PURVES UNLEASHED – Cruft’s Special No Clown this Coco So much anticipation, then it is over in a flash. Oh dear, there’s another year to wait for Cruft’s Dog Show to come round again, but this was a show that I shan’t forget in a hurry. The Best in Show, Little Coco, the delightful Norfolk Terrier, Ch. Cracknor Cause celebre really was an absolute joy. She showed to perfection on Day 1 and really never looked to be beaten. When she was brought in to the Kennel Club reception after the show, you could tell she knew she had won - she was a true show dog - So cute. In the Commentary position high above the Main Ring, I, and my three co-commentators for the BBC, Jessica Holm, Wayne Cavanaugh and Frank Kane, truly had the best seat in the house for the judging of Best in Show. For the first time I can remember we all agreed that Coco was the rightful winner, but we also concurred that any one of the final seven would have done credit to the show. It was a particularly fine line-up, and how nice to see Liz Dunhill’s beautiful Shiba Inu, and Linda Collins BSD Tervueren triumphing in the Utility and Pastoral groups respectively and putting their breed in the final line-up for the first time. My only disappointment was that the American bred Landseer Newfoundland, Am Ch Threeponds Coucil Cup Bogart didn’t make it to the last seven having been pipped by last year’s Working Group winner, Jaffrak Philippe Olivier, Kevin Cullens’ splendid Giant Shnauzer. But then I am so biased in favour of the Newfies. I have never seen a Landseer with a coat to touch Bogey’s, and I am confident that had the group Judge chosen him, then he would have taken BIS. He was truly stunning. This year’s TV coverage by the BBC was more comprehensive than ever, 5 hours of programmes. And I believe that the principal criticism from earlier years, namely that we didn’t show enough dogs, was seriously addressed and answered. Every single Best of Breed got its few seconds of glory in a montage of the group, several were selected as the one’s to watch, and then there was full coverage of the Judges’ final pick. Normally that would be eight dogs, though there were two groups that only had seven in the shortlist, and the Working Group that had eleven. So it really was almost wall to wall dogs. From a commentators point of view it was the perfect balance. Wayne and Frank continued their punditry on the sofa in the studio with presenters Claire Balding and Richard Hammond, and I felt there was a genuine freshness about the way the show appeared on screen. Our shows were all performed “live”, though obviously the Groups were presented as edited packages. Best in Show, of course, was a live event. I must tell you that logistically it threw up all sorts of problems – there was one occasion on Sunday when I had to be, literally in two places at once. We got round that by switching groups – Jessica taking the Working Group and me taking the Pastoral. But for a while it appeared that I would have been commentating on the Agility Championship whilst we were actually transmitting the Working Group on which I was also supposed to be commentating. Split personality I may have, but I’m not really that clever. Add to that the orchestration of moving Wayne and Frank from the sofa in the studio to the commentating position and back to the sofa had to be seen to be believed. Oh my aching feet And my feet!!. I tell you, after you have walked two and a half miles during the day at the NEC, it is the equivalent of five miles anywhere else, and the floor must be the most unforgiving in the world. There is no give at all, and by the end of each day, it wasn’t only the dogs that were barking. On the Saturday it took all of 20 minutes to get from the BBC compound outside Hall 5 across to the Special Events Ring at the rear of Hall 3. And that was a journey I had to make several times each day. But it was a rewarding journey. The attractions in the ring were never less than entertaining, whether it was heats for the Flyball championship, or the Team Agility, or various performances of Heelwork to Music, or displays by the RAF Police Dogs, or the Guide Dogs for the Blind. And the events followed each other with precision timing. John Gregory and his team do a fantastic job keeping that ring operating to time, and it is all done with such good humour. Well done. On my wanders I came across a lovely framed copy of a painting of three Newfies by Lynn Paterson which I just had to have. Unfortunately it wasn’t the original, but at least Lynn was on hand to sign it for me, for which I am most grateful. I also bumped in to Kevin Horkin, whom I first met some years ago when my wife was playing the lead in Evita in Manchester. He was the master of ceremonies for the Pet Plan Forum, which was a very well attended series of