Dog Judging Experience

I had the pleasure of judging the sporting dogs at the Lehigh Valley Kennel Club match today. It was the first time I have judged anything other than Labradors (or much earlier in my life, horses). And, yes, on Super Bowl Sunday, dog lovers take their dogs to a competition or simply pack up the family to go watch.

The purpose of a match show is to give dogs and/or people that are new to showing a place to practice without a great deal of pressure. Puppies may enter as early as three months of age. It also gives judges in training like me a chance to evaluate dogs and practice ring procedure.

I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous judging breeds that were not in my background. I had to prepare by reading the breed standards. Each individual breed has a standard that was developed to describe the ideal dog of that breed, developed for a particular purpose and making it stand out from other breeds. In my breed, the Labrador Retriever, the dogs were developed to be a working gun dog with the head, coat and tail being hallmarks of what is special ( known as “type”).

Of course, there is more than type in play. The structure of the dog is of utmost importance. Correct structure, examples include shoulder angles, knee angles, and neck placement are important to evaluate for long term health. A dog is much more likely to suffer an injury if the structure is poor. Degenerative joint disease risk is decreased when the structure is good.

So, as a judge, I looked for the best example of each breed I could find in front of me today. After I judged all the sporting breeds, the breed winners came back in the ring for me to choose the top four placements of the day. It was not a difficult choice for me to make today. I chose an American Cocker Spaniel for Best in Group. The minute I put my hands on that little dog, I could feel that she was put together like a dream. When her handler put her on the ground to move, she did not disappoint. It was honestly a thrill.

The experience with the cocker is why I started down the path of judging. To find that one dog that stood out among the others. I have more judging assignments coming up in the spring. After today’s experience, I am really looking forward to them!

New Horse in Town

A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I was once a serious horse person. I rode horses for most of my life. In high school I was a hard working competitor. I loved to ride and train my horse as well as others. I managed to hang on to the horse world when I went to college by leasing my show horse, doing a bit of horse show judging and always keeping in touch with my horse friends.

When I went to veterinary school, I was pretty intent on being an equine veterinarian. But, I also loved dogs and cats. When I graduated, I took a job working on dogs and cats and ran an equine practice on the side. After a couple of years, I decided I’d rather have horses than practice on them, so restricted my career to my day job. I continued to ride regularly and did a little Quarter Horse breeding.

About 15 years ago, I was having a lot of trouble with one ankle. It made riding painful. After a couple of years, I had a surgical fusion that took a long time to heal. At that point the horses in my barn were getting old and having health problems of their own. So I rarely rode, unless I was invited by a friend. I mostly mucked stalls, fed and generally cared for three aging horses. Within the last two years I have had two horses euthanized due to geriatric health issues. That left me with one old horse.

I thought about getting a new horse. Pro and cons. I’m not getting any younger, so I knew a young horse was out of the question. But, I also did not want to deprive myself of something that had truly been a part of who I am. So, I began looking around. Parameters were preferably another Quarter Horse, one with a little age, maybe 15 or older, and a retired show horse.

My friend of forty-five years, Dale, in Virginia, had a horse. He had been her daughter’s show horse. A few years back when Dale’s daughter was looking for a new horse, I had been visiting them and accompanied them on the horse buying expedition. The trainer brought this big chestnut gelding out of the stall and I took one look and told my friend she HAD to buy that horse. He was gorgeous. Good structure, healthy feet and a kind eye. Yes, Dale did buy the horse. He went on to have a stellar show career with her daughter. And, if you haven’t guessed yet, he is spending his retirement with me! Welcome to Pennsylvania, Dir!

Amazing Dogs


My dogs have a history of surprising me. Sometimes it is by doing something to prove they are not perfect. The couch in my den has examples of that. My youngest, Bangle, has had more access to that piece of furniture without supervision than she should have. The chewed cushions are proof of that. It’s my fault. I know she is too immature to be trusted alone in the house.

They also surprise me in  good ways as well. More than once lately, Bangle took her turn on the grooming table for a nail clip. She gets very excited to get up there as she knows she will get treats. She puts her front paws up and I help get the rear end up. That’s pretty typical of one of my dogs. But the surprise has come after she is “in place”, she raises her right rear leg toward me for the nail clip. I always start with that foot. The first time she did it, I was stunned. The next time, I was still happily surprised.

Dogs really are amazing. Picking her foot up for me to clip the nails was not something I intended to teach Bangle. But, through repetition and treats, she figured it out. Next, we must address ignoring the couch.

