Updated: Dec 6, 2019
Wow, just wow. It's been one heck of a ride with Tonka boy.
If you haven't read my blog post about Tonka's show dog journey, take a read prior to this one by clicking on this link https://www.flyinfranchwife.com/post/tonka-s-show-story
ASCA (Australian Shepherd Club of America) Nationals is a week long Aussie inspired event. Dogs are competing in all around dog sports like conformation, agility, rally, obedience, stock, and dock diving. As well, there are so many fun vendors set up with irresistable squeaker toys, bait, treats, leashes, collars, grooming products, massage therapy and more.
Tonka was so incredibly lucky to be in the Altered Top 30 Dogs in the world standings for conformation. I'll explain briefly... Through out the year, points are accumulated from wins at dog shows. The top 30 dogs are invited to Nationals to compete in the Finals against each other. Tonka was #22 this year so he was invited to compete in Altered Finals. THIS IS HUGE. I sent in my entries for finals, booked a hotel and kinda left it to the side while I focused on all my other little activities going on in my hectic life.
I feel like a complete idiot for not doing my homework prior to this giant Aussie-Fest. A few weeks before Nationals, I noticed people on Facebook talking about pre-shows and post-shows at Nationals. No idea what that really meant. Later, I come to find out that I could and should of entered Tonka and Critter (my cute little female) in those classes too. I thought that I could only enter the finals because Tonka was "invited" to compete. Critter is looking SO GOOD right now too. That hurt my heart. I was so bummed, missed the deadlines for those shows. Oh well, you live and learn I guess. Next time, I'll be more prepared.
I have an Aussie loving friend named Sarah, who owns one of Tonka's half brothers. Sarah and her boy, Kodi joined us on this journey to Bakersfield. We met at a Trader Joe's and picked up snacks and canned wine and started our trek up to Aussie Town. It took us about 5 hours to make it up there. We immediately went to the fairgrounds where Nationals was set up to check out what I needed and view some of the events going on for the day.
I had already groomed Tonka and I brought my grooming supplies for final touch ups which I was planning on working on once I figured out my surroundings and got my paperwork. As I made my way around the fairgrounds with Sarah and our dogs, I bumped into a few people I have become friends with through out the past few years in Aussie World. Everyone in this community is so warm and most are willing to help a newbie out. A lot of them say "We've been there before" and are willing to help guide and mentor me. I am so thankful for that. If it weren't for these people, it would be a very hard learning process for me.
I saw a friend of mine named Lynda and stopped to chat. We visited for a few minutes and I told her that I was going to touch up Tonka later. She looked at him, looked and me and said... "I'm going to help you out." I kinda laughed to myself. Poor Tonka's coat has changed dramatically since he was neutered. It turned super curly and full. I have been bathing him once a week for months to rid that undercoat (yes, that's a lot of baths..) his coat is so much work. Lynda is basically a pro groomer. I've seen her at shows beautifying her dogs to perfection. Lynda handed me four bathing products and gave me strict instructions. I had to repeat it back maybe 3 times before I got it right. I headed over to the bathing area with Sarah and we got to business on poor Tonka. He looked at me like "Awesome, another bath...." We finished the bath and heading to Lynda's grooming space. Lynda had Tonka up on the grooming table and just worked her magic. Sarah and I were hanging on every word Lynda had coming out of her mouth when she was explaining the products and techniques she was using. We learned SO MUCH and we were both so thankful for Lynda's mini grooming school. (Thank you Lynda!)
Tonka looked SO GOOD. I was shocked how much grooming techniques could just make a dog totally pop. Tonka looked him a little movie star. I had Lynda watch me run Tonka on down and backs and she gave me a few pointers. We decided that we will do our final touch ups on Tonka in the morning about an hour prior to the Finals the next morning. Sarah and I checked into our hotel and then found a fun dog-friendly brewery in downtown to eat dinner and grab a craft beer. We headed back to the hotel and tried to get some rest. I was so nervous, I kept waking up in the night having dreams of showing.
Show Day. I got up, got ready, and headed out. Sarah went to grab us and Lynda coffee while I drove to the fairgrounds and tried not to pee my pants out of pure nervousness. When i pulled in, Lynda was ready to go. I had Tonka on the table and we fixed him up. I called my family back home to talk to my kids. That day was my son's 3rd birthday. He was so excited and I was so sad that I wasn't there with him. He was on FaceTime on my mom's phone, I was couldn't help but have tears wanting to roll out of my eyeballs. He was so happy so that is what mattered. After talking to family, I got dressed, got myself back in my head space and headed over to the conformation building where the finals would be held.
I looked around and there we were. Top 30 best altered champion Aussies all in one room. Beautiful. I had another emotional outburst come over me. I felt so honored. I never in a million years would of imagined that I would be standing with these amazing handlers and dogs. The announcer told us the plan and started out by calling out our armband numbers as he went down his list. As each dog and handler went around, he would call out the dog's full registered name. When it was my turn, he called out "Altered Champion Kaweah's Tatanka Red of K-aus" I heard some cheers and whistles and there I go again, tears swelling up as I ran alongside my boy. He was leading me. I felt the sense of pride through the lead that Tonka was radiating. He knew the cheers were for him. Normal Show Dog Tonka doesn't really get amped on dog shows. But, this time he felt different to me. Maybe he knew this was bigger.