lectures on various aspects of the Dog World. What an intelligent idea, because the one place that has nowhere for people to sit is the NEC. You either stand or you sit on the floor. But the Pet Plan Forum gave people a chance to sit down comfortably for half an hour and relax whilst listening to some very informative lectures. Good innovation that. It was also interesting to meet the winner of the Vitalin Pick of the Litter Competition. This was won by a rare breed, the German Pinscher. I was pleased to present the trophy to the winning owner, Samantha Baker, who was a justifiably proud of her achievement in campaigning Tubize Van Nistlerooy for Remikz up and down the country to gain her points. Pals with Paws show the way Somehow I also managed to find time to attend the press launch of Pals with Paws, the initiative by Dogs for the Disabled to create partnerships of dogs and children. Although this is already operating well in the USA, until now dogs have not been specifically trained to help children in the UK. The two partnerships present at the launch were Tom with Viggo, and Kayleigh with Vicky. Viggo and Vicky were actually litter brother and sister. Tom was almost 11, and just about to go to mainstream secondary school, and Kayleigh is just 17 and hoping to go to University to follow a career in the media. Both youngsters said that the dogs had changed their lives. They both agreed that they were now so much more confident, and that people would come up to them and talk, whereas previously their disability seemed to prevent people approaching them. Kayleigh said that Vicky stopped her having to call for her Mum every time she dropped something, which she freely admits is often because she says she is very clumsy. Vicky is always there to assist her. Likewise Tom feels he has not only a helper, but a lovely pet as well. It was obvious from what Tom’s Mother, Hilary, says, that Viggo is making a big difference to both their lives. As the partnership is growing so Tom’s dependence on his mother is reducing, giving huge benefits to both of them. The launch was well attended by the press and by many members of the Kennel Club, who had kindly donated space at the show to accommodate the event. I can only wish these Partnerships herald many more in the future, and that the scheme is a huge success. If you would like to know more about the Pals with Paws scheme, then call in to your local Pets at Home store(or visit their website on www.petsathome.com) where staff and customers are fundraising all year. Groundbreaking routine I can’t let the show pass without a mention for Mary Ray. She never seems to stop, if she isn’t demonstrating her Heelwork to Music in one of the show rings, or demonstrating her training methods on the Pedigree stand, then she is competing in the Obedience Championship with both a dog and a bitch, or in the Mini Agility Championship with her Sheltie. She is amazing. This year, however she made a stunning impact prior to the BIS judging, when she performed her Mack and Mabel routine with four (yes I did say four) Border Collies. This is Heelwork to Music taken to a new level. The routine began with Kizzy, she then changed dogs and tempo with Taz. Quincy then joined Taz, to perform some lovely moves which drew thunderous applause, before blowing our minds with the addition of Kizzy again and finally Foxy making up the quartet. Brave stuff. Mary herself will tell you it was awful, but don’t you believe her. She is such a perfectionist, every little bit that wasn’t absolutely precise was a disaster to her, but let me tell you, it was a ground-breaking routine that more than equalled her efforts in previous years. Wonderful stuff Mary. The audiences at the show kept up to the level of 2004 with more than 120K visitors over the four days, and the difficulty of moving from one part of the NEC to another was never more pronounced than on the Saturday when the thousands poured in to see the Gundogs. That is not to say the crowds were sparse on any of the other days, they weren’t, but the Saturday almost reached saturation point. I love Cruft’s. In spite of the crowds, in spite of the massive trade-show element, it remains for me the pinnacle of the dog world. We are now seeing the best dogs from all over the world arriving at the NEC and many of them are triumphing over our home-bred dogs. Witness the Terrier group. Three American dogs in the first three places with a German dog fourth. To be fair, Coco was bred in the UK before going to the states. But she has made her name campaigning in America, and now has taken the British Dog World by storm. Peter Green, her owner has decided she shall now retire and spend the rest of her days sitting on whichever sofa she chooses. Perfect, and there’s no-one can she hasn’t earned the right.