Last weekend I drove up to Ventura to exhibit Laila, my seven month old French Bulldog puppy, in two AKC shows. I had to leave my Bel Air home before dawn in order to bring Laila to the professional handlers that would be showing her for me. I had been a little concerned about the drive for several reasons, the main one being deteriorating vision due to cataract formation in my left eye. Compounding the vision issue was the early hour’s shroud of darkness, combined with a driving rainstorm. Nonetheless, both Laila and I got there safely and early enough for the handlers to have some time with her before the eight a.m. show.
I settled into a ringside chair in one of the two buildings that would be used for the contest, each containing four rings. Because I was so early, there were only three or four other people in the building. I opened up my copy of the NY Times and immediately went for the challenging Saturday crossword puzzle. As I was filling in the words, the hall began filling, with other exhibitors and their dogs. I saw several familiar faces and joined in their conversation. At five to eight, an American flag was raised and a woman sang a beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. At that point the show began.
The judge presiding over Ring 5 was a provisional judge, and it was the first time that he wielded this power with French Bulldogs in an official AKC show. As the decisions are often very subjective, I wondered how my Laila would fare with a judge without a track record. It was my good fortune to be sitting next to an AKC official who was busily making notes in the margin of the official show catalogue. He was very friendly and was surprised that I had taken time to check on the background of the judge. His presence at this ring, at this time, was a direct result of the provisional status of the judge, for he was there to judge the judge! Evidently, during a judge’s provisional period, he is asked to justify his selections and explain the criteria that he used to place the winners. In my opinion he did a pretty good job, having selected Laila as the best puppy and placing her as first runner up among all the females in the competition. (Even though I thought that Laila was the Best in Show). Our day was complete and we headed home, ready to return the next day.
The early morning drive on Sunday was less precarious than the previous day’s trip. For one thing, the rain had passed and we were treated to a beautiful dawn as we drove up the coast. After dropping her off with the handlers I proceeded to the hall where the show rings were being set up. On this day we were scheduled for Ring 4, which was in the other arena. Once again, I got a ringside seat, started my Sunday NY Times crossword and waited for the day’s events to transpire. By the time the National Anthem was sung there were probably about two hundred people in the hall. Respectfully, everyone stood up and fixed their attention on one of the corners inside the building. Although I looked in the same direction, I couldn’t find the flag. I began to feel anxious. Did I now have a blind spot? What was everyone looking at? Where was the flag? I grabbed the guy standing next to me to ask whether he could see the flag. He was as bewildered and disoriented as I, which was of some comfort. I kept looking around the room all the while wondering why the entire group of people remained focused on the one corner. A corner without a flag! The anthem concluded and the show began.
Fifteen minutes later, the answer to this enigma was revealed. There were two halls, two vocalists, two sound systems, but only one flag. And on this day the one flag was in the other hall……thank goodness!
For more pictures of the darling girl and her family. click the Laila & Parents and Frenchie Dog Pix buttons!
After Laila’s great successes in her initial series of shows as a six to nine month old puppy, we returned to the show ring with great expectations for her as a nine to twelve month old contestant in her first Big Girls French Bulldog show.
Unfortunately, in spite of her great looks and exemplary behavior in the ring she failed to claim any of the top spots in the four days of competition held at Industry Hill Expo Center in the City of Industry.
What struck me as odd were decisions by judges in their choice of which dog was awarded the coveted title of Best of Breed. The Bench shows that we attend are strictly beauty contests, and while the personality of the dog can lend a certain panache, the contest is supposed to be waged primarily on the physical attributes of each contestant and how strictly they conform to a set of breed standards. Things like conformation, size, gait, color and hair coat are but a few of the major considerations.
The particular male dog that won the breed title in several of the shows that weekend was by many accounts a fine specimen of the breed. Broad shouldered with a flat top line and a finely sculptured square head, this dog had deservedly earned his Champion’s title.
What made his selection as Best of Breed, on these days, a somewhat dubious proposition was the state of his hair coat. Most of the bystanders that were observing the competition, myself included, noticed something strange. It was hard to put your finger on it, but it was there, and everyone could see it. (Presumably even the judge!). The rumors began to circulate, “That dog is covered in hives,” said some. “That dog is covered with pimples,” said others.
As the dog was led from the ring following his coronation, I ran over to the handler and owner and asked if I could take a look for myself. “So many people are saying so many things about this dog, do you mind if I have a look at him?” With their approval of my doing a brief exam, I was able to ascertain what was causing the mysterious appearance. Indeed, there were no skin lesions, but there was a peculiar pattern in how the hair was growing. The coat was full but there were patches of hair that were growing to different lengths that were interspersed with each other causing the coat to have a variegated look.
Upon sharing my findings, his owner revealed that that was precisely the cause of the mottled appearance and that her boy had been diagnosed with condition that bore the mysterious name of Alopecia X.
I had been familiar with this disease for several years but had never seen this variant presentation. Diagnosed through skin biopsy in combination with an assay of the hormones made by the adrenal glands, Alopecia X is the name given to a variety of dermatological conditions in which the pattern of hair growth is altered. There are a number of draconian treatments involving the suppression of the adrenal gland that can be tried, but due to the potential for serious side effects from some of the medications, combined with the fact that the condition is cosmetic only, most cases are treated with melatonin (yes, the same melatonin that helps you sleep). This benign treatment actually helps in forty to fifty percent of the cases.
Anyway, I left the show grounds with a deep sense of disappointment. But what better way to assuage the disappointment than some comfort food on the way home? And what better comfort food than fresh donuts! The real prize of the day, as it turned out, was the discovery of the apple fritters at Rainbow Donuts on Azusa Avenue in West Covina. So delicious was this confection that I dared bring home half of the fritter, assuring that my transgression would be discovered by my wife. The irony here was that Linda had started a raw foods vegan diet the week before. Her reaction to being urged to sample the fritter is yet another story.
For more pictures of the darling girl and her family, click the Laila & Parents and Frenchie Dog Pix buttons! Stayed tuned for more doggie show adventures with Laila Tov! And to read the story of one of her great early successes, click here! And a new win — Best of Winners! And now, Champion!
I always knew that Laila was destined to be a champion. Most people in French Bulldog circles would logically attribute her conformational charms to her father as he was a celebrated Grand Champion. But what most French Bulldog people don’t know is the fantastic, though less decorated, lineage on her mother’s side. It was always my fantasy to have the photograph of her championship win include the three individuals that constituted the other side of the family. Yes, it was really important for Fessie, Gadi and Modi to be seen at the party.
Going into the weekend of the four shows that constituted the Shoreline/Malibu Kennel club shows at the Orange County Fairgrounds, I was confronted with a dilemma. Laila needed only one win to obtain her championship status. There was no guarantee of her winning on any specific day and so I was in a quandary about how and when to transport the four dogs, and how to maintain control of them at the shows. To arrive at the shows by 7 A.M., I had to leave my house at 6 A.M. I tried to coax my friend, Chuck, into coming with me for the first show, but he was able to come up with a reasonable excuse not to go. I decided that under those conditions I couldn’t risk the breakdown in decorum that Modi and Gadi were likely to supply, and that I would do the next best thing and wear a tee shirt that was decorated with a portrait of the three dogs. If Laila was lucky enough to win the show and her championship at the first show on Friday, I would simply stand behind her in the picture with my chest puffed out, sporting the picture of the three adults. I figured that it was better than nothing.
But then the b’shert moment came. Normally, pictures of the winning dogs are taken immediately after the awarding of the ribbons, but on this day there was to be a detour. Due to the hectic schedule of both the judge and the handlers, I was offered a choice: we could wait for a couple of hours until time became available or we could do the pictures on the following day! The following day sounded pretty good to me. I knew that it would be a sure thing that Fessie etc. would be there for the championship picture and that best of all, my daughter Hillary was going to be coming to the shows on Saturday and would be able to help me maintain control so that there wouldn’t be a scene from Dogs Gone Wild.
