The Greatest Showman

by Pam Gowing



“Stoppit. Stand still.”


She-Woman’s piercing voice is sharper than the scissors she is using to snip my toe hairs. Standing on three legs, I attempt to tug my paw from her grasp, but her grip is as tenacious as her merciless shearing. I smell her tension. Beads of sweat erupt on her knitted brow. Do they taste salty? I lean up to lick one.


“Aw, Buzz,” she says, momentarily softening her gaze and slowing her snipping. “You’re so forgiving. Sorry I’m fussing. It’s not your fault you stood in chewing gum. It’s just that it couldn’t happen at a worse moment. You need to be perfect.”


Forgiving? Moi? More like fed up and frustrated.


A nearby sneeze grabs my attention. It’s Igor. Wrinkling his nose, he snuffles as powder is sprinkled through his white Siberian coat. Behind him Mimi enjoys having her poodle puffs primped, and across the way Digger the Dachshund, aka, ‘Sir Dig-a-lot of Dunstable’, is practicing his stance. How can someone so low to the ground look so superior? His regal nose is almost as long as his sausage-back.


I jerk my paw again but am brought back to reality with a lecture from She. Eyeball to eyeball, human and canine noses meet. She says.

“Stop that fidgeting. You know the drill.”


Oh yes I do, for indeed it has been drilled into me. I must stand on a table and maintain soft eyes, while the judge, a stranger, glares into mine. Next, my teeth, my personal and private weapons of defense are revealed to him, and worse still, oh I shudder to mention this, but can’t leave it unsaid…. my dangly bits will be man-handled. The ignominy!


Then, when I’ve not quite recovered my wits from that assault, I’m plucked from the table, plunked to the floor and expected to spring into a swaggering display of elegance, where I prance like a prince to show my polished paces to the judge. My head will be held artificially high, the burning under my ears from the tight lead ignored, and I will maintain an attitude of impeccable aloofness mixed with friendliness and intelligence. How’s that for a list?


All of this is done because I am a perfect specimen of West Highland Terrier. With my chocolate-button eyes, large head and proud chest, I am called Buzz Lightyear, after the handsome cartoon spaceman whose deportment I resemble.


The last eighteen months have been a whirlwind of success. I’ve won class after class around the country, and my prolific prowess has led us to where we are tonight… minutes from the supreme championship at Woofts. The audience is on the edge of its seats. Anticipation fills the air with a mood of happiness and eagerness.


But I’m not happy. In fact I hate showing. Standing in the queue for the ring alongside the other canine competitors – my friends, my enemies, – I mutter.


“It’s scary being snipped into shape with sharp scissors, and horrid being yanked around, admired more for looks than for personality. Who thinks being plucked, tweaked, bathed, and wrapped in cotton wool is fun? I want to dig holes, chase things, run through hedges and roll in stinky stuff.“ I’m about to elaborate on the delights of ‘eau de fox poo’ when Igor interrupts.


“You can do all that when you retire, and that retirement might be today if you go well.


 “Ya’” says Digger the Daxi, “Go good my friend. Don’t give up now. You will get out of it what you put into it.“


“But I despise it, specially the undercarriage check.” I squirm, the mixture of pride and embarrassment throws me off balance.”


Mimi laughs, “If you don’t shine tonight, you’ll have to take part in many more shows before you can retire or…. Worse.”


“Worse?” I frown. What could be worse?


With a Mona Lisa smile, she says.


“If you don’t win, they might put you through a worse ‘snip’ than those scissors you fret about. You might go to the vet and lose your precious bits. Think.” She urges. “You wouldn’t be ‘Buzz Lightyear’ any more, you would be ‘Buzz Light Gear’!”


I’m naturally white, but I turn a lighter shade of pale as Mimi’s mocking words sink in. I am on the verge of swooning when the class starts. She-Woman plunges us into the ring. Her nose is in the air, her chest plumped like a peacock, and I decide it’s now or never. I pull myself together and mimic her to a tee. Nose up, chest out. I trot like my toes can cut the heads off daisies. When it is my turn on the table, I gaze lovingly into the judges’ eyes. I show my teeth with an obliging smile. I grit them gently and barely wince for the wretched wrangle of my wiggly bits.


The rest of the evening passes in a flash. The encouraging claps of the crowd turns to roars of rapture, when in a magical movement of breath-taking suspense, the judge lands his ‘hand of decision’ on She-Woman’s shoulder.


We’ve done it. We’ve won! In a nod to my Scottish ancestry, the band uses bagpipes instead of orchestral instruments to play ‘The Greatest Showman,’ as we perform our lap of honour. The fanfare. The adrenalin. It’s a wonderful night of glory. All the indignities, tediousness and embarrassments of the last year and a half have been worth it for this magical moment.

White westie running free from The Greatest Showman story by Pam Gowing

Now I look back on that glorious evening with a twinkle in my eye and I acknowledge it was a time of wonder that has lead to many more magical nights for me. But these evenings are no longer spent in the show-ring. I am a champion now, so I get to spend them with lovely lady dogs. No more being wrapped in cotton wool either. My days are spent frolicking and playing to my heart’s content in muddy fields and on sandy beaches.


When any of my younger dog acquaintances whine about their show careers, I think of that night when my friends’ words of wisdom and warning put ‘pep in my step’, and I tell them to do their best. It will be over sooner than they realize. I ‘paws’ for thought and tell them they’ll ‘get out of it what they put into it’.


Signed, Buzz (with all my gear).