Published in Traveler's Tales: It's a Dog's World
THE CARIOCA DOBIE DERBY
Fourteen months old when he came to us, Jeff was tall for a Dobie and an unusual reddish brown, with the usual tan markings. Although his ear flaps had never been surgically made into points, his withers were perfect, his jaw not undershot, his neck erect, though I couldn’t tell if it was “dry.” The Doberman handbook was written in Portuguese. I didn’t expect to understand everything written in it.
We lived in Rio de Janeiro; Jeff had been added to our household after an attempted burglary. He did his job superbly. His roar carried down the block; he nipped any unauthorized hand attempting to unlatch our gate. Once, after first growling in warning, he attacked a voluble guest who seemed to be threatening my husband as he gestured with his hands. Though we scolded Jeff after we hauled him off our guest, we experienced a secret, niggling satisfaction with what he had done. This was the noble dog in action, protecting his master, his hearth, his turf. We had got outselves a loyal member of the family; blood type was inconsequential. This boy would die for us.
A notice arrived from the Brazilian Kennel Club; there was to be a Doberman show at the Jockey Club. Would we like to enter Mongol de Leimar? That was our Jeff. His pedigreed name automatically begged for an alias. We could not go around calling him Mongol de Leimar; I would feel a fit of the giggles coming on every time I did it.
And now, to show him at the Jockey Club? I was dubious. I’d taught him about heeling, stopping, and sitting down. What else did he have to do? On the telephone the official said, Not much else. Bring him in.
The itch for glory was irresistible. We groomed him half to death and brought him in. At the Jockey Club were assembled more dogs than Jeff had seen in his entire life. None, I realized at once, matched Jeff in proportion and beauty. Near us stood an ugly Dobie, with stubby legs and a dull black coat covered with scars. His handler was a tall Brazilian soldier in uniform and white leather gauntlets. I could not keep from staring at them. Compared to my costume, a sundress and sandals, those gloves showed me who the professional was in this business of showing dogs.
The six-month-olds went out. Some heeled, some didn’t. Several lolloped around their handlers unheeding of commands. Their antics made me yearn for another puppy. Jeff watched it all; he seemed to be yawning a lot.
Then it was our turn. I had been worried that my Portuguese would not be up to catching the judge’s commands, but I needn’t have wondered. The orders were abrupt, staccato, composed of single words. I don’t know what I would have done had they been delivered in lengthy, philosophical discourse. Jeff trotted when I did, sat when I stopped. We did collide once or twice. Each time he sat it was on my feet. The dashing soldier’s mutt sat neatly and with alacrity, as though his rear were loaded with lead shot.
I caught my husband’s glance. He gave me a false smile
We were told to line up in a row: “FILA!” Jeff did not want to do it. He had seen his master and was doing his utmost to go to him. I hauled him, my arm held stiff to disguise that fact, into the lineup next to the soldier. As was his habit, Jeff slumped against me. I cocked my knee to push him away, at the same time attempting to stand straight and proud. The judge shot me a look. Perhaps he thought I had a cramp.
An aide carried what seemed to be a bundle of bedding to the judge. When the aide stepped away, the judge’s left arm had become three times its original size. He raised his right hand, which held a pistol, advanced menacingly toward the first dog in line, and shot a round past his head.
Jeff’s ears flew up. So did mine. He began to tremble, or I did, I’m not sure which. In an uproar of howls and barks and growls, all the outside dogs were straining to get into the ring with us, while Jeff strained to get outside.
“Release!” commanded the judge.
The handler unclipped his dog, who immediately hurled himself at the protected arm and buried his fangs in it. They wrestled together, the judge whipping the dog about the body with the butt of his pistol. He told the handler to retrieve his dog. The handler did so, and then the dog turned and tried to kill him. The judge nodded in a pleased way and moved on. He tested the soldier’s dog, who acted faster and more murderously than any of the others.
My placard was doing little hops over my heart. There was nothing for it but to play my ace card: “Rat!” I whispered. “Go get the rat! Go! Go!” It had always galvanized him into action before.
The judge shot his round, Jeff tore from my hand and headed for home. I fled after him. The soldier called after me, “Get a Pekinese!”
At home Jeff reverted to his tough self, but we had learned his secret. His confidence flourished only on his own turf. I suppose there is a moral in here about guts counting for more than mere good looks, that adversity breeds character, and so on and so on. But he was only a dog. I’d just as soon have had him win a blue ribbon for being handsome.