Normally, when I go out, I rarely dress myself. My wife, Linda, has been making me presentable for the past thirty five years. While she was visiting daughter, Dr. Melanie, in New York, this week, I have had to fend for myself and after seeing me in the same sweat suit for three days running, Hillary asked if it was my new uniform. I knew that I would need to be more presentable if I was going to be in a picture with my pack the following day. Ironically I was in the closet trying to figure out an outfit to wear — something I never do–when Linda called on Friday night, but this was a really special occasion.
I met Hillary early Saturday morning and we proceeded to the show grounds with the four dogs in the back seat. Hillary’s original motivation to go to the show was not necessarily to be of help to me. That was conveniently an offshoot of her real reason for going. Her dog, Bella, was diagnosed two weeks earlier with a nasal carcinoma and had successfully undergone two Cyber Knife, radiation treatments the week before. Hillary was going to the show to talk with a number of friends and show people who travel with their animals, to get tips on how to certify Bella as a service dog so that she could travel in the airplane cabin on an upcoming trip to Mexico. But by the end of the day, it was obvious that I couldn’t have accomplished what I set out to do if it hadn’t been for all of her help and that 99% of her time was taken up in being indispensable.
Laila was left with Wood and Jenny at their work area which was adjacent to the building where the French Bulldogs were to be shown in ring 1 at 8 A.M. I had also brought a portable kennel, in case Modi or Gadi misbehaved and needed a time out, which I set up near the ring. On the walk from the parking lot to the show area, Hillary maintained good control of the two banditos who sporadically lunged at passing dogs. Fessie remained aloof and imperturbable. We found two seats near, but not too near, the ring. Coincidently, we found ourselves right next to the official photography site. I had some unfinished business to conduct as I was carrying a set of photos which had recorded Laila’s major win at the Antelope Valley Kennel Club show four weeks earlier. The flaw with the photo was that it mistakenly proclaimed this win had made her a “New Champion.” As prescient as that moniker would be, for the sake of posterity, it would need to be airbrushed out. I also reminded Vicky, the show photographer, about the makeup photo shoot from yesterday’s win, and explained my fantasy involving Fessie, Gadi and Modi being in the picture. Reassuringly she was happy to do it and reassured me that it wasn’t so unusual a request and that “you can’t do it by yourself.”
Meanwhile, the showing of the French Bulldogs had commenced. Because she was now a champion, Laila did not have to participate in the preliminary rounds of showing and was able to proceed directly to the finals where the Best of Breed honors were to be awarded. This decision was made following her win the day before. There is an etiquette involved in dog showing that adheres to the adage, “Don’t break the major”. What this means is when you have the option of moving your dog up and bypassing the preliminary groups in shows immediately following the championship win, it would be regarded as a shonda, or unspeakable shame, to skip the prelims, when by doing so, the entry would be decreased by enough to lower the value of the win to something below a three point major. After having discussed this with several of the other owners, I was given their blessings to make the upgrade as it wouldn’t “break the major.”
Well, Laila’s debut as a champion was a great success as she was awarded the title of Best of Opposite Sex. This win provided her with the first step in her quest to become a Grand Champion. We proceeded to the photo area and had the picture taken of Laila, handler Wood Warnall and Judge Shoemaker. I then went to ring 3, where Judge Rella, was judging Miniature French Poodles and reminded him that we had a photo, in fact, THE PHOTO, to do. We agreed that we would meet with the photographer and handlers at the beginning of the lunch break about 90 minutes hence. To kill time, Hillary and I took the four dogs on a leisurely walk through of all things, a flea market that was being held on grounds adjacent to the dog show. We returned to the photography area about ten minutes before the appointed time and while Hillary sat with the dogs I went around reminding one of the Wornalls to be there and then set off to catch Judge Rella as he came out of the ring and escort him to the shoot.
When I finally arrived with Judge Rella, the final piece of the puzzle was in place. Hillary and Jenny were standing with the dogs ready to proceed. The crowd around the photographer’s podium had grown much larger and as the subject of the previous photo alit from the stand, there was a palpable surge of the crowd. But Jenny saved the day! “We’ve been waiting and we are next”, she proclaimed with the vigor of one who is pressed for time. We scrambled to our places on and in front of the podium and amid the surrounding tumult we got the picture that I had been longing for.
When I look back at the effort that was required to make it happen and when I think about Laila’s new title of Champion, it somehow gives conflicting connotations to the phrase “What a Bitch!”
……………And that’s how we got the picture.
Happy Note: This article appeared in The French Bullytin, Vol. 29, No. 2.
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For more pictures of the darling Frenchie Doggie family, click the Frenchie Dog Pix and Laila & Paretnts buttons! Stayed tuned for more doggie show adventures with Laila Tov!
To read what happened next, click here!
To read the story of her first great success, click here!
Cigars all ’round! Dr. B becomes a great-great-great-great grandpa! See the videos — Laila Tov has 3 little puppies!
I was really looking forward to the shows in Palm Springs which were to be held on the first weekend of January. Not only was the venue beautiful — the grounds of The Empire Polo Club in Indio (coincidentally also the site of the famous Coachella Valley Music Festival) — but our hotel accommodations in nearby La Quinta were great. And we got to bring the entire family of French Bulldogs with us. Laila was on a real hot streak, having won six of her eight previous showings with five of the shows qualifying as major wins. I was in an optimistic frame of mind. These shows would really generate some impressive competition. There was an entry of seventy to seventy-six French Bulldogs entered for each day of the four days of competition. Some of the dogs had come from places like Japan, Argentina, Canada, New York and Florida. Laila would be stepping out on a bigger stage here.
One of the first hurdles to be overcome would be how well Laila would adjust to a new handler. My favorite guy, Wood Wornall, had just retired from handling and he and his daughter, Jenny, had split the duties of handling Laila. Laila was now an automatic competitor in the Best of Breed competition, but Jenny had a scheduling conflict as she was obligated to show a male champion in that round. She had arranged for a very able handler, Renata, to take her place. Laila and Renata had about an hour to get acquainted before the showing of the Frenchies commenced at 12:30 that afternoon. And although Laila showed like the champion she is, she didn’t have that extra pop that day and did not place. I left a little disappointed but knew that there were three more shows to go.
The next morning I dropped her off at 7 a.m. to be prepped for the showing that would start an hour later. I returned to the hotel to pick up my wife and returned to the Polo Grounds midway through the showing of the males. The Best of Breed round wouldn’t begin for another hour and a half due to the large entry. I was happy to run into a good friend and colleague who was attending the show with his wife. They have been breeders of the top Bloodhounds for the past twenty years and wife Susan is an internationally known judge. When I see them, invariably good things happen. Of course they were present a month earlier, on the day Laila won her championship. Today was not to be an exception and when the dust cleared, Laila had been named Select Dog! What the hell did that mean, I wondered, as people came up to congratulate me on her accomplishment.
Well, as I found out, being the Select dog is really a good thing. In a sense it seems like a consolation prize but it has all the same benefits as the other titles of Best of Breed and Best of Opposite Sex. The title of Select Dog was created a few years ago by the American Kennel Club as a vehicle for Champions that are competing for the title of Grand Champion. It is awarded solely at the judge’s discretion when there is an outstanding champion in the field that deserves to be singled out but is not awarded one of the top two prizes. The title of Select Dog earns the winner points towards the Grand Championship, as well as the accomplishment of beating other Champions of Record. But best of all, this was the first time that Linda had been present at any of the shows where Laila had won big titles — and she even got excited!
I returned to the show grounds that evening, not with Laila, but with her mother Modi. I had entered Modi in the two shows on Saturday and Sunday. Two years earlier, I had brought Modi to a show in Santa Barbara for the sole purpose of meeting Jenny Wornall and seeing if she would be interested in showing Modi for me. At that encounter, Jenny expressed her admiration for Modi, felt that she had the potential to become a champion but declined the opportunity to show her with the now famous comment, “Fat girls don’t win beauty contests.” Dieting for a couple of months did not change her girth but the ensuing pregnancy, which resulted in Laila and brother Boker, and the opportunity to play every day with two puppies with boundless energy, had slimmed her down. When I showed the now sleek Modi to Jenny she said that now we were ready, but I held off entering her until Laila had obtained her Championship, in order to avoid the direct familial competition and distractions in the preliminary classes. Modi hadn’t been shown in over four years and I wanted Jenny to check her out before she took her into the ring the next day.
