause. Buddy was starting to get the idea. The difference in his win photo compared to the previous photos showed why he was suddenly winning. In the next two months Buddy won two more shows including a Best of Breed and minored out. For those not familiar with dog shows that means that he had 12 points of the 15 needed for a Championship but needed a three point major to finish the requirements for his Championship.
For the rest of 1995 we continued entering Buddy in shows that we thought would draw a major. Very few did and unfortunately Buddy didn't win any of those.
At the Kennel Club Palm Springs Show on January 7, 1996 Steven Gladstone was scheduled to judge. Mr. Gladstone had awarded Buddy's second win back in May of 1994. We thought he might like him now that he was grown up and showing well. Fortunately the show turned out to be a major in bitches so Buddy could get a major by being selected Best of Winners. Because of the pressure of the situation we decided for Sue to take Buddy into the ring. She had far more experience and confidence than I did at the time and Buddy was no longer the same dog she had taken in the ring before.
That is still one of the most exciting days for showing that we have ever had. Buddy walked around the ring like he owned it. He was happy to be there. Buddy finished his AKC Championship in style.
Buddy continued winning in his very next show. At the Shoreline Dog Fanciers Show on January 14, 1996 Buddy was Best of Breed. The Hound Group Judge that day was Stephen Hubbell who had awarded Buddy a fourth place win out of four entries in the puppy class in 1994 when we were getting started. We still decided to stay for the group competition. To our surprise Buddy just loved the group ring that day. He put on a show. Mr. Hubbell watched him quite a bit during the group and awarded Buddy a Group Four win. We were both shocked and thrilled.
While Buddy never went on to repeat that accomplishment he did have many more Best of Breed wins. As a veteran Buddy also did very well. With Buddy's success and our relationship with the Shoemakers we purchased another boy from them. He went on to become Ch. Shoefly's Royal Moosehead and the foundation of our breeding program.
What we've done and accomplished since then has been a lot of fun. We've enjoyed both the dogs and the people involved with showing basset hounds. They are among our best friends.
After reading this many would wonder why we even kept showing much less started breeding our own basset hounds. First of all we love the breed. If basset hounds or any other breed is to continue to flourish it will take dedicated people just like us to stick with showing and breeding. Without good owners, exhibitors and breeders bassets and other purebred dogs as we know and love them will disappear. Of equal importance to us are the friends we've met while we were on this journey. The Shoemakers have become very good friends. Ron and Mary Lukins who we met at that firsr Specialty Show are very close friends. They even have one of our girls, Pixie. We have made many other friends through the dogs and shows as well. We find that most basset hound owners are very friendly people who love the breed almost as much as we do.
Breeding and showing is not easy. We can't just put two basset hounds together and create a show dog. There is a lot that goes into breeding and showing that most people don't know about. For most of the public what they see on television is all they know. Behind the scenes is a lot of research, long hours of caring for dogs and hard work. There is a lot of heartbreak along the way too. That cute puppy may grow up with issues that prevent it from being shown or may not make it. We recently lost our Star (Ch. Woebgon’s RockStar) at the age of two to cancer.
If you truly love dogs and are at all interested give showing a try. Yes, at first it may be difficult. Finding someone like the Shoemakers who will trust you with one of their show prospects may seem like a daunting task. Like us, perhaps your first dog won't work out to be a show dog. The more you go to shows and show your interest in the breed the more likely that someone will give you that chance. While showing may not be easy it can be very rewarding for people who truly love any breed of dog. By breeding and showing we're continuing an art that for basset hounds as we know them today methodically started over 150 years ago. For those of us who truly love this breed the only way it can be maintained is by people who are willing to do what we've done. I’d love someday to be able to add your story to this blog.