Because Barnaby had recently been so ill, it looked unlikely that anyone would be going to Crufts this year. However, three weeks after his operation he had clearly made a complete recovery: the seaweed blockage and infection were happily just memories, his tummy wound was completely healed and his strength restored, so our dear vet told Barnaby that a well-earned change of scene was just what he needed. Instead of manning the golden retriever stand at Discover Dogs, as he usually does with Newman, he spent Gundog day enjoying the sights, most stunning among them the giant Frontline spaniel, which came as a great shock to most passing dogs, as he moved about encouraged by the presenter demonstrating the dangers posed both to dogs and our homes by fleas and their eggs. Inside the giant spaniel was an actor who could only stay there for short periods because it was so stifling and because of the strain on his legs and back from the tortuous pose he had to adopt in order to look so realistic. Designed and made by a specialist firm used by the BBC, the spaniel proved a popular draw, teaching and selling in equal measure.
Barnaby loved sharing himself with the people he met, behind and in front of all the stands, as well as being useful as an example of his breed. He patiently allowed a goldie breeder whose dogs were over on the show benches to use him as a model, so she could try on him various sizes of the special harness she was after. Who knew there was so much choice, and how precise one has to be to get exactly the right fit for a retriever’s muzzle. For what it’s worth, size 3L in the Dogmatic harness is perfect for the breed! We have never used such an item, always having been trained to heel with a slip lead – pulling isn’t a family trait, so to speak, though it’s obviously something far too many dogs do. Barnaby’s gentle nature was much praised, but it’s a pleasure to do a dog-owner a favour; Crufts is all about sharing one’s love of dogs, telling stories, and bonding over similar canine experiences. One meets so many visitors there who have lost their own beloved , and who long to reach down and feel the warmth and comfort of a gentle retriever once again.
Though we glanced at the scores of entries being judged in the golden retriever rings, it was hard to ignore the fact that most of these qualifiers (an achievement in itself) were completely wasting their time as there are so few top prizes and, as is the case with most breeds, the winning kennels seem increasingly familiar in every show one attends. This magnificent cocker spaniel came all the way from Sweden in order to compete but, despite wins throughout his home country and across the Baltic states, he met with no success at Crufts. One honestly does wonder how the majority of exhibitors maintain their enthusiasm for the contest when it is so difficult to supervene on such a stage. Meeting him after he’d left the show benches after 4pm was one of the highlights of this trip, however; though tired from his day on duty, he sat atop his wheeled crate, born proudly aloft by his well-dressed human family, who love and treasure him, no matter what – precious winners all, as someone famous once said.