The training session that evening was interesting in a number of ways. When I arrived with Modi, I found Jenny and Wood dispensing advice to a couple of Wire Hair Fox Terrier and Cairn Terrier owners in spite of the fact that their day was well underway by the time I had arrived with Laila at seven that morning. Jenny then turned her attention to Modi and tested her taste buds by offering her chicken as a bait. Amazingly, Modi turned it down; I had never, ever seen Modi turn down a snack of any kind. Jenny then tried string cheese with Modi and that was an immediate success. Modi was a cheeser! I slipped out of view and watched as Jenny led Modi through her paces. Modi looked great, walking and stacking and holding her pose like a seasoned veteran. After a few minutes, Jenny handed me the leash and said, “She’s a natural show dog, but do you think that she will go after any of the other dogs in the ring?” Evidently as they were walking, Modi had lunged at several passing dogs. Any time I have taken Modi to dog shows, I have always walked her around the grounds, through the groups of dogs for at least forty-five minutes in order for her to calm down and relax. For the first twenty minutes or so, she is like a flying squirrel on a leash as she goes after every big dog that she passes. Eventually she relaxes and behaves well, and that’s the report that I gave Jenny. I assured her that even with her combative nature, she had never attacked the dog in front of her while in the show ring.
The next morning, I dropped Laila off with Renata and proceeded to the Wornall motor home to announce that I was there with Modi but that I would be walking Modi around and around for a while. She was relaxed in about half an hour and I brought her back to the grooming area to get prepped for her debut. The prep consisted of shaving her whiskers — the clean shaven look is definitely in with Frenchies. Modi was entered in the preliminary class, Open Bitch, and would be shown before Laila and the Best of Breed competition. I was nervous and excited for Modi. I actually found myself rooting harder for her to do well than I did for Laila. She had eleven other competitors in her group and although she posed and strutted with the best of them, she wasn’t singled out for recognition. At least she had impressed Linda, who was amazed that she maintained her decorum in the ring and actually looked great doing it. When Laila and the other champions entered the ring fifteen minutes later, Laila was again singled out and received the Select Dog title. After having her picture taken with me and the judge, Linda and I, along with both dogs in tow, walked around looking in on the various competitions in the rings. We even ran into the judge that had awarded Laila her first major win two months earlier. But so many people kept stopping us and asking about Laila and Modi. It was fun to see how Linda had suddenly developed into a French Bulldog maven as she freely dispensed information and advice.
The final day of the competition was in fact a doubly special day. It was Modi’s sixth birthday! We followed the same routine as the day before. On this day, however, Modi made the cut. When the judge divided the group, she was placed with four others as the top tier dogs, and even though she didn’t get a ribbon on this day, just the fact that she was recognized made me jump for joy (literally). Laila had an off day, looked distracted and finished out of the money, but even that was OK. Overall, her weekend was a smashing success. She had garnered another ten points towards her Grand Championship and showed that she belonged in the ring with some of the top dogs in the country. But the real story of the weekend was the reemergence of Modi. We went into the series of shows focused on Laila and yet somehow Modi’s comeback performance stole my heart. I know Laila will have continued success and will get the Grand Championship she deserves, but I am just as excited for Modi to do well as she works towards a Championship in her own right. And a great mum to Laila Tov. Below, when Modi was just a pup.
Laila again was Select Bitch and now has 23 of the 25 points needed for her Grand Championship. Even brother Boker got into the act and took a 3rd place in Open Dog- we will be hearing more about him in the future.
For what happened next, click here!
And to read the story of her first great success, click here!
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For more pictures of the darling girl, brother Boker, Modi and their whole family, click the Frenchie Dog Pix and Laila & Parents buttons!
On a different note, see the videos — Laila Tov has made Dr. B a great-great-great grandad!
Seaside Park in Ventura, California has always been one of my favorite venues. First of all, an early morning Saturday or Sunday drive up the coast (with no traffic) as the sun comes up behind you is always enjoyable. Secondly, Seaside Park is always cooled by ocean breezes and has buildings suited for indoor showing. However, what will make this venue ever so special in my heart were the events that would transpire during the weekend.
Two weeks earlier at a series of shows in Palm Springs, Laila had continued in her winning ways and her mother Modi had returned to the ring after a four year absence. During her hiatus from the ring, Modi had taken time out to raise a family, namely Laila and her brother Boker (under the watchful eyes of her parents Fessie and Gadi). Both of the girls are beauties, but in very different ways. Laila is very feminine; kind of a Shirley Temple sort of girl. Mother Modi, on the other hand is more like Xena, the Warrior Princess, powerfully built with an attitude to match. In dog fancy parlance, Modi is a real “doggie bitch.” I expected Laila to do well but Modi was the real wild card in these two shows.
In order to get the dogs situated in time for the 8 a.m. showing of the French Bulldogs, I had to leave my house at 6 a.m. I had come down with a pretty severe head cold two days earlier which caused my wife Linda to sleep in one of our daughters’ vacant bedrooms. As a dutiful (and loving) husband I stopped by to say good bye and obnoxiously smother her with kisses. You can imagine my surprise when I found that I had picked the wrong bedroom and that the object of my affection was my son’s friend, Jessie, who had slept over after a night of carousing. You can only imagine his surprise at being pounced on by an amorous husband at six that morning! I did eventually find Linda without further incident.
When I got to the show grounds, I walked both dogs to give them time to relieve themselves. I dropped Laila off and proceeded to walk Modi around until she relaxed- which only took another fifteen minutes. I ran into a couple of handlers who had previously seen me at other shows with Laila. They were blown away when I introduced them to “Mother.” They couldn’t believe that she was six years old and that she hadn’t already won her championship. I missed seeing Jenny’s recently retired dad, Wood, who was in Portland, giving a series of lectures to AKC judges about the finer points of judging the terrier classes, when I left Modi to get the finishing grooming touches that she needed before competing.
As I wandered around the rings before the showing commenced, I ran into my friend Susan, Bloodhound breeder extraordinaire as well as a Best in Show AKC judge. This is always a good omen as seeing Susan always seems to bring good luck. I also ran into an old client who was there showing her Basenjis. But my real surprise was when I recognized the judge that had awarded Laila her second major win two months earlier at the Santa Ana Valley Kennel Club Show. I realized that Judge Boulton would be judging the French Bulldogs the next day and went over to him to once again thank him for his exquisite taste and remind him that he would be seeing Laila again. (I had thought about sending him an e-mail copy of the picture showing him awarding Laila the Winner’s Bitch title, but was advised by Susan that it was an unethical thing to do. Amazingly, I restrained myself.)
The judging of the French Bulldogs began at exactly 8 a.m. The males were judged first, and then came the females. Modi was entered in the Open Bitch class, one of the six classes that made up the entry. Open Bitch is the last class to be judged and when Modi entered the ring with her eight competitors my excitement grew. She was being handled by Jenny’s new husband, Christian, and when the judge gave his nod to Modi I was jumping up and down and clapping……..and so were some of the spectators! What do you know, Modi had a fan club. But that was only the beginning, for right after she had been awarded her blue ribbon, the winners of the five other classes came back into the ring to compete for the title of Winners Bitch. This is a very significant part of the judging for it is the winner of this round that claims the points that are awarded towards the title of Champion! I was rooting so hard for Modi, and sure enough Judge Bassett showed his keen eye and good taste as he awarded Modi this coveted title along with the four major points. But now it really got interesting as the Best of Breed competition began. This part of the competition is reserved for Champions of record as well as the Winners Bitch and Winners Dog (male), which meant that Laila and Modi would be competing in the same ring together for the first time. Modi seemed not to care, but Laila was quite a different story. Imagine if you were a contestant in a beauty pageant and you looked at your competitors and saw your own mother, your mother for god’s sake, and there she was, standing naked, save for the thin lead around her neck. What a shock! Laila couldn’t take her eyes off of Modi. Happily, her handler, Renata, recognized the situation for what it was and she scooped Laila up and cradled her like a baby. This act of gentleness seemed to have the desired effect and Laila got her head together and got back to the business of being Champion Laila. And that’s how she got to be the Select Bitch that day. What a great triumph this was for mother and daughter! What else could top this on the ensuing day? Oh Brother! Brother Boker that is!
