Other sheepdogs were arriving, with their face hair tied up in rubber bands. One had four black lisle stockings taped to his legs. "We tried all that. It doesn't help," shouted Serena over the barking bedlam. "Once I made oilcloth boots for all the dogs and they wore them two seconds before removing them."
A man swept down the narrow aisle between the dogs and cold-shouldered the Van Rensselaers. He was another member of the Old English Sheepdog Club, which had been rent by a fierce feud some time back, although the feud was now all patched up. "But he still won't speak to us," said Serena, smiling. "Isn't that silly?" I told her I thought that kind of thing only happened among Pomeranian or poodle people. Serena laughed. "Are you kidding?" she asked. "All sheepdog owners are crazy."
The basement was filling up now, and somebody stopped to ask, "What kind of dog is that? How does it see?" "How do you tell the front from the rear?" asked another, and Serena smiled with amiable fortitude. A young couple asked if sheepdogs were a lot of trouble. "It depends on what you call trouble," said Mrs. Van R. Ignoring the signs saying DO NOT HANDLE DOGS, a lady in tight green slacks waddled up and pawed at Andy. "I just had to see him again," she explained. A man stopped to complain, "You win everything. I guess there are just too many Fezziwigs."
The confusion around the Fezziwig bench was fierce. Across the aisle a black Newfoundland wearing a towel marked BOOM around its neck silently ate its dinner. An Irish wolfhound from a neighboring stall did not make it to the exercise pen and quietly relieved itself on the floor.
"We're liable to end up croppers tomorrow," said Serena. "The dogs are never going to look their best at 9:30 in the morning."
I began to wonder why in the world she and her husband put up with all this. Serena explained, "Thirty-three years ago we were given a sheepdog as a wedding gift, and we fell in love with the breed. In 1956 we bought our basic stud, Ch. Farleydene Bartholomew, in England, because we wanted to keep the breed alive. Then we started showing to illustrate and keep up the standard. There's just no way of maintaining quality without comparison. And if you show you have to go to Westminster."
She admitted that she hoped if Andy won best-of-breed the next day he would go on to win best-in-group (working) and then go on to best-in-show. "But I haven't much faith it will ever happen. Most judges only know a few breeds well, and sheepdogs are simply not popular. I'm not even sure I'd like to see them become popular. Anytime a dog wins best-in-show everybody rushes to cash in, and often inferior dogs result."
Back at the Taft, two hours after midnight, the Van Rensselaers washed the sooty paws of Andy and Phoebe in the hotel tub. "Next year I'm sure the Taft will ask us politely to go to the Midtown Motor Inn instead," Serena said later. At a nerve-shattering 6 they were up, and at 7 back in the Garden basement. Donning a tan smock, Serena began to give Andy the works. Like some great, docile Abominable Snowman, Andy submitted to the clouds of cornstarch applied by handfuls after his coat had been dampened with a sponge. Then his owner brushed him for an hour and a half, in layers, all the way down to the skin, "He has to have this dry cornstarch shampoo," she said between strokes. "Washing sheepdogs makes their coat too soft." She coughed. "It's a wonder we don't all have cornstarch pneumonia."
As though to make up for this slightly disloyal remark, Serena hastily began to extol the merits of the Old English sheepdog as a breed, brushing with every word. These animals—she said, in effect—are the boy scouts of the dog world, having all the virtues, except, perhaps, reverence. They don't fight, they don't run away from home, they are protective of all creatures smaller than themselves, they make wonderful watchdogs and nursemaids, they are intelligent, friendly, affectionate, have a sense of humor and never hold a grudge. "Why, they don't even have a doggy smell or fleas," said Serena, smoking incessantly as she brushed and ignoring the fact that Andy was growing fluffier and more incendiary by the moment.
She turned him as if he were a sack of meal, washed and dried his beard, exclaiming, "That was revolting." After an hour and a half the cornstarch, which really puts the oomph into the Old English, had stopped flying. "It has to be all out, every speck. Can't have it rising up like a powder puff in the judge's face."