Andrea looked up when she heard the front door open at Good Dogs Come to Heaven Training Center. Patty from Happy Dance Pet Supplies was in the lobby. “Hey, Patty. Are you here to sign up for a Rally class?”
Patty laughed. “Actually, it’s my turn to ask a favor. Our kennel club is holding an obedience match tonight and some of my stewards cancelled. I wondered if you could help out.”
“I guess so. Where and what time?”
“We’re having it at the fairgrounds. Judging starts at six. Could you be there before that?”
Andrea calculated time to walk her dogs and change clothes. “Can do” she nodded.
“I really appreciate it. Just to show you how grateful, I’ll assign you to Mike Fuller’s ring.”
Mike was one of the younger, and better looking, obedience judges in the area. He also had a reputation as being fun to work with.
That evening Andrea took a little more time than usual choosing what to wear for her stewarding assignment. She knew from experience that the fairground buildings were old and drafty. On the other hand, she also knew she would be moving jumps and working up a sweat. She finally decided on layers: long-sleeve cotton tee beneath a quarter-zip pullover. A bright green vest topped it all.
Once she arrived at the fairgrounds Andrea was surprised to find several different events taking place. In the Home Economics building people were setting up for an Arts and Crafts show and a Small Business Expo was in the Main Hall. She finally located the kennel club show in the 4H building. A wide center aisle bisected the building with three rings staked out on either side. Andrea checked in with Patty who confirmed her assignment to Mike’s ring. Mike was judging the Open A class. Looking across the barn-like building, Andrea could see he was already at his ring pacing out the heeling pattern and putting chalk marks in for the Figure 8 and jumps placements. She watched for a few minutes as he moved quickly about the 40’ by 50’ gated ring area. Even from this distance she noted his neatly cut brown hair and trim build.
“Hi, Boss” she greeted as she approached the ring. “I’m Andrea Daly, and I will be your steward this evening.”
“Hello, Andrea. Nice to meet you. Are you a kennel club member?”
“Nope. Just a friend of Patty, the match chairperson.”
Mike immediately assumed she had never stewarded before and began explaining the ring procedure and sequence of exercises. Andrea nodded politely, not bothering to tell Mike that she had previously titled in this class. Mike finished his ad hoc tutorial. “Since you’re the first one here I guess you get to choose your spot; table, gate or ring?” He named the primary steward roles: Table Steward, Gate Steward and two Ring Stewards.
Andrea usually liked to be the gate steward keeping track of who was next in the ring. However, that job wouldn’t offer much opportunity to talk with Mike. She hated being Table Steward, which meant totaling each individual’s score sheet so that left Ring Steward.
“I’ll do Ring” she decided.
“Excellent!” he exclaimed. The Ring Stewards, as much as the judge, play a role in keeping the class moving on schedule. They need to pay close attention to what is happening in the ring,. The Ring Stewards are also responsible for setting up the two jumps for each new dog entering the ring.
“It’s a good way to get a workout” Andrea commented. And a good way to show off the fit of these jeans she thought to herself.
The remaining three stewards arrived. Mary Ellen, who immediately stepped up as table steward, was someone Andrea knew casually. A kennel club board member took over as gate steward. The final volunteer, Jeff, was one of the club’s newer members and he was left to help Andrea as ring steward. Andrea chatted with him about his dog, a boxer. Jeff was eager to learn all he could about this new world of dog shows and Andrea enjoyed his enthusiasm.
“How many dogs do we have entered?” she asked looking at the entry list over Mary Ellen’s shoulder.
“Twenty-six” the table steward replied.
Andrea considered the average judging rate of eight dogs per hour. “Well, we shouldn’t get out of here too late.”
“I hope not.”
As the start time neared, more and more people with dogs surged back and forth along the main aisle. Idly watching the crowd, Andrea caught sight of Sue, the angry trainer from the ring rental. Sue’s back was to her, a golden retriever slouched at her side. Sue was talking to a short, gray-haired man. Although Andrea couldn’t see her face, Sue’s posture and gestures seemed rather agitated. Of course, when isn’t she agitated? Andrea thought.
Just as Sue and the short man parted company, Andrea was distracted by Mike welcoming the first entrant into the ring. As the team set up at the start line, Mike motioned for Andrea to take the leash. She set the leash on the gate closest to the ring’s exit while quickly glancing toward the jumps to be sure she and Jeff had set them at the correct height for the first dog.
Andrea and Jeff quickly picked up on Mike’s rhythm: take the leash and the dumbbell as the exhibitor enters the ring, assist with the Figure 8 exercise, deliver the dumbbell for the retrieve exercises, return the leash to the handler at the conclusion, set the jumps for the next dog and start all over again.
Watching each team enter the ring, Andrea recalled her days competing in obedience. She remembered the anticipation of waiting her turn, and the flash of pride when stepping into the ring with the dog she had trained.
‘What’s the next jump height?” Andrea called to Mary Ellen.
“Twenty-two and forty-four” replied the table steward, meaning the dog’s height at the withers for the high jump, and two times that for the long jump.
Must be a golden, Andrea thought to herself. She set the high jump then moved to the side of the ring to help Jeff adjust the long jump. Standing up, she turned to face the ring gate and saw Sue waiting to enter the ring.
Sue gave no sign of recognition as Andrea took her leash.
Just as he had with every other handler, Mike asked “Are you ready?”
Sue looked down to check her dog’s position before replying “Ready.”
“Forward” said Mike.
Sue set off at a brisk pace, the dog correctly aligned with her left hip.
“Halt” called Mike.
Sue came to a stop and the golden sat.
As Mike continued to direct the team through the heeling pattern Andrea sidled over to the table steward. “Mary Ellen, do you know who that man is? Gray hair, turtleneck.”
Mary Ellen glanced in the direction Andrea indicated. “Wow. That looks like Bud Burke. I haven’t seen him around in years.”
At one time Bud Burke had been the reigning star in obedience competition. He was a fixture at every match and every show in a three state area and the only person to ever win the North American Obedience Masters for three consecutive years. Some people in the sport gossiped about the techniques he used to achieve his success. At the height of his popularity he hosted a local cable show on dog training and wrote several books, then inexplicably dropped out of sight. Different stories circulated: there was talk of an accident, some said his competition dog died suddenly and Bud never got over it; others said Bud himself was ill; he moved out of state. But none of the rumors were ever substantiated. Bud Burke simply seemed to drift off like a vapor.
Now he was ringside, watching Sue and her dog intently.