We had more company on the drive up to the show on Sunday morning. My son Stephen had decided that this might be a good time to go to his first dog show, now that he had a “dog in the fight” so to speak. In addition, our friend, Sonia, who doubles as Boker’s mother, came to watch. I had decided to show Boker myself. We had practiced together for several times during the preceding week. Over the last year I have had an interest in not only watching the dogs, but in observing the styles and techniques of the various handlers. It seemed to me that the best handlers knew how to keep the attention of the dog and at the right moment get the dog totally focused so that an alertness in the eyes and facial expression was reflected in a rigidity and tonicity of posture. Everyone relied on baits that were constantly meted out during training and showing. We learned that Modi was a cheeser. Laila liked chicken. Some handlers have intense focus, or stoic demeanors and there are some that look like they are genuinely having a good time with the dog. Jenny is certainly in this latter category. Her dad is in a category of his own as he has the most riveting stare as he makes eye contact with his charges. In any case, I thought that I had discovered the key to obedience when I started sharing my favorite beef jerky with Boker in the course of our training. But as I’ve come to realize, the bait is just the basic part; mental connection is the cherry on top.
With Judge Boulton presiding, the momentum from the first day continued. Before the girls were shown, Boker and I entered the ring for the Open Dog class. I was amazed at how quickly Boker had regained his composure after entering the show grounds. In little over a half an hour, he had transformed himself from a wild maniac barking and rushing at all around him to a composed veteran allowing admirers to scratch his outstanding head and rub his back. In the ring he/we didn’t do too badly. A credible performance which culminated in a sit down during our last lap around the ring resulted in a third place finish….but, we’ll be back. The girls duplicated their victories from the day before with a little less drama on Laila’s part. When Laila and I got to take the victory photo with the judge, I was proud to show him the earlier picture and let him in on the identities of Mother Modi and Brother Boker.
One final ironic note. When Renata brought Laila to me after her showing she related that she and her entire team were crazy for Laila — her playfulness as well as her cuteness — and that they thought that she should be called “Pork Chop”! Of all the nicknames for a dog with the Hebrew name: Fessels Nes Gadol Modani’s Laila Tov!
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For more pictures of the darling girls, brother Boker, Modi and their whole family, click the Frenchie Dog Pix and Laila & Parents buttons below! News of the next doggie show adventure with Laila Tov! And to read the story of her first great success, click here!
In the forty years that I have lived in California I have driven to and from San Diego on many occasions. Several landmarks on the journey stand out in my memory: the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant followed by the expanse and isolation of Camp Pendleton and lastly the Grandstand of the Del Mar Racetrack.
The Silver Bay Kennel Club of San Diego holds their annual show on the fairgrounds adjacent to the Del Mar Racetrack. The racetrack was created in1937 by a host of Hollywood celebrities stemming from their passion for Thoroughbred horse racing. Luminaries such as Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien, Jimmy Durante and Oliver Hardy lend their names to exhibit halls or thoroughfares in the area.
Aside from my excitement about the venue, the two shows that weekend offered something really special, the opportunity for Laila to attain her Grand Championship and for her mother Modi, to win her championship. Both objectives were at least possible, but the competition would be tough. Forty six French Bulldog entrants would be competing. In the Best of Breed competition Laila was up against five other champion bitches; and four of them had already attained the Grand Champion title! In order for Modi to win her championship she had to be Winner’s Bitch (the best non champion female) in both shows and there were 19 competitors in each show. On top of that, I would be the one to show Modi as her handlers were away at a circuit of shows in the Midwest.
I had worked with Modi at home for the previous week using string cheese as bait. She really loved that string cheese- and so did I. Not only could I snack on it myself but it was ideal to hold- it never stuck to your fingers and by tearing it lengthwise you could retain control of the morsel even though half of it might be in her mouth. When trying to strike that perfect pose, or stack, as it is called, I discovered that she didn’t like to have her feet moved by manipulating her limbs anywhere near her paws, but was very compliant when the limb was moved by handling the shoulder or the hip. All the while, I tried to incorporate the energy and fun of Jenny Wornall with the Svengali eye contact of her father, Wood.
Prior to our departure from Los Angeles early Friday afternoon, I had made arrangements with Laila’s handler, Renata, to meet later in the afternoon at the showgrounds. But first, we had to check into to our hotel in Del Mar. When you are traveling with two show French Bulldogs could there possibly be a more appropriately named place to stay than L’Auberge of Del Mar? After checking in and getting the room in order, Modi, Laila and I headed off to meet up with Renata, while Linda got some much needed rest. In fact, her participation in this particular whole trip was really touch and go until the last moment as she was barely recovering from a severe respiratory infection.
The trip to the fairgrounds gave Laila and Renata some time to reacquaint, while it gave Modi time to get familiar with the surroundings. It also gave me the opportunity to get some pointers about the techniques involved in getting the best performance out of Modi the next day.
Upon returning to L’Auberge, I found Linda in severe pain emanating below her rib cage. During a spate of sneezing and coughing, she must have torn a muscle. Meanwhile the dogs were getting acclimated to being “city dogs,” dogs that needed to be walked on a leash to void. Laila has always been private about her bodily functions, always seeking the solitude of flower beds and shrubbery, which is enabled by the free access to our yard. On our midnight run to the roses, before going to sleep, Modi cried out while running down some stairs and although she didn’t limp, I could see that something was bothering her. Our room was becoming an infirmary ward — Linda with pain in the front and Modi with pain in the back.
As it turned out, the first day of showing was a total bust. Modi was trying hard, but I could see in her eyes that something was bothering her. Laila looked good, but evidently not good enough to place. If we had tails that were long enough, we would have been dragging them back to the hotel. No championship for Modi this weekend, but Laila still had a chance the next day. On a positive note, my friend Marcel showed me how to put on an armband, in this case #46, without having to ask for assistance. Quite an accomplishment!
Sunday didn’t start off so great as Linda didn’t feel well enough to go to the show. Modi and I dropped Laila off with Renata, and proceeded to walk around the show rings on our ritualistic “calm down” tour. Today we were being evaluated by Judge Sue Goldberg. She had seen a prepubescent Laila about a year earlier at a show in Pomona. But before Laila would enter the ring with Renata in the Best of Breed competition, it was Modi and I who met the good judge first.
I learned an interesting lesson at this meeting. “Never wear clothes that are the same color as your dog” she told me as she looked at my brown and black sport jacket and Modi’s brindle coat. “It gives the judge the impression that you are trying to camouflage a defect.” Ironically, I had considered showing Modi dressed as my alter ego, Dr. Baum, who only wears white! Hmmm……
Modi didn’t place that day either and we settled back to watch Laila and Renata. When it was over, Laila had been named Select Bitch and the points she won put her over the top for the requirements to gain her Grand Championship! Yes!! But the interesting twists continued. When we were taking the winning photo with the caption of Grand Champion, Judge Goldberg confided that her son’s wife was a Baum before she became a Goldberg and that they lived very close to where I had grown up. No relation though. The second twist concerned the winner of the Select Dog title that day, for he, too, attained his Grand Championship with the win. He’s the closest thing to a boyfriend for Laila. They formed a mutual attraction at a show in Ventura six months earlier and have actually rubbed noses on two other occasions.
You can be sure that we’ll be looking for him at the Specialty shows In Vallejo in May.
Since the show, I have been using the Select Ribbon as my bookmark so every day I can reflect on how terrific an achievement this has been.