Routine Bloodwork Can Save Your Pet’s Life

Why is routine blood work important?

There is a reason most veterinarians recommend routine blood work. I do it all the time, especially in my older patients. The advantage of doing this was evident only 10 days ago on my own cat. CC, a beautiful three year old calico Selkirk  , was due for her annual checkup. She seemed absolutely fine, happy and playing, eating very well. Her weight remained stable; she is a small cat despite her prolific appetite.


I don’t really know why I did a CBC on her. She had blood work last year when she had a mild issue. Her white blood cell (WBC) count was slightly elevated, I treated her with antibiotics and about a week later her count was down at recheck.


Last week her WBC count came back wildly elevated. Honestly, I was shocked that a cat that appeared so healthy had a value of over 40, 000 (normal is 3,500- 16,000.) When I look at values like this, I think of serious infections somewhere in the body. That evening, I took her home and segregated her from the other pets and started her on antibiotic therapy. It was important for me to be sure she was doing as well as I had thought. In a household with a lot of pets, I was worried that I had missed something. As it turned out, she really did seem fine. She took her antibiotics like a trooper. Never missed a crumb on her plate and was eager to play.


After nine days on the antibiotics, I packed her up for a trip to the hospital for a recheck on her blood. I was anxious, worried that the results would not be what I wanted. But, today, the results were back and CC’s WBC count was less than 20,000, a dramatic decrease in just over a week. I am so relieved. My plan is to continue her antibiotics for another week and recheck again.


In reality, I could have lost my cat to a terrible infection. My guess is one day I would have noticed she was not herself and then she would have deteriorated very rapidly; at that point, there would have been little I could do to help.


Lesson learned. It never hurts to check the blood.

Twinkle Turns Fifteen

My oldest dog Twinkle is fifteen years old today. That’s really old for a Labrador Retriever. She has certainly aged in the last year. It happens. There is no cure for old age. My job is to keep her as comfortable as possible with pain control (you know, those aches and pains that come with old age), good nutrition and weight management, and mental stimulation.

She has been blind for half of her life. She has also been deaf for a year or two. She has a fantastic sense of smell to make up for the loss of those other senses. She likes to dig in the yard; I think she enjoys the smells that digging produces. She likes it when I throw kibble on the floor so she has to sniff her way around to consume every small piece. She likes it when Puzzles, one of the cats, snuggles up to her for a nap.

It’s been years since Twinkle was a competition dog. She earned her AKC championship with ease. She was a natural in the show ring. She was also a natural in the field and earned her Junior Hunter title at a young age. After titling in AKC obedience, Twinkle retired. Her failing eye sight made it more difficult for her. She enjoyed competition, but she learned to love the couch. That is where she spends much of her time these days.
Champion Willcare’s Shooting Star JH CD is a good dog. She always has been. Every day she is still with me is a gift.

Jigsaw’s Legacy

Jigsaw came from a rescue in Philadelphia. Her sister Puzzles, a long haired calico, caught my eye on Petfinder. I drove down to adopt Puzzles and ended up bringing two kittens home as I just couldn’t bring myself to leave the little short haired tortoise sister behind.

On the way home, I was in a traffic jam, so while sitting there, decided to take out one of my new kittens for a cuddle. Jigsaw promptly jumped on the vehicle floor and climbed up into the dashboard. I panicked. I thought my new kitten was going to climb into the engine from there and drop down on the highway among the stationary cars. I had no clue there was something called a firewall to prevent that from happening.

I pulled the car off the road and got out and looked around. No kitten. I decided I needed to check under the hood to see if there was a kitten in the engine. I had to read the owner’s manual to see how to pop the hood. That’s embarrassing to admit, but true. I’m not a car savvy person.
So, looked under the hood, no kitten there that I could see. At this point, I was attracting the attention of nearby car occupants. I explained to them what happened. Then , I saw two tiny legs drop out from behind the dash. I grabbed them and pulled. Out popped Jigsaw. I immediately returned her to the crate with her sister.

The rest of the trip home was uneventful. Puzzles and Jigsaw were incorporated into the household. They developed very different personalities. While Puzzles became  an easy going social kitty, Jigsaw became the opposite. While she would sleep curled up on my bed, she would tolerate only limited petting.

Jigsaw developed expertise as my escape artist. My large fenced in cat yard has been relatively cat proof, but Jigsaw could not be contained. She routinely scaled a tall tree that was wrapped in metal and ventured out on to a long  branch. From there she would perform a dramatic dismount,  leaping about twelve feet through the air making a hard landing on the roof of the house and jumping to the ground from there. Very similar to a large flying squirrel. I gave up trying to keep her in.

