At The Canine Olympics
Our roving canine correspondents Photographer Sarah Ainslie and Writer Andrew McCaldon were there in Haggerston on Saturday to capture all the excitement of the biggest sporting event for dogs in the East End this summer, and they sent us this report.
Douglas the pug
The many canines of our neighbourhood have no need of grand sporting festivals – for them jumping, catching balls, watching sticks fly through the air with intense anticipation, and running around in large circles are simply the activities of a normal day out. But, perhaps with an eye on forthcoming events, Sarah and I discovered our local dogs meeting this weekend and convening a small contest of their own.
The relentless rain did not dampen the dogs’ spirits or their glossy coats and, as the gloom lifted, they processed with their owners to the normally quiet green beside Squirries St. This little patch of grass has probably never hosted such a rich and diverse canine congregation. Pedigree breeds walked alongside proud mongrels, Dalmatian tail wagged beside Sheepdog, German Shepherds greeted Italian Greyhounds. They came together in the green’s central circle which, ringed by plane trees, formed a natural arena and, seeing the animals take centre stage, we spectators instinctively withdrew to the perimeter as the happy hounds cavorted together.
I spotted many dogs, like Wellington, a Manchester terrier, in patriotic mood, resplendent in their union jack collars or neckerchiefs, but dissenters, like Louis, a poodle with attitude, wore an ironic God Save the Queen tee-shirt and punk chains. With an eye on the costume competitions, Oscar, a terrier, had gone for an aristocratic look, sporting a tux, bow tie and monocle. Not to be outdone, Chihuahua Buddy, just six months old, came dressed as Batman, an outfit partly inspired by his own (natural) fruit bat ears, while Nigel, a pug, ambled past me sullenly in the garb of a bee.
In classes such as ‘Best East End Dog’ and ‘Dog & Owner Look-a-like’ the canines took turns to try and catch the judges’ eye. Some revelled in the attention and struck a pose on cue, others refused to put on airs – as the opportunity to slurp a rival’s face or chew their tail became too distracting. But there must always be winners – and when they were announced, caught up in the excitement of our applause, the assembled dogs began a chorus of spontaneous barking that echoed around the square.
Dogs excelled in displays of athletic feats, such as ‘Walking Backwards on Two Legs’, ‘Rolling Over and Waggling Paws in the Air’, ‘Speaking on Demand’ and ‘Jumping Through a Hoop’. Chris, owner of a prize winning Cock-a-poo named Woodstock, revealed to me that, “He can learn anything in two days – one day of demonstration, another of practice and he’s got it!” But perhaps most impressive was the fact that, although some competitors only completed their event with the aid of stimulants (all-natural dog biscuits, I am pleased to report), many sprightly mutts performed solely for the love of the game.
Ultimately though, the spirit of the event was more social than competitive and, as always, it was heartening to see how dogs – very social animals – often unknowingly help their owners to become more gregarious and open themselves. Sheltering under the trees, committed dog lovers exchanged stories with passersby, admiring owners met fellow enthusiasts and children everywhere on the green, taking the opportunity of a dog to dote on, made a new friend for the day. Still, it was hard to resist the notion that it was the dogs themselves that were most enjoying the chance to be out and about in such exciting company – for whom such a rich variety of canine cousins to play with was a rare treat. Beyond the formal competitions, some young pups broke away, rough-housing and leaping about with abandon as old-timers sat lolling in the grass at a peaceful distance. For a few, the experience was overwhelming and Kramer, a tiny fourteen week old Boston terrier, making only his second public outing, remained inside his master’s coat.
And, for other dogs, their presence at the event in itself represented a change of fortune. There were audible gasps and then cheers as, during the ‘Rescue Dog’ event, spectators heard tales of mistreatment and neglect that had happily ended in each animal finding a home. Vadim, a beautiful, Siberian Husky, had a story with more than a touch of cinema’s rags-to-riches about it and Charlotte, his owner, beamed proudly as she recounted to me how, after spending three years chained up in a yard, Vadim now had his liberty, an agent, and an ad campaign for Laura Ashley to his name.
As the day darkened and the dogs’ thoughts turned towards their dinner bowls, the lively huddle of wagging tails and yapping pooches began to disperse. It was at this moment that a girl nearby looked around wide-eyed and longingly, before confiding to me, “I just want to steal someone’s dog and take it away!” Not being in a position to look after a dog myself, and witnessing the depth of joy and emotion each animal inspires in their owner, I was tempted to agree.
Yet while this exceptional gathering was for one day only, dogs do not ration out their infectious high spirits and exuberance to order or occasion. So I know that I only have to wander through one of the neighbourhood parks on any day of the week to see them at their never-ending running, jumping, catching games, and then I can walk on with a spring in my step.
Jonny Woo – tranny dog walker.
Oscar (as Prince Charming), Buddy (as Batman) and Sparky (as a velociraptor) wait anxiously for the judges’ verdict.
Yasmin with her dog Chloe, winner of the ‘Celebrity Look-a-like’ competition, dressed as Lady Gaga.
Wellington, a Manchester Terrier, in patriotic mood
One year old Edward, a Deerhound-Greyhound cross.
Isabelle and her owner Ian who took second place in the ‘Dog & Owner Look-a-like’ competition.
Rocco, proud winner of ‘Best East End Dog’.
Lottie & Duke, two dashing Dachshunds from Muswell Hill.
Emily-Jane escorts Australian sheepdog, Merlin.
Peanut, a Hungarian Puli and winner of the ‘Best Puppy’ competition, with her owner Linzi King.
Vadim, a Siberian Husky, with his owner Charlotte Kasner, competing for ‘Dog & Owner Look-a-like.’
Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie
Photo of Rocco, winner of Best East End Dog submitted by his owner Claudia Waldron.
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