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For more pictures of the darling girls, brother Boker, Modi and their whole family, click the Frenchie Dog Pix and Laila & Parents buttons! What happened next on the doggie show adventure trail? Click here to find out! And to read the story of her first great success, click here!
Reality has a way of intruding on our illusions. Ever since Laila started on her terrific run to attain her Grand Championship, I felt that I was missing something by turning her over to professional handlers. After all, shouldn’t I really be the one who guides her through her paces as she competes in the ring? My illusion was tested, and shattered, by my experience at the Specialty shows held in Vallejo, California under the auspices of the French Bulldog Club of Northern California.
My quandary about the handling actually started five months earlier when Laila won her Championship title. The Wornall team, Wood, Jennie and Andrew, had rapidly guided her to the championship by garnering the points needed by scoring in four of five shows (all majors). Due to Wood’s incipient retirement, I was told that Laila would need another handler to show her as she continued on in her quest for the Grand Champion title. They took good care of us by introducing us to Renata Drummond, who handled Laila to awards in five of her next seven shows (all majors) which qualified her for her lofty title. With this accomplished, I decided that Laila would be entered in regional Specialty Shows as she prepared for the even bigger National Championship shows that were to follow later in the year.
Neither Renata nor Team Wornall would be able to perform the handling duties for me at the two shows in Vallejo. I was actually elated to have the opportunity of showing her in these contests, for she would be competing against some outstanding contestants, so we practiced for ten minutes each day for the two weeks preceding the shows …. and I thought that we were doing pretty well. I obsessed about finding a stimulant to catch her attention and rouse her from her normal casual attitude. Food, noise, toys as well as my smelly socks were all tried in an attempt to keep her focused and alert.
We arrived in Vallejo, with Laila and Mother Modi in tow, the day before the shows, and checked into our hotel, which was adjacent to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. An oddity about the suite that we occupied was that it used a curtain to cover a large portion of a wall that should have been a window. A first for me.
Modi was on the trip, not as a contestant, but as a companion for her daughter, who, when you really think about it, has never been left alone. Laila has always been with at least one of her family members at all times. Just as the great racehorse, Sea Biscuit, traveled with a goat, whose presence settled the great champion’s anxieties, so will Laila always travel with her mother and never will she need to be left alone in a strange environment.
We had a pleasant evening the night before the show. Dinner at a terrific Italian restaurant on Vallejo’s waterfront, capped off by our first ever visit to a Walmart store, where we bought two canvas chairs to be used ringside at the shows the following day.
The conformation Specialty shows started at nine the following morning at a hall on the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. There were about sixty six entries in each show but what made these shows different was the large percentage of the entry that was made up of Champions and Grand Champions. Twenty of the contestants would compete in the Best of Breed class! There were a couple of other things that set these shows apart. The Open classes were split into color groups, brindles in one and creams and pieds in the other. There were also more age categories in the puppy classes. In addition, there were also separate categories for Veterans, dogs between seven and nine years and one for dogs over nine years. When the elders were being promenaded around the ring, I asked Susan, the show Chairperson, what was the point of this category. The answer made so much sense. These dogs were being shown to demonstrate the soundness of their lineage to the other breeders. I told her that I wished that I could show the magnificent grandparents of Laila, Fessie and Gadi, but lamented that they had both been spayed and neutered respectively. To my surprise, I learned that Veterans could be shown even if they were not intact. I am going to be so excited to show them off at the next Specialty in Santa Barbara, three months hence.
Before the showing commenced, I asked Jenny if she would be so kind as to keep an eye on me and tell me the two worst things that I was doing in the ring. I also asked my friend Arlie to critique my worst faux pas. Linda and I settled into our ringside chairs with Laila and Modi sitting in our laps. Finally, the judging of the Best of Breed was called. Laila and I entered the ring with the other entrants. Normally, it takes ten minutes to judge this class, but today, because of the large size of the group, we were in the ring for close to an hour! I found the experience exhausting. While most of the handlers conserved their movements, I spent most of the time in a squatting position trying to micromanage Laila’s posture. I hadn’t spent that much time in a crouched position since I played catcher in Little League! By the time we left the ring, empty handed, my hips, knees and muscles were aching. Several months earlier, Jenny’s dad, Wood, had confided that one of the reasons he was retiring from handling was the physical toll it was taking on his legs. At the time, I thought he was using that as a “lame” excuse … I know better now.
As I exited the ring, I was met by my biggest fan, my wife, Linda. “You don’t know what the f—, you’re doing!” she cheerfully exclaimed. “You go left, others go right and no one else was squatting like you.” Alas, maybe she was right. Jenny came up to me and said that the number one thing that I needed to correct was the placement of the leash on the neck. I had the leash in the middle of Laila’s neck but it should have been placed right behind her ears for better control of the head and as a prop for keeping the ears erect. Arlie also offered a helpful hint in how to position her hind legs when she was placed on the judging table.
After a two hour lunch break, the second show began. This time, mindful of the critiques I received, we did a little better. The judge, who had flown in from England to do the show, pronounced Laila as “lovely” as he examined her on the table. I asked him not to “hold me against her.” We made the first cut, remaining as a contender after ten of the Champions were excused from the ring, but failed to secure any of the coveted titles.
With me as a handler, Laila may be “lovely,” but nonetheless she was just part of the pack. With handlers like Jenny or Wood or Renata she has a chance to be the Champion of Champions that she should be. As I pondered this reality on the way home, I wondered whether I would continue to aspire to be Laila’s handler. When we arrived back in Los Angeles after a seven hour drive and related the events of the trip to my daughter Melanie, she offered the best observation: “Dad, she’s never going to listen to you. You’re her friend; not her boss.”
And that was a little hard to handle too.
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For more pictures of the darling girls, brother Boker, Modi and their whole family, click the Frenchie Dog Pix and Laila & Parents buttons below!
More story material — Laila Tov becomes a Mommy!
I was eagerly anticipating the weekend of shows at the Earl Warren Show Grounds in Santa Barbara for several reasons. For one thing, after her Best of Opposite Sex award at the South Bay Kennel Club Show, earlier in the month, I felt that Laila was hitting her stride and was ready for the top competition…..and in these shows, that’s exactly what she would get. I finally had learned how to navigate the AKC website and decided to check how many Grand Championship points she had amassed. Much to my surprise, she was the sixth ranked French Bulldog in the state of California! But it got even better—she was the second ranked bitch in the state and was ranked twenty-ninth nationally among all Frenchies. But as I said, she would be tested, as the nation’s top ranked bitch and California’s top ranked bitch would both be in the competition.
Secondly, Linda and I were invited to the annual party for French Bulldog exhibitors to be held on the beautiful Saint Francis Ranch. I had heard so much about the unique features of the property as well as the graciousness of our hostess for the evening and we were looking forward to the party. But most exciting of all was the anticipation I felt, that I, personally, was going to show my two wonderful Veterans, Fessie and Gadi, grandparents to Laila and parents to Modi, in the French Bulldog Club of America Specialty Show.
And that’s how Linda and I found ourselves driving up to the Fess Parker Resort in Santa Barbara with our family of four French Bulldogs piled high on their bedding in the back seat of our SUV. Upon arriving at the hotel, I was happy to see that our accommodations included a large rooftop terrace for the dogs and us to relax. I must admit to having some butterflies about the showing of Fessie and Gadi even though the showing of the Veterans is more like an exhibition than a competition. In our practice sessions at home, Gadi was easy. He trotted around on leash like a natural show dog and held his stack while on the judging table. Fessie was a different story, however. Standing still wasn’t a problem for her, but trotting around on a leash at my behest was not her priority. After a few steps, it was dayanu, enough, and she would plant her feet and look at me as if saying, “So what are you going to do now?”
The first show, under the auspices of the Simi Valley Kennel Club, was held on Friday morning. After a short walk I dropped Laila off with Renata and Modi with Jenny and drove back to the hotel to pick up Linda. Fessie and Gadi stayed in the room to watch Fox News. It was my luck to sit down ringside next to my friend, Allen, who literally had a problem on his hands……his twelve month old bitch was scared and refused to walk on leash. With visions of Fessie in my head, that was all I needed to increase my anxiety. The judge that day had evidently lost his glasses as Modi finished second in her open class and Laila went unawarded.
