Deb Meaut and Razz wait on a dirt floor under bright lights at the edge of a show ring in the 90,000-plus-square-foot Reaves Arena at the Georgia National Fairgrounds complex. At his handlerâ€™s command, the little dog is off like a shot, leaping over jumps, weaving around poles and plowing through tunnels, guided by Debâ€™s voice and hand signals as she runs alongside him. Job done, tail wagging, he gazes up in adoration and hopes for a treat on the way out.
This weekend is showtime for Razz, a 4-year-old black miniature poodle competing in agility trials at the four-day 2012 Peach Blossom Cluster Dog Shows in Perry, Ga. Debâ€™s 8-year-old white standard poodle, Savannah, is participating in obedience trials. Savannahâ€™s a veteran, holding Master Agility Excellent and Master Agility Jumper titles in addition to a Rally Novice title.
As the dayâ€™s trials end, instead of driving to a motel that welcomes canine guests, Deb and the dogs can walk home in five minutes. Theyâ€™re staying at a campsite right on the fairgrounds with her husband, Bob, in their 39-foot Class A Safari Zanzibar motorhome.
â€œAfter competing with Savannah for about four years and traveling to agility trials by myself, we discussed the idea of an RV for our home away from home,â€ Deb said. The discussion turned into Debâ€™s surprise birthday gift four years ago. With plenty of pooch paraphernalia onboard, Bob and Deb have driven to Perry once again this year from their home in Beaufort, S.C., where Deb is a contracting officerâ€™s representative at the Naval Hospital and Bob is the owner of Hilton Head Garage Doors.
â€œThe best part of owning a motorÂhome is having my husband with me on weekends; having a clean, comfortable bed to sleep in and a place to have decent food without having to go to a restaurant all the time; and being in a safe place, particularly when walking the dogs at night in a strange location,â€ Deb said.
A lot of dog owners enjoy the same benefits: approximately 325 RVs are registered at the fairgrounds for the show. Gayle and Vince Mercurio, who drove up from their Melbourne, Fla., home in aÂ Class A motorhome, are experts on RV living with dogs.
â€œWeâ€™ve been married 41 years, and our first purchase was a Volkswagen camper with a pop top,â€ Gayle said. The couple traveled with a dog from the start and they have never been without an RV in the past four decades. Their poodle traveling companions are Calvin, a miniature grey; Z, a miniature black; and Gus, a toy.
The Mercurios said a motorhome is ideal for traveling to shows.
â€œThe dogs are not distracted or stressed while competing. Itâ€™s important to keep to the same routine they have at home,â€ Vince said.
Willard Brown also travels to dog shows via a Class A motorhome and has for seven years. He believes miniature schnauzers like his are perfect RV travelers because theyâ€™re small, donâ€™t shed and become much-loved members of the family.
â€œIf it came down to a choice between Sophie and me, my wife would take the dog,â€ Willard joked. â€œDogs give you unconditional love, and there arenâ€™t many people you can say that about.â€
As the sun sets back at the Meautsâ€™ motorhome, people from nearby RVs bring over their camp chairs to discuss the dayâ€™s events under the awning.
â€œThe camaraderie among friends at the campsite and sharing a meal and a glass of wine together at the end of the day with our dogs underfoot is what itâ€™s all about,â€ Deb said.
After a good nightâ€™s rest, sheâ€™s up early, joining other handlers who are walking dogs of all shapes and sizes around the fairgrounds. The four-day show, one of the largest in the South, presents a rare opportunity for dog lovers to see outstanding representatives of more than 100 different American Kennel Club breeds gathered in one place.
At the obedience venue this morning, Deb and Savannah demonstrate the dogâ€™s ability to follow the trialâ€™s requirements, including the Long Sit (one minute) and Long Down (three minutes) in the presence of other dogs while handlers stand across the ring. â€œThe handlerâ€™s body language is very important in obedience,â€ Deb said.
After the morningâ€™s trials, poodle breeder Jane Beckman, owner of Dancing Cloud Kennel in Georgia, stopped by the Meautsâ€™ motorhome to say hello accompanied by Nina, a 5-month-old white poodle available for the right home. Deb noted the cuddly puppyâ€™s friendly personality and strong resemblance to Savannah at the same age, but Bob wasnâ€™t quite convinced the family needed a third dog.
With her events done for the day, Deb headed over to the vendor booths for a little shopping and stopped in at the conformation venue nearby, just in time to see the judging of the poodle entries. Conformation is what many people envision when they hear the term â€œdog show.â€ A judge examines each dog and notes how closely it compares to his or her mental image of the â€œperfectâ€ dog described in the breedâ€™s official standard.
In the conformation ring, dogs and handlers are meticulously groomed (sometimes with a touch of hairspray for both), and business suits replace the workout clothes handlers wear during other trials. Spectators gathered to watch the dazzling dogs go through their paces, a close-up, live version of the annual televised Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Late Sunday morning, when the last agility trial has ended, Bob Meaut starts packing up the motorhome. Itâ€™s been a great weekend. Razz (AKC name: Belle Storyâ€™s Brazzen Razz Ma Tazz) has qualified in Excellent â€œAâ€ Standard Agility, taking a first place, working toward his Agility Excellent title. Savannah (AKC name: Island Sun over Savannah) has earned her Obedience CD title to add to the show ribbons that adorn her crate back home.
â€œDespite the titles that my dogs have earned, itâ€™s the journey with your four-legged friend that keeps you coming back again and again,â€ Deb said. â€œItâ€™s the thrill of seeing your training at work and seeing a happy and motivated dog. And it keeps both you and your dogs active and fit.â€
During the four-hour drive home, Bob Meaut began thinking. Maybe itâ€™s not such a bad idea to get more information about that poodle puppy looking for a home. Debâ€™s birthday is coming up â€¦ and thereâ€™s always room in a motorhome for a little more unconditional love.
Tips from the Dog Show Pros:Â
â€¢ Carry bottled drinking water and maintain the dogâ€™s usual diet
â€¢ Travel with the dogâ€™s veterinaryÂ records and vaccination certificates
â€¢ Bring familiar crates and bedding for travel and sleeping
â€¢ Pick a regular place in the motorhome for non-spill water and food bowls
â€¢ Ask your dogâ€™s vet for a microchipÂ implant and include your cellphone number in the enrollment contactÂ information
â€¢ Keep a doggie first-aid kit with flea treatments, antibiotics, etc., in the motor-home
â€¢ Use indoor-outdoor area rugs and sheets to protect carpets and upholstery
â€¢ Be considerate of others nearby if the dog barks
â€¢ Clean up after your dog wherever you go
For More Information:
Peach Blossom Cluster Dog ShowsÂ