Every year terrier fanciers flock to their most important show of the year: Montgomery. Right now, as I type these words people all over America and in other parts of the world are packing their bags as they prepare to make their pilgrimage to Montgomery next week.
I just came upon an old article I wrote years ago describing a memory of my very first time at this most prestigious terrier event. At the time my husband and I were looking for a family pet and I really, really wanted a Norwich or a Norfolk Terrier. This is admittedly an old memory, but honestly the spirit of Montgomery has not changed a bit.
MONTGOMERY AND TRADING ORANGES
Convincing my husband Michael that a little terrier was the perfect dog for us was a piece of cake. I wore him out with just a second dozen of arguments. To take care of any residual resistance I dragged him to the biggest terrier show: Montgomery County Kennel Club dog show. Think “terrier Mecca”.
I was expecting Snobville. What I found was nothing short of extraordinary. It was like a trip into a different dimension in the universe, a day in a foreign country without having to cross any geographical borders. I was always aware of the existence of dog show world, with its die-hard breed fanciers, intense competitiveness and what I disparagingly perceived as “froo-froo” culture. My idea of it had as much to do with its reality, as do Guinea pigs with Guinea, or with pigs for that matter.
There were white tents, and show rings, stretching as far as an eye could see, with thousands of people and gorgeous dogs milling around. There were rows of fine vendors, smiles and nods, clinking of real china and glasses in a lunch tent, set up for a sit-down meal on white linens, the atmosphere of festivity and gentility at the same time. Michael and I had an unmistakable look of the outsiders, tourists gawking at a foreign spectacle. Our casual, non-dog-show clothing stood in contrast to Barbour coats, suits and ties, plaid jackets and skirts, ladies’ hats, hand-made leather boots, and the ultimate in dog show essentials: dog motif jewelry. You could tell a person’s association with a given terrier breed, either by the obvious fact that there was a certain terrier at the end of a show lead they were holding, or by looking at their tie pins, brooches, pendants, rings, earrings, or embroidered towels, director’s chairs, hand painted bags, purses, umbrellas, grooming bags, etc. Ad nauseum!
The interesting thing was that although some of it was tacky individually, collectively it was not. There was certain Gaudi-esque opulence in everything screaming a terrier theme, but somehow it all went together and belonged. In a funny way it was like finding Barcelona in a British countryside. It was lovely. The air was crisp, the sky blue. You could see the first touch of red in leaves of maple trees, a prelude to a symphony of color the North East is famous for.
I did not know at the time that Montgomery County Kennel Club’s show was the most prestigious terrier event of the year in North America. While standing in line to buy a show catalog, I exchanged some pleasantries with a man speaking with an Australian accent. “What is bringing you to the USA?” I asked. He looked at me with dismay and answered “Montgomery”.
But of course! Forget the televised all-breed shows. Montgomery is the real McCoy for a terrier fancier. It stands in stark contrast to the glitz indoor shows, piped to TV sets in living rooms of bored house-wives, with breaks for commercials in order to sell cars and diarrhea pills. Montgomery is held on the real grass, under a real, often leaky October sky, with no camera crews pressuring for fake smiles. At Montgomery you will meet many terriers that will be chasing rodents, or digging holes in their owners’ back yards when the show is over. This is a display of a wide and authentic cross-section of each terrier breed recognized by the American Kennel Club.
My head was spinning as I was trying to understand the rules of AKC championship shows. It is all quite democratic, fair to a fault. Fault being a complicated set of laws aiming at leveling the playing field, especially a point system for becoming a champion, which takes into consideration even differences in popularity of each breed per geographic area. Huh? These are not rules you glance at, and instantly understand. But what a spirit of good sportsmanship! What seriousness applied to a sport of walking a dog on a lead around a ring! Oh, yes. Show dogs have leads. Pets have leashes. Speaking of vocabulary, where else can you say “That’s a pretty little bitch”, as if you were describing a flower in your mother’s garden?