During the show we received directions to the ranch. My wife Linda, always the epitome of proper etiquette and good taste, inquired of our hostesses as to whether they would like us to bring some wine to the soiree. I reassured Linda that it wouldn’t be a problem to gas up and procure the wine on our way to the party. However, the best laid plans can often go awry and within a few minutes of leaving our hotel, we found ourselves on a desolate road ascending the mountains that separate Santa Barbara from the inland Santa Ynez Valley. All the while, I was cognizant that my gas tank was emptying and that in this wine growing mecca, there wasn’t a store that sold wine to be found! How embarrassing it would be to show up empty handed after specifically bringing up the subject with our hostesses. Luckily, I realized from the directions that the ranch was located about two miles from the entrance to Lake Cachuma Recreation Area. Years ago, when my kids were young, we took several RV trips to the Lake. As we approached the entrance to the ranch, I decided to take a gamble and proceed to the Recreation Area. Fortunately for me, the area was as I remembered it — complete with a gas station as well as a General Store that sold local wines!
Within a few minutes we were back at the entrance to the ranch and proceeded up the mile and a half long driveway. On the way to the ranch house, we passed a herd of zebra, a herd of water buffalo as well as a these incredible African Longhorn cattle sporting horns that were at least five feet long. Upon reaching the main house, we were greeted by our hostess, Alex, who escorted all of the bulldoggers on a tour of her gardens. The gardens were intriguing, featuring many varieties of cactus and succulents with interesting sculptures interspersed throughout. Alex was very knowledgeable but she was even more than that. In spite of having ample help on the ranch, she was hands on,selecting and planting her own specimens. This was in line with her involvement with dog showing. Alex has had the top winning French Bulldogs for the last several years and unlike many of the owners who campaign their dogs by having them travel all over the country with paid handlers, Alex and her sidekick Debby actually go to all the shows.
Before we went into the house for dinner, I asked to be shown a unique snake fence that had been erected to keep the dogs safe from the rattlesnakes that frequented the surrounding acreage. The fence featured an outward projecting phalange at the top which essentially turned the snake backwards and upside down when it tried to slither up and over the fence, thus causing it to fall back to the ground.
As I entered the house I felt a prickly sensation in my side. After pulling my shirt up in the corner of the living room, Linda suggested sojourning to a bathroom where she could investigate my problem more discreetly. Either I had brushed up against a cactus or a cactus had taken a swipe at me, for what she found were scores of the little stickers in my side. While most were removed over the next ten minutes by taking adhesive tape and doing a Brazilian wax job on my side, it took several more days until the last of them were removed.
I knew most of the people as we had been seeing each other at the shows over the last year and a half. However, I had the pleasure of meeting the owner of the nationally top ranked French Bulldog bitch, Patty Hearst Shaw, who was here from the east coast to root her “Diva” on. She must have been a good rooter, for “Diva” had won Best of Breed in the Friday morning show.
On Saturday, there were two shows scheduled. The morning show was an all-breed show under the auspices of the Santa Barbara Kennel Club and the afternoon show was the French Bulldog Specialty Show under the auspices of the French Bulldog Club of America. Fessie and Gadi were to be shown in the specialty show in the afternoon and they spent the morning with Linda back at the hotel while I took Modi and Laila to compete in the morning show. This time I sat with my friend Linda and unbelievably, she had the same issue that Allen had experienced the day before — her entry, a nine month old bitch, was too scared to walk around the ring and had to be withdrawn! At this point I was out of my mind, certain that Fessie and I would be humiliated and disqualified when I attempted to show her. Coincidently, the judge had also misplaced her glasses and we had the same results as in Friday’s show.
Finally, the show that I was waiting for was about to start. I had gone to the hotel and picked up Fessie and Gadi and Linda, and there we were at ringside watching the preliminary classes. Modi won her open bitch class and eventually was named Reserve Winners Bitch (or conversely the title of Best of Losers as my friend Dr. Hamil laughingly says). It was now Gadi’s time to enter the ring — for his first time ever! He didn’t miss a step as he jogged around like a champ. Placed on the judging table, he stacked up and let the judge examine him without moving a muscle. “How old is this dog?” asked Judge Meen. “This dog certainly looks great!” was his response after learning Gadi was seven-and-a-half. I couldn’t resist telling him that he would be meeting Gadi’s wife, ten-and-a-half year old Fessie in a few minutes and that he had already awarded daughter Modi with Reserve Winners. And, oh yes, his granddaughter, the Grand Champion, Laila will be in the Best of Breed competition. We did another lap around the ring to the applause of the crowd.
And then it was Fessie time! And what a time it was. She rumbled into the ring and continued her determined gait. No pausing today, no stopping today and no sitting today. The applause increased as she was stacked and continued on her last lap. Even though she was unopposed her blue ribbon and title of Best Veteran Bitch was certainly well deserved. How proud I was.
In the Best of Breed round, Laila was given an Award of Merit. What the hell was that, I wondered? As defined by the AKC that award is “one of the highest awards that is given at a specialty or championship show. It signifies that the dog was in the running for Best of Breed, and, in the judge’s opinion, a top quality specimen worthy of wins at a National level.” Sounds impressive but no Grand Championship points are awarded. Still, we all went back to the hotel happy and relieved. And we had momentum going.
Linda and the Veterans took Sunday off while Modi and Laila and I went back to the show grounds. Coincidently, I had decided to wear my Panama hat and when I got to the arena several other exhibitors were wearing totally outrageous hats. “It’s Hat Day,” Arlie, Debby and Alex exclaimed, which made me feel right at home. Modi again was given the Reserve Winner title but Laila hit the jackpot winning Best of Opposite Sex- that is the best female in the entry of seventy-five contestants. Judge Lajeski, who showed such exquisite taste, was actually a last minute substitute. The scheduled judge had to withdraw due to a family medical emergency. Coincidently a year and a half earlier, in Laila’s second show, and in Judge Lajeski’s first time judging French Bulldogs, he had awarded Laila the Reserve Winners Bitch title. He was pleased when I informed him of his consistency. Even Laila’s handler, Renata, was so excited that she decided to be in the award photo that followed.
Well, the family affair could hardly have been more successful. But it was about to get even better. I learned that the entire weekend’s shows had been photographed and that the photos would be available for purchase. So many terrific shots of Fessie and company while they were in the ring. So what did I do? Of course I ordered a custom album, just like the wedding and bar/bat mitzvah albums that help us relive the memories of happy times.
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NEWS FLASH, 2014: LAILA TOV TAKES WESTMINSTER! Winning Grand Champion, and now appearing online in the NBC segment featuring 3 of America’s Top Dogs from the prestigious event!
For more pictures of the darling Frenchie Doggie family, click the Frenchie Dog Pix and Laila & Parents buttons! Stayed tuned for more doggie show adventures with Laila Tov! And to read the story of her first great success, click here!
MORE BIG NEWS! LAILA TOV GIVES BIRTH TO THREE GORGEOUS PUPS!
The kids at 25 days are on view on our Facebook page. Keep checking to see the kids as they grow up!
