It's wonderful to watch handlers being called up for their well earned rosettes at Agility shows, but there is another rosette which instils as much pride as a first place trophy - one which boosts moral, and means something equally important to a handler even when things have gone wrong in the ring and that's the Judge's Special. Patch Guipago explains what Specials have meant to her over the years.
I love to clap long and hard for each handler called out for their Special, be they young children just starting out, or seasoned competitors. In every case, the Judge has seen something in the dog, the handler, or both as a team, which they felt compelled to acknowledge.
Throughout my beloved Defa's agility career so far, we have had the privilege (and joy) of having been presented with several of these Judge's Specials. These wonderful rosettes were awarded for many different reasons. Some were from Judges wanting to reward him, not out of pity for him being a disabled dog, but to acknowledge the fact that deaf dogs really can have the same full lives an hearing dogs, that they can train well and have as much fun doing Agility as any other dog. Others have been for my boy doing a wonderful run, marred only by my clumsiness as a handler causing him to get an unlucky 5F which would not have happened but for me being a klutz,. And there was even one which I admit to being immensely proud of, for Sportsmanship in the ring when everything went wrong yet still treating Defa as though he had just won at Crufts.
The boost they give to handlers like us, the recipients, is difficult to convey. I have to say, my own reaction tends to be rather watery but immensely happy eyes, which probably says more than words can to those lovely Judges. From the very first Special - and every one since - they have inspired my Agility and added to the joy of being in the ring with Defa.
They have helped mould my attitude to competing, deeply imbedding that no matter what happens each time I run. I always leave the ring smiling and with pride in my lad's achievements simply in him being willing and able to do Agility.
When he is a clown and makes the Judge smile or laugh, maybe its way of saying thank you to them for appreciating his efforts against the odds with me as his handler and for the rosettes he knows perfectly well are his – he never forgets the Judges who give him some fuss at presentations!
I display my boys rosettes with pride and they will give me treasured memories for years to come. So, to all Judges who give these awards which we handlers get such pleasure in receiving, thank you. You are pretty special yourselves!
A plea to show organsiers
So if you are a show organiser, next time you are putting your next show together you might consider adding a few more rosettes to your order. A few pennies extra for them means something you could not put a price on to the lucky handler who takes one home from your show. It's a lovely touch which gives that little bit 'extra' toward the fond memories of a show to those who are awarded one, or in the minds of other competitors seeing the happy recipients proudly going up to shake the Judges hand, with a big smile on their faces.
As it has ended up, Patch has been an agility instructor for six years so far, now teaching at North Essex Agility Training (NEAT) in Colchester, and she qualified as a KC judge in January 2005.
Aside from Agility, her primary life focus over the years has been her work with rescue cats and dogs. An accident in 1995 resulted in a partial disability meaning that she is no longer able to work and has left her more time to devote to volunteer work. She is particularly interested in the behavioural rehabilitation of those which have been severely abused and traumatised. Her time now is divided between my own nine rescue cats and five dogs, the training and rehab of others when called upon and, of course, teaching Agility.