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Of Mastiffs, Murphy and me in Puerto Rico
 By Kaye Langshaw

The report of a lone Canadian who – despite ‘Murphy’s ghost’- attended and enjoyed a May FCI show.

It must have been the winter blahs and general boredom that made me call a number in an American dog publication.  The ad said, “Fly south.  Three sets of international points to be won.  Come to sunny Puerto Rico.”  That would be a lovely holiday, I thought.  Points too,  I thought.  Rum, I thought.  Heat.  It would have to be warmer than this Canadian Spring.  But what was the price of this tropical getaway?  There were three travel agents that could take me there on a package deal or I could book for myself.  I chose the former because I was a rookie.
 Now, which of my Mastiffs do I show to the rest of the world?  A dog must be at least 15 months old to qualify for its FCI championship and does not have to be a special in its own country.  But why take the chance?  Aahz and Brit were my obvious choices.  Both were Canadian champions and both good flyers to boot. The shows were scheduled for May 17, 18, 20, and 21. We were flying on the 15th so the dogs had at least one day of poolside pina coladas before the work started. I began packing.
 All the arrangements were made to fly American (A.A.).  The cargo doors would be big enough to handle the giant crates that were part of my excess baggage.  Fees were paid and my kids had their check-ups with Dr. Bob for their International Health Certificates.  Everything was running smoothly.  Murphy’s ghost (you know, the guy who came up with all those laws?) sits on my shoulder and haunts me, though, so something had to give.
 My flight was to depart at 9:57 on Monday. There was a faint, ominous chuckle in my ear as I walked toward the airline counter.  “Langshaw,” the ticket agent said, and leafed through some paperwork.  She poked at her ever-faithful computer.  “Ve hef zum goot nus und zum bed nus.”  My heart leaped and settled into its rightful place.  “Vurst da goot nus.  The connection in Chicago at O’Hare is ready for you and your dogs.  Da bed nus iss that we switched planes here and can’t get you to O’Hare in time for your flight.”  Holy doodle, I thought.  Did no one hear that maniacal laughter but me?  “We’ll put you on another airline.”  With that comment she rabidly began to punch the poor machine in front of her.  “United leaves in an hour; we’ll make the switch.”
 We rushed over to the United Airlines counter and were told that the cargo door might not be big enough for my babies.  A quick measurement proved that all was well with big bird.  The U.A. agent then told me that it would cost another $50 each to take my dogs to Chicago.  I informed them that A.A. switched so it was logical that A.A. should pay the freight.  I started tapping my fingers in agitation.  My husband gave me a withering look.  The new flight was to leave at 8:40 and here it was 8:10 already.  U.S. Customs still had to clear the dogs and there was duty free buying that must be done. The U.A. rep ran to Customs and quickly explained the situation. The officer rushed out of his cubbyhole and cleared the dogs for takeoff.  Meanwhile, back at A.A., the proper exchange of ‘money’ was made for my kids’ tickets.  No duty free buying for me, but we were on our way.  Those nice people held the flight for us.

