My name is William, and I am a true Philadelphia champion, preparing for the last big game in the last season of my career. You've never heard of me, but that's your loss.
I am a standard poodle, although, to be honest, I've never really liked that designation. People hear "standard" and they might think "ordinary" or "run-of-the-mill." Far from it, my friend. I would prefer standard of excellence poodle, but that probably isn't going to happen.
On Saturday, I'll be competing in the National Dog Show at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks. If you can't make it, the event will be broadcast Thanksgiving Day on NBC, as it is every year. We do monster ratings. I mean, really, do you want to watch the best of the best or the Detroit Lions?
If the judges see things the right way - no guarantees there - I'll be the one jumping around at the end with a big blue ribbon in my mouth. I have an end-zone dance prepared and everything.
Best in Show is the prize that has eluded me. As sports fans, perhaps you know of an athlete or a team that is very good, great even, but just can't seem to win the big one. Frustrating, isn't it?
Well, I've been selected Best of Variety in 100 shows and Best of Group in 10 shows since I started competing four years ago. That's right - I've been in the big ring at the end 10 times but always had to high-paw some other mutt when it was over. I've been given the Award of Merit at five shows, including twice at Westminster. There is a technical description for that award, but it means the judge thought you deserved better than you got. Gee, thanks.
All those wins and all those ribbons, and now it's time to wrap up the career of Ch. Unique Anticipation (my stage name). You want to go out on top, in your prime, and that's my intention. It's also what the people who are under the impression they own me seem to want.
I live with Gail Wolaniuk and Joan McFadden in Garnet Valley, along with eight female poodles, some of whom I've fathered and some of whom I've had relationships with. It can get complicated, but I am the boss - most of the time.
On Thursday, I competed in a preliminary show at the Expo sponsored by the Penn Treaty Kennel Club. That meant I stood on the bench for a good two hours before the competition as Gail groomed me, fluffing out my mall-chick hair and scissoring my mane until I was perfect. (By the way, it is hair. Double-coated, ordinary dogs have fur.) Tell you the truth, it looks like a pain to go through all the fuss, but I like the attention, and I get quality time with Gail, who is paying attention only to me. Which is how I like it.
As soon as I retire, I'm going to get this stuff shaved off, and I'm going swimming. Poodles originated in Germany as water retrievers, and we can out-swim a Lab any day. Non-Sporting Group? It's more like Non-Sporting Costume in our case, and we're smart enough to know the difference.
When we get a break at the shows, I like to sit around with the German shepherds and the Border collies and tell dumb-dog jokes. How many poodles does it take to change a lightbulb? None. They just hire an Irish setter to do it.
Thursday didn't go so well, and part of it might have been my fault. I won Best Opposite Sex in the standard poodle variety, but that just means I got dusted by a couple of female dogs. When I'm in the ring, I'm not a robot. Trot here. Turn there. Not me. I like to glide along and throw in a flourish now and then, an unexpected twirl or a little hop. In a big arena, it shows off my athleticism and my power, but in a small ring, it can just look like I'm a goofball.
"Settle down," Gail suggested as I was gliding along and looking around. "I don't think that's going to happen today," the judge said, and I knew I was cooked right there. If he had said, "Ah, he's just being a poodle," it might have been different. Another day, another judge, who knows?
So, I'm aiming for Saturday's show. There's one at the Expo on Sunday, too, and my little girl Sparkle is in that one. But Saturday is going to be my day. All the hotshots will be here - the fox terrier and the Pekingese that have been winning everything; the boxer that people are falling over; and that big black standard poodle that I will have to get past.
I'm going to finish the season strong. All I need is a few more career points to retire as a Grand Champion, and collecting those with a first Best in Show at a big home game, in front of all my friends from the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, would be the perfect ending.
So, drop by if you want to see a real champion, but watch where you step. If you're at the show, call out my name. I'll pretend not to notice, but when the judge isn't looking, I'll shoot you a wink.
Drives Gail crazy, but, hey, it's only a game.
Contact columnist Bob Ford