Today was a first for me at the dog show. I actually knew the judge of the French Bulldogs, having exhibited with him over the past year and a half. I had gotten to know him through many conversations as well as having been the recipient of several of his veterinary referrals. In addition, he knew both my dogs (er … bitches) well and had made a number of complimentary remarks about them. He and his wife sponsored my membership in the Southern California French Bulldog Club. I had always heard that cronyism played a huge part in the dog show world. But today I wondered whether I would be the beneficiary of it. In fairness, because the judge was a breeder that showed his dogs locally, he had some type of relationship with most of the exhibitors this day. The question was, what kind of relationship did he have with each individual? This question, of how these relationships would affect the judging, was relevant to me not only on the obvious concern about the day’s placements of my two beauties, but on an even more personal level. I have been in the process of joining the Kennel Club of Beverly Hills. The Club hosts a puppy match each year, and being the host club obligates them to provide the judges as well as support staff. Club members are expected to participate by volunteering for specific assignments. I was assigned to do the judging of the French and English Bulldog puppies (which is one of the first steps to take to attain my goal of being a certified AKC judge). I imagined that I would know more than a few of the people that would be showing their dogs that day and I wondered whether it would be at all possible to judge with pure objectivity. It’s easy to talk the talk, but until the day comes that I step into the ring as a judge, I won’t know if I can walk the walk. And so the dogs were shown. Modi, in spite of looking like the best of the bunch, didn’t place and Laila won her customary Select Bitch title. Renata, the handler, was so disappointed in the judge’s decision in regard to Modi, that she chose to forgo appearing in the winners photo. As I placed Laila on the photo table, both the judge and the photographer aided in posing her. But Laila was distracted and kept turning around. The woman waiting behind us, whose dog had won Winner’s Dog, offered a handling tip, “Stick your finger up her ass, that’ll stop her!” To which I replied, “I do that for a living—today I’m on vacation.” After the picture was shot, Laila and I made our way out to the parking lot where we were going to pick up Modi at Renata’s air conditioned van. (Did I mention that the temperature was in the mid-eighties at 10 a.m.?) On the way we ran into another French Bulldog exhibitor who spread the rumor that within the last two weeks, the judge had bred one of his bitches to the dog that he had selected as Winner’s Dog. Judging… I just love it.
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And now, announcing ….
For more pictures of the darling girls, brother Boker, Modi and their whole family, click the Frenchie Dog Pix and Laila & Parents buttons! Stayed tuned for more doggie show adventures with Laila Tov! And to read the story of her first great success, and then find links to the steps along the dog show trail, click here!
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From the first day that Laila’s name appeared in a show catalogue, fellow exhibitors have asked me what is the meaning of Fessel’s — Nes Gadol Modani’s Laila Tov. What kind of name is that for a little French Bulldog? The answer is quite simple: Tradition!
We bought our first French Bulldog in June of 2003. On the way up to Apple Valley, Linda and I bandied back and forth about what we would name our new puppy. Most initial suggestions centered on French sounding names. But being somewhat Francophobic and wanting to provide a moniker that was unique, we let these names fall by the wayside quickly. We got to the kennel, decided to make the purchase, and then began our two hour drive back home, a chubby little four month old bulldog puppy comfortably nestled on Linda’s lap. The key word here is chubby, because that was her most distinguishing and appealing characteristic. It was a logical and easy decision to use the endearing Yiddish term for chubby, Fessala, to name our new puppy. The term stuck for a couple of days, but because it had three syllables, it didn’t quite roll off the tongue easily. Fessala quickly became Fessel, which morphed into Fessie.
Three years later, Fessie’s eighteen year old Toy Poodle companion, Jacques, died. Fessie reeled from the loss and went into a depression. I decided that not only did she need a companion, she needed a mate. Now Fessie is certainly the source of all beauty, and what she deserved was the handsomest of handsomes. Procuring a dog like this turned out to be a herculean task, for none of the breeders wanted to part with a specimen of that caliber. It was only a series of miraculous twists and turns that landed us in Fallbrook, where we got to view just what I was looking for. He was only three and a half month old, was twice the size of his littermates, and his fawn coloring showed his wrinkled brow to advantage. Immediately, we knew he was Gadi — a familiar name derived from the Hebrew word gadol, meaning big. Growing up, I learned that the most common usage of the word gadol was in the phrase nes gadol, which means big miracle. This phrase was used to describe the miracle of Hanukah, where a small amount of oil, which should have lasted only a day, managed to keep the eternal flame in the temple going for eight days. Considering the miraculous way that we found Gadi, and the fact that he didn’t urinate on our bedroom carpet in the middle of construction being done in our house at the time, we knew that we had a Nes Gadol Gadi.
It didn’t take long for Fessie and Gadi to bond, and when Fessie’s heat period arrived four months later, Gadi was up to the task. You might say that he rose to the challenge with a bang. Three weeks later an ultrasound revealed that Fessie was with child, four of them to be exact. In my paranoia of not wanting to operate on my own child when she needed a caesarian to deliver, and not wanting to put the intense pressure on my associates to be responsible for their boss’s dog during her delivery, I turned to an outside source of surgical specialists that we routinely refer clients to. In spite of these arrangements, something went terribly wrong and three of the puppies never awoke. It was like an atomic bomb had gone off inside of me. I was sick that Fessie had carried these babies to parturition only to have their lives snuffed out. But there was one survivor and I needed to convince myself to be thankful for that…..she would be the legacy for Fessie and Gadi. In the brainwashing effort that followed to reinforce that notion that we were lucky to have one survivor, the Hebrew phrase, modeh ani, I am grateful, kept coming to mind. It had always been a favorite of mine ever since I first heard Melanie use it during her days at Milken High School. Modeh Ani became Modani, which later was shortened to Modi. To this day, whenever the normal aggravations in life crop up, it is modeh ani that comes to mind to remind me of how much I have to be grateful for, and to put the problem into perspective. And it works.
Modi grew to be a beauty. And just like Fessie, she deserved to be mated to the handsomest of the handsomes. After a two year search, I procured the services of just the suitor that I wanted. Unbeknownst to me at the time that I had selected him, he had been one of the top French Bulldog show dogs in the country. He was a slightly smaller version of the fawn Gadi and I expected that the offspring would either be fawn or brindle, like Modi. To my surprise the two puppies that we delivered were as different as day and night in size and color, and that’s how they got their names: Boker Tov, or Good morning in Hebrew, was a brindle and his sister, Laila Tov, or Good Night, was shockingly a Pied. I later found out that their paternal grandfather was a pied who happened to also be a hot stud.
By the time Laila was two-and-a-half she had matured into arguably the nicest French Bulldog bitch in the country. Her achievements included a title of Grand Champion (Bronze Level) as well as garnering the Best of Opposite Sex title at the French Bulldog Club of America, New York Metropolitan Specialty Show which was held the day prior to The Westminster Dog Show, with all the same dogs competing. It was BIG! Although not as prestigious, it is Modi’s story that is actually sweeter. Modi eventually became a Champion in her own right, getting her final win at the Pasadena Kennel Club show at the age of seven years and four months of age. She didn’t start her show career until age six. One of my biggest thrills was watching the expressions on the judge’s faces when I told them her age. But perhaps the biggest reason for my elation at her crowning was the realization that this was one step closer to validating the greatness of the two who never got a chance to show the fancy what great champions they are…..of course, Fessie and Gadi.
And yet, with all of this tradition behind her, Laila’s handler, Renata, prefers to call her Porkchop!
February 14, 2014 was celebrated in most households as Valentine’s Day. For some families it was celebrated as a romantic wedding anniversary. But in our household it was to be celebrated as the eleventh birthday of Fessie, the source of all beauty, for our family of French Bulldogs. IT WAS ONLY TWO DAYS AFTER OUR TRIUMPHANT RETURN FROM THE Westminster Kennel Club show and the French Bulldog Club of America’s New York Metro shows, where the current keeper of the genes, granddaughter Laila Tov, was named Best of Opposite Sex in the Sunday Specialty. I raced down the stairs to greet Fessie and her mate Gadi, eager to give Fessie a big birthday hug. To my horror, when she was stirred from her sleep she went into a grand mal seizure. I didn’t want to believe my eyes, but when a second seizure ensued on our way home from my animal hospital, I knew that I couldn’t just wish it away. Subsequent tests revealed the presence of a cancerous brain tumor and the following week a series of stereotactic radiation treatment were done.
It was a slow recovery, Fessie having been anesthetized five times in a ten day span, but with the help of medication to reduce the pressure in her skull she gradually regained her awareness and strength. A side effect of the medication was that it caused her to drink and urinate excessively and uncontrollably. Linda and I found ourselves soaking up the urine with towels, bath towels to be exact. Now, Linda is a meticulous homemaker, but her love for Fessie allowed her to overcome her aversion to the constant soaking up and cleaning. However, by the second week her original mantra of, “I love her so much that I don’t mind cleaning up after her,” had morphed into, “Your dog urinated on the floor again.”