 How many stories have we dog people heard about the Dreaded Tarmac? We landed 45 minutes after leaving Toronto.  All was well until I heard that nasty chuckle again. The people at the U.A. counter couldn’t agree on whether the dogs were going automatically to A.A. with my suitcases or if I would have to claim them and drag them there, which seemed miles away, myself.  These airlines are in different terminals and I had never been there before.  Hoping for the best, and ignoring an ethereal snicker, I wended my way to the A.A. counter, where a heated discussion ensued as to who was responsible for getting my dogs from point A to point B.  A.A. finally gave me two strapping young porters and I was off to find my kids. 
 Aahz and Brit were too heavy to load on the carts in their crates so I decided to walk them while the porters pushed empty boxes.  You could say that we stopped pedestrian traffic wherever we went.  People asked me all sorts of questions and commented on the complacency of the dogs.  I realized that the porters had big grins on their faces.  Finally we were back at the A.A. counter.  My porters brought water for the kids and managed to conjure up some dog snacks, heaven knows from where.  I sensed a pout in my ear.
 By this time we had an audience of about 50 onlookers, oohing and aahing over the kids.  Where were we going?  Why?  Do they bite and can I pat one?  How much do they weigh?  My kids were very gracious with their fans.  At one point I looked up across Brit’s crate and caught the eye of a man looking at the kids.  He smiled and I smiled back.  He noticed my startled look and his smile widened, then he walked away.  I turned to one of a bevy of stewardesses that had gathered around and asked, “Does that man look like Tony Bennett to you?”  “Sort of,” she replied.  I turned back to see the stranger buy a ticket and have a Skycap pat him on the shoulder.  He disappeared into the crowd.  A few minutes later a woman came over to me and said “Do you know that everyone was standing around, asking, about your darn dogs, and no one noticed that the Tony Bennett was here, bought a ticket and left?”  Wow, we eclipsed a star for all of 30 seconds!
 Time to load for Puerto Rico.  The dogs had been taken down to the Dreaded Tarmac to await their turn.  There they were all right, waiting, with half the ground crew patting them through the bars!
 I finally made my way to the assigned seat and plunked myself wearily down.  My stewardess leaned over and told me that my dogs were safely aboard and all was well.  How she knew that they were mine is beyond me.  A little secret – the crew gave me a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon as a gift.  A hint – travel with your dogs and you’ll never lack attention and warmth from anyone.  After we lifted from O’Hare my pictures were passed from one end of the plane to the other.  I’m glad I brought some along.  The ghost huddled by himself on the wingtip.
 We landed in San Juan at 7:30 p.m. and were taken to our hotel room by the tour organizers.  The heat was hard on the kids so they appreciated the air conditioning in the room.  There was an exercise area set up for visiting animals and they were happy to use it quickly and get back into the cool.  The next day was a ‘free day’ and we went to the local stores for a walk and bought a few staples.  We had a nice quiet day.
 My handler from Michigan had not arrived yet. Was the ghost starting to laugh again?  Oh no.  Oh please.  Don’t do this to me.  My shattered nerves.  Hallelujah, he was three hours late but he got there, hot and sticky and hauling four dogs, one of which was a Greyhound from the Hillsburg, Ont., area.  We all settled in with a pina colada and good conversation.


