When “pet show” comes to mind, I think of exotic pets in cages and pristine dogs galavanting around a large indoor track, standing alongside their owner, who is typically dressed in standard business attire. I had never been to a pet show. Before this weekend, my only two points of reference were the Christopher Guest satire, “Best In Show,” and the National Dog Show, which to my eternal dismay appeared every Thanksgiving following The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. One can only imagine the bias, and frankly, ignorant outlook I had when I went to Lehigh Acres to cover their annual pet show.
Shortly after entering the grounds, we are introduced to Jackie, a local area pet groomer with a zest for life and a strong passion for animals, even cats, to which she is allergic. Jackie’s charisma and fondness for pets is undeniable. As contestants and their owners started arriving, Jackie welcomed both people and animals with open arms. She set the tone for the entire event, and a particularly positive one at that.
Flipping through the chart of pets listed to compete in the show, Jackie fills us in on each pet’s unique story. First, she explained the story of Moose, a wonderfully named one-and-a-half-year-old Chihuahua, appropriately decked out in a sombrero and decorated poncho, who has fought for his life more than three times in the past year. Watching Jackie begin judging is not unlike a performance. Dancing from pet to pet, her interactions are purposeful and kind. She does not play favorites. Each encounter is as meaningful as the next. For Jackie, this day is not about finding the most burly statured pup with a handsome coat.
“The pet show is for fun, it’s for the people just to come out and showcase their pet and have fun. Basically, that’s what we look for: the animal that’s having the most fun.
Today’s show is not about prestige, or fixating on specific movements or fur color, but instead an appreciation for each pet’s existence. Here, in this space, there is a category for just about every animal. Jackie celebrates some of the more noteworthy categories including, “Best Kisser” and “Best Personality”. While some dogs (and a cat) opted for tutus, hats, and vests, others wore their birthday suit and still placed.
Jackie introduced us to a couple and a woman, both were complete strangers with two rescued Greyhounds. They explained their experience with 45 MPH Couch Potato Greyhound Adoptions, Inc., a non-profit charitable organization that works with tracks and kennels, to actively find homes for Greyhounds. The pet owners discovered that their Greyhounds were adopted from the same organization, and instantly bonded.
This event shattered all of our expectations. It dawned on us that this was unlike any movie scene or point of reference that we had in mind before arriving. We left the show with full hearts and tremendous admiration for Jackie and the pet owners, and all of the passion they have for their pets.