The three judges came out and each had their own ring. The process of this show went like this: Dog and handler steps into the ring, stack dog, the judge does her exam, she sends you to the corner of the ring and back with a free-stack, go around the ring in a circle and then move onto the next ring and do the whole process again with the new judge. Tonka did amazing. At the last ring, at the very end, the judge asked for me to take Tonka to the middle and do a free-stack. I made my way and attempted the free-stack. Squeaks from a toy started up by the photo booth and Tonka could not handle it. He wanted the squeaky! I turning his body to the direction of the squeaks to get him to stand. He finally got it after a few attempts. I was slightly embarrassed and nervous. The judge came up to me with a smile and told me to relax. She was right. I needed that.
I was done. Just needed to wait until the last dog went in and then the judges had their forms tallied. There were two ties, so both sets of dogs went into the ring again for another examination with all three judges working together. after the tie breakers were finsihed. We waited. As we waited, the announcer said "Remember, you are the Nations Top 30 this year. That is a huge accomplishment. 3o BEST DOGS. Be proud win or lose. Your dogs are meant to be here." That got to me and tears started to swell up, AGAIN. I'm not usually a crier but I was a mess inside. He was right, and I was proud. So happy we even got to where we are.
The final results were officially tallied. they brought the Top 30 back into the ring all together and announced Top 10 in random order. As each name was announced, I just kept talking to Tonka, telling him he was a good good boy and he deserves to be in this line up of beautiful dogs. In the end, his name wasn't called. I was OK with that. We did our best and the dogs in Top 10 totally deserved it. I was just happy to be a part of it.
Later in the day, Intact Finals was to be done. Which, is the same type of show I just did, but with intact dogs. So, Top 3o Intact. At the end of Intact Finals, they would announce the Top 10 for Intact, and then bring in Top 10 Altered and announce the final placings in reverse order. #10 altered, #10 intact, #9 altered, #9 intact. All the way to #1. I was exciting to watch that. That was later in the day. So, I put Tonka away, gave him his breakfast and water, and took Critter out to give her some attention. Sarah and I decided we wanted to go and watch agility and meet with some San Diego friends that were competing. We watched for a while and then headed back for Intact Finals.
Intact Finals. WOOOOW pretty dogs. It's like a total beauty pageant. I've seen many of these dogs on the Aussie Times magazines. I was just in awe to be there watching them and their amazing handlers. The judges selected top 10. Then, the brought back the altered top 10 and started the backwards countdown. So intense. So amazing. When the got to the final two, both sets of handlers were just hugging each other in anticipation. They annoucned the winners and the shock on the altered final winner's face was so raw and real. I then finally shed a tear for her. I felt for her. It was a neat thing to witness.
The rest of the day was spent socializing, shopping for grooming supplies that Lynda advised us to get and watching any other events going on at the time. Sarah, the dogs and I were so pooped. We went back to the hotel room and just talked about what a cool day it was. I fell asleep early, and the just dreamed about prancing around with Tonka in the show ring.
Next day, was about Critter. Critter at home is happy if she's covered in mud, rolling in cow poo, stealing chicken eggs and diving into our pond. On this day, they had the dock jumping pad set up. For $15, you can jump your dog as many times as you want that day, It is a great opprotunity to try it out to see how your dog likes it. I was so excited. I've been talking ever since Critter was a puppy that I'd love to try dock with her since I can't keep her out of water at home. So I paid my fees and stood in line. When it was our turn, she crumbled. I wasn't sure if it was the bigger gentleman who was the coach or what. But, she wanted to run. She was so scared. I felt terrible. I tried to gently toss the toy into the water as he splashed it around to entice her. NOPE. She turned right back around and went down the stairs to wait for me. The dock guy told me to try again later and that sometimes they get nervous because the water is clear and hard to see. Not like jumping into a dirty pond. That made sense. So we went to agility, came back a few hours later. The line was sooooo long. I waited about an hour with her. She seemed calm until we got to the top of the dock again. NOPE. The dock guy tried to pick her up and set her in the water. She was splashing around like a cat in a pool. She swam as fast as she could to me once she saw were I was and was totally over it at that point. I'm hoping that didn't ruin her.. I'm going to experiment at other pools at home to see if I can get her comfortable with it. Seriously, I can't believe it! She hurls herself in the pond all the time!
After our final dock dive attempt it was time to go home. All of us were pooped and ready to go home to our family. I said my goodbyes to everyone and headed home. A long 6 hours home with traffic. Yay...
So, that was Nationals for me. I was only there for three days, but it was just enough for me. I learned a ton, got inspiration, watched lovely dogs and visited with friends. Tonka is now officially retired. I told Tonka he can be Warren's show dog if my son ever wanted to compete in juniors. Tonka is a great babysitter and would probably like to take Warren around the ring with him. He truly did his best in conformation and I am so proud and blessed that I am his owner. More importantly, Tonka is my friend and protector. I cherish this boy with all my heart and I am so thankful to have been able to share this journey with him. As well, I'm excited to focus on Critter girl in the show ring. She is my spunky girl, so I'm going to get more involved in agility with her too. Let's see what this year brings for her.
In the meantime, you'll find Tonka eating baby food off the floor and taking long naps on my bed. I love you Tonka boy! Good, dog.