We really had no idea of what to expect in terms of her longevity. We were hoping for four to six months of good quality of life for her. A running joke, as each day, week and month passed was how the original twelve thousand dollar cost of the treatment was being calculated and amortized on a per day basis. As the fourth month came to an end with Fessie back to her old self, I laughingly noted that we were now down to one hundred dollars a day……and it was worth it. After eight months, the daily tab was down to fifty dollars….what a bargain!
While all of this was transpiring, my attention turned to Laila and the prospect of her carrying on Fessie’s lineage. Linda had been a real trooper living in a four dog household. Four days a week, Laila’s brother, Boker, came visiting, and the canine population swelled to five and on Shabbat, our daughter, Hillary visited with her dog Kaya. The edict came down: no more than four permanent residents would be tolerated and so when Laila’s heat came on her third birthday, June 14, I postponed the tryst that had been prearranged with the French Bulldog Best of Breed Westminster winner who resided in Tennessee.
I knew that Fessie’s recovery could not last indefinitely and in my head I wanted to give special homage to her by naming Laila’s future litter, Fessie’s great grandchildren, something special. Even more than having the kennel name of Fessel be the first name of any of our dogs, I wanted more than ever for the puppies’ names to commemorate her spirit. It was while reading a book club selection, The Prime Ministers that the names came to me. In describing the wife of Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, it was said that she had the kindest and sweetest nefesh, or essence. While I had heard the word before in different prayers, I had never known its meaning. When I asked my daughter, Doctor Melanie, she offered two more Hebrew words that were almost synonymous — ruach (breath of life) and neshoma (soul). Now, if I was lucky enough for Laila to have at least three puppies, I now had suitable names.
During the summer, I arranged for Linda and me to fly to Nashville to meet up with my other daughter, Hillary, who was in the midst of a cross country road trip. The plan was to travel with her to Memphis and Little Rock but I also had an ulterior motive to join her on that particular leg of the journey. As I said earlier, Laila’s proposed mate lived outside of Nashville and although I had met the dog and his handler on two occasions at shows, I had never gotten a chance to meet his owners. As I explained to Linda, “These people are going to be like my in laws, I’d better find out what they’re like.” And not only were they nice, but also very interesting, having escaped the crushing of the Dubchek government in Czechoslovakia, during the Prague Spring in 1957, by virtue of having been in London at the time while attending a dog show.
Everything seemed all set as I waited for Laila’s next heat which was expected in mid to late January of 2015. And then several things happened which derailed the best laid plans………………… Fessie seemed better than ever, and we thought, maybe she has been cured, but on January 18th she had a series of seizures and we returned to reality. I was determined to give the radiation another try as it had succeeded beyond our original expectations. By a bizarre coincidence, Fessie’s scheduled MRI fell on the exact day and time that Linda had scheduled months earlier for her own elective surgery. It was quite a morning, dropping Linda off in Beverly Hills at six AM, returning to the house to pick up Fessie and then drop her off for her procedure in Culver City.
Rather than sit idly and ruminate, I decided to take a long bike ride and await the doctors’ calls to let me know that both patients were doing well. I was in Playa del Rey when I got the first call. I assumed that I was talking to Fessie’s radiologist, but after a few minutes of conversing, I realized that I was actually talking to Linda’s doctor when he told me that the nurse would be picking her up at two that afternoon. I said that there must be a mistake because I would be picking her up at two, and then I realized my faux pas.
Two days later, Fessie started the first of her three radiation treatments. This time her recovery has been slower and more difficult. Just as Fessie finished her treatments, Laila started her heat on February first. By timing her previous heats, I had calculated that she would be in her fertile period between the fourteenth to the sixteenth of February. The problem with that was that her boyfriend would be leaving Tennessee on the twelfth of February to come to New York to defend his Westminster Title and compete in the two Specialty shows that would precede Westminster on the fourteenth to the sixteenth of February. This meant that his owner would not be available to collect, prepare and send the semen out on the days that I (we) needed it. No problem I thought. Surely someone in New York City was a reproduction specialist and could do the job. But calls to the prestigious Animal Medical Center as well as other referral practices in Manhattan were to no avail. I even called my Westminster Kennel Club connection to see if any of the show’s vendors would include a reproduction service, but amazingly there was no one. (This was extremely mind blowing as practically every show that I attend on the West Coast includes a repro service as one of the vendors). But I did not stop to cry over lost love and quickly shifted to plan B by setting up a liaison with another handsome boy whom I had admired in local shows. Ironically we performed the artificial insemination on February fourteenth, Valentine’s Day, and of course Fessie’s twelfth birthday. How fitting it was that Fessie’s seed would go on in this manner.
As of this writing, I don’t know if the mating will be successful and I don’t know if Fessie will survive to see her great grandchildren…….and it may be better that I don’t know at this point. Why would I want to spoil such a beautiful story? A special thanks to my friend Dr Rachel Schocket, who after hearing the verbal rendition of this story, helped me frame the title and time span by saying that the story had such nice symmetry.
Not….unfortunately not. Thirty days after her Valentine’s Day tryst with a pipette of semen, courtesy of Homer, an ultrasound confirmed that Laila was definitely not pregnant. What went wrong I kept asking myself, but the more that I thought about it, the more that I convinced myself that it just wasn’t bershert, and for good reasons. Over a year ago, when circumstances had gotten to the point that it seemed as if Linda and I were living with the dogs and not visa versa, I promised her that I would limit our resident canine population to four. In addition to Fessie, Gadi, Modi and Laila, when brother Boker came to visit four days a week and distant cousin Kaya came on Shabbat, the dog population frequently was more than their human counterparts. Laila was young, Fessie was aging and had a serious illness and it didn’t seem as if my promise would ever be put to the test. But it was. Having passed on breeding her on her previous heat, eight months earlier, I felt an urgency about the ticking of Laila’s biological clock. Realistically, I felt that I only had three more chances to breed her, starting with the heat that was fast approaching, and although I knew that I would be breaking my promise, I caved in to the pressure. And what made it seem so right was the way the timing went – for god’s sake, she was going to be bred on Valentine’s day which coincidently was her grandmother, Fessie’s, twelfth birthday. How great was that going to be? When I wrote the story, The Year of Perfect Symmetry, the general feedback was very positive; beautiful and touching were the words frequently used to describe it. I did have one critic who excoriated me for writing it. “It’s out with the old and in with the new. You are trying to kill Fessie with puppies,” said Linda. As I projected ahead to the timing of Laila’ next heat period, I realized that the timing couldn’t be worse, but then again there is a possibility that it couldn’t be better. In early October this year, the French Bulldog Club of America will hold the National Championship competition in Louisville, Kentucky, and that is very close to the time that she will be fertile. It could work out that she is going to be ready to breed during the week of Specialty Shows. She’ll be among the hottest studs and could have her way with any of them. But then again, if we are off by a few days, there might be the difficulty of transporting the semen to us, as we will be on the road, first to Lynchburg, Virginia to visit with family and then off to New York to visit with Dr. Melanie and attend my 50th high school reunion. Another bizarre twist occurred in relation to Fessie’s health. As I stated before, Fessie had much more difficulty following this second round of radiation treatments for her brain tumor. As the uncertainty of Laila’s pregnancy played out, Fessie got even weaker and had more problems breathing due to her laryngeal cartilages collapsing as she breathed. It got to the point that Linda and I were tearfully considering euthanasia. Fessie, she who epitomized the joy of eating, even stopped eating due to difficulty swallowing. But then a strange thing happened. As soon as Laila’s non pregnancy was confirmed, Fessie started recovering. In the ten days since the ultrasound she has steadily increased her activity. Her appetite has returned and her breathing has gotten much better. At this rate she would have been around to greet the great grandchildren but we will have to be content to know that she will be here through the fictitious gestation of her granddaughter, Laila. I love my wife. She is always right. I love my wife, she is always right. I love my wife, she is always right.