Every St. Patrick's Day, the Rough Collie Club of Ireland holds their annual Championship show.
This is the most prestigious show of the year for collie breeders. People arrive not only from all points of the Emerald Isle, but from all across the United Kingdom.
It's a very competitive show. Exhibitors arrive filled with hope and ambition. Competition is fierce. Third in your class gives you major bragging rights. Fist fights have broken out over a ribbon won or lost.
Understandably, the entries are huge, seeming to go on endlessly in every class. All except one. The Novice Dog is the only class that only ever has a single entry...
And each year it is the same entry - one man and his dog.
And each year, as he enters the ring with his collie dog, the audience is hushed. There is an electric feeling of anticipation in the air.
The woman who was judging this year smiled kindly at the exhibitor and asked him to "gait" his dog around the ring. The man and his dog trotted happily around the ring.
The judge then "went over" the dog, all the time chatting to the man on the other end of the leash.
When she was finished, she presented the man with a gorgeous rosette and a big trophy. The audience broke into thunderous applause. The cheering grew even louder as the man and his dog took a victory lap around the ring, the blue rosette flapping from his fingers, the glittering trophy hugged to his chest.
As he exited the ring, people surged around him, competing to shake his hand, to offer him congratulations and to see the twinkle in his faded eyes and the smile on his leathered face.
For you see, the man is quite old, and more than a little rough around the edges. His dog too is well along in years, with a coat that is a little scruffy and a head that never was close to the show standard even in its youth. The "show leash" it wears is a simple length of rope.
The old man and his collie live in an old folks home 150 miles away. But for almost a decade now, he and his canine friend board a bus each year and travel 5 hours to enter this show - the only show they ever go to. The old man has no family left. He has only his faithful canine friend.
The old man always enters his friend in the Novice class. And on this one day of the year, for this one class, the cutthroat world of the average dog show is left behind when the other exhibitors choose not to enter their novice dogs. You see, they don't want to risk beating the old man's dog.
For they know it is important that this class "belong" to the old man and his collie - it is their moment to shine.
And shine they do. When the judge asks if she can see the dog's bite, the old man turns to his collie and says, "Smile for the lady, Laddie." The dog pulls back his lips in a canine grin, showing a perfect set of choppers!
Somewhat startled, but duly impressed, the judge complements the duo, "What a clever dog."
Enjoying the spotlight, the old man is eager to show off his pride and joy. "Oh, he is a very clever dog. He'll shake your hand too if you like!"
Solemnly, the judge reaches out her hand and with a graceful wag of his tail, the dignified collie sits then places his paw onto her fingers.
And so it goes each year. For a few moments, the man and his "best friend" bask in the spotlight of being center stage.
When the man returns to the old folks home with his "show dog", rosette and trophy, he and his collie are genuine celebrities. He spends the next year wearing "his" rosette. Every day he polishes his treasured trophies. He looks forward to next year's show. And while his faithful friend rests his collie face on his master's knee, the smiling old-timer tells (and retells) the story of how they won their trophy last year.
And what does any of this have to do with cats? Maybe nothing. But I find myself admiring those dog breeders... the ones who don't enter the novice class... who miss out on the winning they could have done... and prestige it would have given them. I find myself in awe of those breeders who understand that there are things better than winning. I think of those breeders... and it makes me smile...
Perhaps it is the people involved in the fancy and their relationship with their cat or dog that is the real trophy we should be seeking. Maybe is how we treat one another that makes us blue ribbon winners...
Good luck to all the campaigners. May you all reach your goals.
May you all be blue ribbon winners - in one way or another.