The first show was to start at 5:00 p.m. on the 17th.  Raphael de Santiago, the President of the Puerto Rico Kennel Club, explained that the timing was to allow the P.R. exhibitors time to get home from work and get their dogs to the stadium.  Fair enough; we could wish for the same consideration on the mainland.  There was a catch, though.  All of that meant that BIS went off at 1:00 a.m.  A very long day, indeed.  Very hot and the American handlers and their dogs were exhausted.  We were to repeat the same ritual on the 18th.
 My dogs were always ready, so I had nothing to do but sip my pina colada, which was brought right on the stadium grounds.  My feet were up on a crate, which helped alleviate the swelling that seemed to accompany every lady from the north.  I was relaxed.  The handler had a lot to do, especially at group time. The groups went off, one right after the other, no time for a break because of that ever-lovin’ ‘ready area.’  A little request and it was off my duff and into the fray.  His dogs must be groomed!  He needed a cold drink!  Mop his brow!  Water his dogs! Tote that barge – O.K., so now I’m a dogsbody.  The Greyhound is up next.  A lick and a prayer (and a wipe-down).  Get the Cairn.  Ready the Bouv.  The handler let me fuss with the coats and quickly recombed them as he ran into the ring. As each dog came back to his crate I have him a drink of water and a little hug.  By the last show I had “yes, master” down pat in my finest snivelling Peter Lorre imitation.  The handler learned to sneer as I scurried around.
 Did I explain that I was the only Canadian that was crazy enough to go to this series of shows?  Why not, eh?  I did not know that at any international sporting event the flags of participating countries must be flown. Rose and Ed Radel (they’re wonderful people and took this maverick Canadian under their wings) pointed this out on the second day.  There was no flag for me.  I went to the superintendent’s tent and asked Rafi (de Santiago) why there was not a Canadian flag aloft. “Why?  Because there are no Canadians here,” he responded.  I pointed out that I was in attendance and requested that my flag join the rest.  I was starting to tap my fingers as my ghost guffawed.  Rafi informed me that the flags were sent over from the Olympic committee and they didn’t have the Maple Leaf.  He suggested that I get one for him to hoist.  Hey, it wasn’t my duty to bring a flag.  It should have already been there. He told me that it would be seen to before the next show, on Saturday.
 Being less than a compliant Canadian, I decided to do some snooping.  Did you know that there is no Consulate for us down there?  Do you care?  I wasn’t sure where to turn so after a few calls I hit the State Department. “Yes, we have one of your flags.  Would you like to come in to Old San Juan to pick it up?”  To make a long story short, I have a picture of moi receiving the Maple Leaf from a clerk.  I did what any true Canadian would I hugged it to my bosom and went shopping.
 On Saturday the show was to start at 8:30 but the P.R.K.C. decided that 9:00 was good enough.  I found Rafi before showtime and told him that I had something for him.  “I know.  You have a flag.  The State Department called me.  I will return it on Monday.”  Twenty minutes later my heart filled with pride as our flag joined the others over the Parque Sixto Escobar. I took a picture. My ghost was upset again.
 I don’t know how the judges did it.  There were 10 groups, some so unlikely that one wondered what the FCI was thinking about to lump the dogs together the way it did.  There were Miniature Pinschers in with the Mastiffs, Akitas with Basenjis, Bouviers with Pulis.  Anyway, it was something we got used to in a hurry.  The judges, Dorothy Nickle, Ermano Maniero from Peru, Richard Beauchamp, Mrs. Wann, and Roberto Velez braved the heat and humidity and did a remarkable job.  There was also obedience, judged by Jose Maldonado.  The groups were judged in the same ring and all the judges just pulled up a chair inside the ring to watch the proceedings.  I’m sure they had some great panel discussions.  The FCI allows these things because usually three judges must critique each dog for their Certificate of Excellence.  No certificate, no championship.  Some breeds need Working Certificates.  They must show the ability to do what the Standard calls for or they will have had an expensive holiday down south with nothing but heat prostration to show for it.
 After four days and many pictures of rare breeds we were all extremely tired.  There were Dogue de Bordeaux, Dogo Argentinos, Anatolian Karabash, Pastor Mallorquin, Olde English Bulldogges, and a few others like the Fila Brasiliero who came out for points.
 No ribbons are given, just cards with the critiques on them and assorted ‘silverware’ or BOB mugs.  As all the abbreviations are in Spanish, allow me to translate as best I know how.  CACB is the Puerto Rican Ch.; you need two to finish.  While you get these, they hand out CACIB, the FCI Ch. And the SICASUD, the South American version.  You need four of each of the latter.  Then off you go to celebrate of sulk.
 To make the longer story shorter, Aahz took two BOB and one BOS; Brit was really affected by the heat and took only one BOS in four shows.  They are Puerto Rican, South American, and FCI champions and I think that this win makes Brit the most titled Canadian-bred Mastiff ever.
Most of the American exhibitors were very gracious and some have become special to me.
 Lastly, thanks to the native people who were most hospitable and accessible. I managed to get home without any major incidents. Murphy’s ghost has gone on its own little holiday. Things are getting back to normal with the re-establishment of my frenetic lifestyle. I have just opened another dog magazine.  Bermuda in the fall?  Hmmm.  Uh-oh.  On the breeze wafting from the west I seem to hear a faint peal of laughter.

Copyright 1988

MAY 2001