By my estimate, the boy may have been about 7 or 8 years old. He walked
into the hall somewhat nervously, looking around at the crowds and,
I'm sure, observing the general air of "packing-up-to-leave" which pervaded
the dog show. Benny spotted him first, and the cute, half-grown mongrel
pup trotting beside him on a lead, a blue bow tied prominently around
the pup's neck, over the collar.
Benny moved to intercept the boy a second before I did. He was nearer
than I was and reached him first. The other judges noticed the two of
us converging on one spot and began making their way toward us to see
what was up.
"Looking for something, son?" Benny was trying to be kind, but there
was no mistaking the attitude of "you-don't-belong-here". Fortunately,
I arrived on the scene at this point, ready to hijack Benny's conversation.
"I... I... ... Is it over?" The boy blurted out.
"Did you want something?" I asked, as kindly as I could. (Being the
main organiser of a dog show has some advantages, including being able
to hijack a conversation started by the senior judge, without causing
too much offense by doing so).
The boy plucked up his courage before replying "I wanted to enter Fix
in the show... I..."
"This is a show for pedigreed dogs, son" said Benny. "Besides, we've
already given out all of the prizes." (Benny is a good man, but sometimes
he has all the tact and subtlety of a bulldozer).
The boy's little face fell. "B-but I worked all day to get ready!" he
protested. "I've bathed Fix, an' brushed him an' put a ribbon on him
an' - an'..." he looked on the verge of tears.
"Hmm" I said, extending the sound somewhat so that Benny wouldn't be
able to reply before I did. "Well, there is one prize left." I started
giving Benny the Eye. I had anticipated a situation like this and made
preparations, but I had not told anyone else.
By this time, the other three judges were within earshot and they all
heard me make that strange (to them) statement. All, including Benny,
gave me puzzled looks.
I turned to the other judges. "You know...?" I said, questioningly.
"The award for 'well-cared-for canine of no particular breed.'" I winked
with the eye furthest from the boy. "The one that we don't have to give
out unless we want to; the one with the ten-dollar prize?"
Smiles broke out among the others. Yes, even Benny. He really never
intends to be unkind. "Oh-h-h, that prize," said Sue,
"I'd completely forgotten that one." "Yes," added Gerald, "we don't
often give out that one." John nodded, "no wonder we forgot about it."
Benny just grinned, and tried to suppress it to only a smile, in case
he 'gave the game away' by too much enthusiasm.
I turned back to the boy, whose face now wore a slightly more hopeful
expression. "Of course, before we can award any prize, we have to be
sure that the entry deserves it" I said, looking at the little mutt,
which immediately gave me an intelligent look and wagged its tail enthusiastically.
I gave the others a serious look. "We must examine the dog's general
health, and check the coat for fleas and overall cleanliness. We can
only award the prize if everything is satisfactory." I hoped the other
judges understood. I really did intend doing a proper examination of
the boy's canine friend. This was not going to be just a 'soothe the
poor child's feelings' prize.
We placed the little mutt on a table and began an examination. Sue (a
qualified vet) carefully checked the dog's health, while I inspected
the coat. The boy must have worked very hard on that long-suffering
pup. Although I looked very carefully, nary a flea could I see, nor
any 'flea dirt'. The coat was wonderfully clean, and there was no sign
of any 'matting' of the hairs. It was obvious that the pup had been
recently bathed and brushed with great care. I was pleasantly surprised.
I had not expected such diligence in so young a child.
I looked at Sue as she finished her part of the examination. "Well,"
I said, "how's his health?"
Sue smiled. "Very good. No sign of worms or rickets; both ears are clean
and the eyes are clear; temperature normal: all in all, a healthy little
I turned to the boy. "What's your name?"
"Well, Martin, you have a beautiful dog here, but I'll have to talk
to your mum or dad before we award the prize, just to make sure it's
okay with them. What's your telephone number?"
Fortunately, he knew the number. I went to the office and dialled. Martin's
mother answered the telephone. During the conversation which followed,
I gathered some more information. Martin had done all of the hard work
by himself. Mum only helped to hold Fix still for his bath while Martin
did the scrubbing. His mum was obviously proud of him. She was quite
happy for him to be given money as a reward for his efforts. I thanked
Martin's mum and hung up.
Then I moved to the computer. I had prepared a 'certificate' earlier,
on the computer, 'just in case'. All I needed to do was to fill in the
name of the owner, the name of the dog, then print onto pastel blue
paper. The final step was to use the club's embossing machine to place
a gold-leaf stamp in the bottom-left corner, bearing the name and logo
of our dog club. I withdrew two $5 notes from my wallet and placed them
into an envelope before leaving the office.
I headed for the table where the examination had taken place and saw
that a small crowd had now gathered around Martin and Fix. As I approached,
I called the other judges together. "Are we agreed then?" I asked. Nods
all around. "He deserves the prize?" A chorus of agreement.
I turned to young Martin. "On behalf of the dog club, I hearby declare
this to be a Well-Presented Dog of No Particular Breed" I announced,
"and I award this certificate and prize of ten dollars to Martin." I
handed over the certificate and envelope.
Little Martin's eyes seemed to grow as big as saucers as he saw the
gold stamp on the paper. Everyone started applauding as he opened the
envelope and withdrew the notes. Martin seemed lost for words, but his
eyes spoke the joy which his mouth could not say.
As I conducted Martin to the door a little later, I saw him looking
thoughtfully at the certificate, a slight frown on his face. I decided
to ask. "What are you wondering?" I paused.
Martin looked at me, a little uncertain.
I prompted him again, "Don't be afraid to ask. It won't be impolite,
if you don't mean it to be impolite."
Martin slowed to a stop and looked me in the eye. "Is this a real prize?"
he asked, holding up the certificate. "I wanted to earn a real prize,
not a made-up prize."
I returned his gaze and replied honestly, "I made it up, just for you,
but I wouldn't have given you anything more than some
good advice if you hadn't earned that prize. That examination we did
of Fix was real, not pretend. You earned that prize. So, the answer
to your question is; yes, it's a real prize, because you earned it."
Martin looked a little doubtfully at the certificate, then at me again.
I continued, "Anyway, the so-called 'real' prizes have to be 'made up'
by someone, some time. People don't have to give dogs
fancy names like Dalmation, German Shepherd, Boxer and so on and give
out prizes for 'best of breed' and suchlike. We do it because we want
to; because we think that people deserve a reward for working hard to
prepare a dog for a show like this. You worked hard to get Fix ready,
Martin nodded happily, his eyes shining as he looked at the certificate
once again. He now understood.
"Then you earned it" I concluded.
Martin nodded. As he left, he turned, waved, and smiled at me.
I smiled and waved back.
Benny cornered me in the office later. "Why did you do that?"
I gazed at him. "Ten dollars and a little effort. Did you see his smile?"
Benny grinned, in spite of himself. "Yes."
"Do you really need to ask?"
"Umm... I guess not."