This week, Jigsaw went where all cats go after their time with us. She left me with memories of her adventures to make me smile. And her sister Puzzles to warm the bed.

Nursing Home Visits

Pretty much every week I go to visit a friend of mine in a nursing home. For the sake of this blog, I’ll call her Mary. I’ve known her a long time and am well aware of the love she has for animals. Only 10 months ago, after an acute illness, Mary found herself living in a nursing home separated from her beloved cats. Knowing how much her pets mean to her, I found loving homes for her two cats.

I almost always bring one of my pets to visit Mary. It doesn’t seem to matter which one. She is happy to see anything with fur and four feet. I honestly think she is a bit disappointed if I come alone. I generally take turns taking a cat one week and a dog the next week. Mary loves whatever I bring. The animals seem to know that she needs them.

I can’t fix Mary’s health. But I can try to make life a little bit better by providing her with the companionship of a loving pet on a regular basis.

Lots of Labradors

This weekend I had the privilege of judging a match show for the Keystone Labrador Retriever Club. It’s the second time I have done this. It’s my Lab club, many of the exhibitors are friends of mine, but there are also people I do not know; I honestly wanted to do the best job I could for all entered.

I’ve attended quite a few structure seminars, have participated in a lot of shows, and seen at least my share of Labradors. But, it is different when one is evaluating dogs to pick the best examples of the breed shown that day. After seeing each class, studying the angles, coat, feet, dentition, etc, and watching the dogs movement, I picked my favorites. It came down to which dogs I would want most to take home.

Now, this process is not fool proof. Another judge may very well pick different dogs on the same day. It is pinpointing what is most important to an individual. For me, I tend to look for overall balance, no extremes, correctness in structure and a dog that not only can do what it was bred to do, but also has a body that will hold up well into its geriatric years.

A big shout out to the KLRC. Many members contributed to Schuylkill Veterinary Hospital’s Happy New Woof program. I brought home an assortment of items for Military Working Dogs along with donated cash to buy treats and toys that will be sent to some hard working dogs in our armed forces.

Holiday Baking With a Twist

Every year I fire up the oven, get out the cookie sheets and proceed with holiday baking. I know a lot of people that do the same thing. Mine is a bit different though. Instead of the usual snickerdoodles, chocolate chip, etc., I bake liver brownies. Yes, liver brownies. If you Google liver brownies, you will get about 500, 000 hits for recipes. Honestly, the dogs don’t care which is chosen.

I start by defrosting the liver that my hunter friends have saved for me after deer season. I make batches of them for canine gifts and to freeze at my house. I have a favorite recipe (as it is the easiest). I use about one pound of liver, a box of corn bread mix, an egg and some salt. All goes in the food processor until fairly smooth. Then I spread it thickly on a sprayed cookie sheet. I cook it for maybe thirty minutes at 350. Voila! A treat every dog will love. This year I ran out of muffin mix before I was done, so used the quick oats I had in the cabinet. No big deal.

After cooling, I cut them up and store them in zip lock bags. They look just like the chocolate brownies that people enjoy. So……when I take them to a friend’s house, I make it very clear what they are, or they might be in for a rude surprise!

Puzzles’ Checkup

This week was my eight year old rescue cat Puzzles’ turn for her checkup. Even though I see my cats every day, they get their formal checkups every year. I walk the talk, as they say. I did not expect Puzzles to have any issues. But, you never know. Her examination revealed a small weight gain, heart and lungs sounded good, coat, eyes, etc, looked fine. But, the examination of her mouth revealed gingivitis. I was surprised, as generally, my cats have good dental health.

So, Puzzles had routine blood work performed. Fortunately, the results were good. She also had dental work. Her teeth were cleaned and polished. Honestly, there was not a lot of visible plaque present. But there were issues under the gum line. She even needed to have two teeth extracted!

I am so glad this issue could be addressed now before it spread. Bacteria in the mouth can spread to major organs and cause significant problems. So, for now, her mouth is healthy, her gums feel better and I can relax knowing her mouth is no longer painful. I remember seeing Puzzles on Petfinder years ago and driving down to a rescue in the Philly area and bringing her home along with her sister Jigsaw as tiny kittens.  She has always been a good cat with no health issues until now. Hopefully, now that this problem has been taken care of, she will have many years left to hang out on the cat tree.