An Unexpected Journey 4

Norman Woman Discovers Joy in Showing Maltese Dogs

It’s been said that life is all about the journey, not the destination.

I was a working higher education professional with a degree in English and journalism, but in 1989, my life was forever changed when my sister, Karen, brought home her first little white “dustmop” Maltese she named Madison.

Our family was so smitten with Madison that Karen and I purchased a Maltese for our mom, who was going through a divorce. What better to heal a broken heart than a puppy?

Enter Whitley, purchased from a newspaper ad. We learned, after purchasing Madison from a pet store, that most dogs sold in stores are from puppy mills, and after tracing her lineage, we confirmed that. We determined not to repeat that mistake, but didn’t question purchasing a puppy from a classified ad. We later learned that Whitley also was from a puppy mill.

Madison and Whitley were our learning curve. They taught us that even though they were great family pets, they did not resemble, in any way, shape or form, what Maltese should look like, nor were they healthy. But we loved them!

Fast forward to 1995, when I decided to get a Maltese. Third time’s the charm, right? Research taught me to seek dogs from show breeders who breed for health, temperament and breed standard versus profit. After receiving recommendations from exhibitors at a local dog show, I met an Oklahoma show breeder, Tammy Simon.

Tammy asked me to assist her at that show by “holding” one of her dogs while she showed another. Sure, I thought, I can do that. Within two minutes Tammy called out “NO! Not like that!” I managed to get through the experience without destroying her dog, and I followed her back to her grooming setup to discuss the possibility of owning a pet from her lines. Abbey joined my family a week later.

Abbey was everything I could ask for–healthy, beautiful, wonderfully sweet! As a bonus, I made a lifelong friend in Tammy. I began to follow her show career and attended as many dog shows as I could.

Fast forward again to 1998 and the dog show where I had first met Tammy. Once again, she called on me to assist her. But this time she asked me to go into the ring. I was terrified. Even though I had been watching her show, I did not understand the concept of “conformation” shows, other than the purpose, which is to present to the judges examples of the breed that most resemble the breed standard. All breeds have a “standard,” and that’s what judges are observing–not necessarily which dog is “prettiest.”

Tammy instructed me to take a deep breath and pretend I was walking my pet. Once again, I thought, sure I can do this. And once again, I was mistaken. Tammy’s girl acted horribly, darting between my legs, nearly tripping me. I later learned dogs show on the left side, and I was walking her on my right.

Determined to never be embarrassed again, I found a local training club offering conformation classes, and to assist me, Tammy blessed me with another dog–a retired champion girl named Kate (Ch. Ta-Jon’s Kay Sara Sara). Together, Kate and I learned–and in Kate’s case, relearned–the ins and outs of dog shows.

By the end of 2000, Kate, who was shown strictly in the veteran’s class–a class reserved for dogs 8 years of age and older–was ranked in the top 15 Maltese nationally and invited to the Eukanuba Tournament of Champions. At that time, Eukanuba was an invitational reserved for the top 20 dogs in each breed. It was almost like a fantasy. It was my first year in the show world, with an old champion. Kate, whom I retired for the second time in 2003, was my once-in-a-lifetime show girl–the consummate show dog.

Immediate success with Kate prompted my next venture, a boy puppy named Henry, who belonged to my niece. Henry’s first time in the ring netted a four-point major. Next day, Henry won his second four-point major! Two days after beginning the road to his championship, he was more than halfway there. A few short months later, I had my first champion, Ch. Ta-Jon’s Oh Henry.

Since that time, I’ve traveled to 30 states, finished 10 dogs to their AKC championships and have pointed several others–my own as well as clients. I’m currently handling the daughter (who recently finished her AKC championship and is currently pursuing her grand championship title) and a son of two of these champions.

And so the journey continues–from local shows to Westminster, the “super bowl” of dog shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It’s been quite the journey since 1989, and the destination remains unknown.