By: Summer Brons
I originally wrote this post in February of 2011 for a very short-lived personal blog. I often go back and re-read it when I’m feeling mixed up about my choices in life, so I thought I’d share it here now since February has rolled around once again.
“Now that,” I said, motioning to one of the TVs hanging on the wall at a frequented watering hole, shot of Goldschlager in hand, “is the perfect example of a failed dream.” I downed my shot and set the plastic cup on the bar. My boyfriend gave me a quizzical look, glanced at the highlight reels of parading dogs from the previous night’s competition and inquired as to how a dog show represents failure.
The last couple of days have given way to the famous Westminster Kennel Club dog show that takes place each February at Madison Square Garden. It’s an intense, glamorous show with a great deal of history and a cult-like following from both fans and competitors on the American Kennel Club show circuit. As with many events, dog shows are best appreciated if you’re able to personally relate. Dog people are, by and large, a quirky bunch; although I suppose you ought to be if you intend to spend the majority of your weekends traveling around multiple states to campaign your dog with the goal of becoming a Westminster hopeful. Several humorous books have been written on the subject, pick one up sometime if you’d ever like a behind-the-scenes look at the world of canine competition.
I used to show dogs back when I was in middle school, thanks to an English teacher who noticed me reading an AKC rulebook in class between assignments and called me up to his desk to tell me all about how he and his wife bred and showed Bernese Mountain Dogs, and would I like to come along to a show with them one day? Yes, in fact, I would like that, and like it I did. I began showing one of their young females, Peggy, in both breed competition and junior handling classes throughout Oregon and Washington. Turns out, I wasn’t too shabby for an awkward seventh-grader and started attending more shows, meeting more people and allowing myself to start dreaming a little bigger. Beyond youthful visions of one day perhaps earning a living as a professional handler, competing at Westminster was most certainly at the top of my list of goals.
But then, as it often inconveniently seems to, reality stepped up to rain on my parade. Between health problems for my teacher and financial strain for my family, eventually it wasn’t so feasible to fund my dog habit, particularly when I was too young to enter the workforce and bear a bit of the load. The dog shows had to be shelved for a while and suddenly the years began to fly by. One thing has a funny way of leading to another and, often, that chain does not involve circling back around to revisit glassy-eyed childhood aspirations.
That 12-year-old girl happily prancing around the ring with a big black dog certainly had no idea that 14 years later she’d be standing in a dimly-lit bar across the country, clutching a cup of booze and a pool cue while watching clips of the dog show she once thought she’d make it to.
“That’s terrible.” My boyfriend, Thomas, declares. I agree, on principle of disappointment over lost ambitions, but then I shrug and try to briefly think what I’d be doing with my life now if I had kept showing dogs throughout the years. Would I have ended up in South Carolina? Would I still be in the process of actively pursuing a writing career, something I’ve dreamed of far longer than I ever dreamed of Westminster? Would I have developed such fierce affection for turkey bacon and rice cakes?
Who knows. Bottom line – I’ll never know what might have become of me in the dog world, but the point is that none of us ever really know what would have happened if we’d made different decisions or followed alternate opportunities. The only thing we have is the reality of where we are now and the open doors before us that we either opt to explore or refuse to walk through. Honestly, I really don’t even miss showing dogs anymore and I haven’t for quite some time. Westminster each year is mostly a distant pang of, “That could have been me once” more so than it is a, “Why, oh why isn’t that me?!” and quite frankly, I think we can all stand to benefit from those types of pangs from time to time. Gentle reminders to stay alert and focused, to remember what our goals are and follow our passions even as they shift with the changing tides of daily life. Thus, is America’s most famous dog show really a “failed” dream of mine? No, it isn’t.
That being said, here’s my tip for the day: stop wasting energy complaining about the past, use it to make something happen for tomorrow.