Montgomery County Kennel Club show is held yearly, usually first Sunday in October, in Eastern PA, a short drive North-West of Philadelphia. The kennel club hosting the famous show started as a small group of dog fanciers. The first shows were so intimate they were held at places like a country inn, a fire house, and a small hotel. There have been over 80 years of this, now famous, terrier extravaganza. The first Montgomery of 1929 must have been a howling success. The club put on the show every year after that, with the only event able to put it on hold being World War II. It is pretty much permanently attached to a first Sunday of each October, with the exception of one lonely Wednesday show, and only a handful of years when it was scheduled for the 2nd Sunday. Just to keep its fans on their toes; true terrier style.
When the shows grew a bit in popularity, and outgrew the first couple of venues, they moved to a farm, and later an estate, of one of its members, G. Harrison Frazer, Jr. They were still very personal and cozy in scale. The Fraziers are credited with the atmosphere of Eastern Pennsylvania country estate hospitality, which Montgomery miraculously retained in spite of its ballooning scale.
When my husband and I were absorbing its magic for the first time, the show was held at a campus of Temple University in its 20-something year at that location. Less than ten years later, due to its forever growing popularity, and increasing difficulties with parking space, the show was moved to the grounds of Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. As big and prestigious as the show is, it is still by and large a terrier fancier secret. Shhhh….
Contrary to my initial misconceptions, the show is so much more than a canine beauty pageant. The essence of Montgomery is a gathering of people, who genuinely and deeply care for their terriers; people whose lives are defined to a great extent by a hobby of breeding them; people whose main focus is to preserve and improve their beloved breeds. Sure, there is judging, and winning, and trophies; big and bigger egos. But first and foremost, it is a breeder’s showcase. Most people come to Montgomery not so much to win a ribbon, but to show off their dogs to other breeders, to see other dogs, to catch up on the whereabouts of old friends, and to bore all the outsiders with fine points of the game. I know it will sound plain, but the show is really about terriers. A win at Montgomery is an icing on a very sumptuous cake.
It was easy to see a genuine affection dogs were showered with. Most of the terriers visibly enjoyed the excitement of seeing the crowd of people and dogs, of spending a day with their humans, of getting attention from others.
I was so enchanted, that if anyone was to predict I was never to skip a single Montgomery from that day on, I would have not batted an eye. I instantly absorbed its magnetic appeal.
It was an unforgettable experience in no small part because that was where we met Norwich and Norfolk terriers in flesh for the very first time. On your first encounter Norwich Terriers can be noisy, hyper and scream for your attention with all they’ve got. They will wiggle, “talk” to you, jump up and run circles and, if only given a chance, shower you with doggy kisses. What is there not to like? I will tell you what – lots of that every day, every time you were absent, no matter for how a ridiculously brief moment. You have to be a person who would enjoy that. Of course I missed all the warning signs. I was hooked.
I knew that if I was to be successful in getting the little scruffy dog I had to make some concessions. I decided I would be happy with either a Norwich or a Norfolk terrier; boy or girl; red, grizzle or black and tan. Michael was still mentioning a bigger dog, and when speaking of terriers he was gravitating dangerously too close to an Australian terrier ring. I had to hustle. Now I had the little dog under my skin. It was burning me with unyielding desire.
At Montgomery we made contacts with breeders, who were all pleasant and generous with their time. We petted many terriers, and returned home with a strong resolve. Mine was to convince some breeder to entrust me with a Norfolk or a Norwich Terrier, Michael’s was to find an Australian Terrier puppy for us.
After a letter and e-mail writing campaign, and a couple of strong endorsements from friends involved in dog breeding and dog rescue, I finally got in touch with a Norwich breeder willing to sell me a dog. I was getting a male puppy. I was warned that he was exceedingly shy. To the breeder, my interest in getting involved with dog sports seemed like a good match for the puppy that needed to be coaxed out of his shell. In my own thoughts, my interest in having a high drive puppy became instantly secondary to euphoria of being promised any Norwich at all.
I swallowed hard when I heard the price. In my mind I quickly translated the cost of owning a Norwich Terrier into a 5-day Caribbean vacation for two. It was also equivalent to two thousand pounds of Navel oranges, or the 52-piece fine China dinnerware, which for weeks I had been window shopping for. I stuck with the oranges in my mind. Who needs two thousand pounds of oranges? I was going to be perfectly fine without the ridiculous amount of citrus.
It was a trade I never regretted.
Post Scriptum in photos: