On Sunday, the girls and I had the honour of representing the Norwegian Elkhound breed at Discover Dogs, Crufts. Last year was our first time, and we only did a half day. This year we were short on volunteers, so I agreed that we would cover a full day. If you really want to be exhausted, this is the way to do it.
After a very early start, which thankfully meant the traffic on the M40 was nice and quiet, we arrived at the designated carpark around 0830. Fortunately, I have some generous friends, and a particularly tall and strong male one offered to help all day and lug bags and bits across to the NEC. After I'd loaded him up with cameras, leaflets, and lots of water and treats (for me and the girls), we joined the others heading towards the show.
Arriving in the halls, we were surprised to see the crowds already gathering. But the early mornings and late afternoons are the time to be there if you're shopping - the queues can be horrendous otherwise!
If you have never been to Discover Dogs at Crufts, imagine this: A huge indoor space filled with rings, two-storey trade stands and hundreds of people ... and that's just the front half. Make your way to the back and you'll find over 200 booths - one for each different breed. Each has an enclosed pen for the dogs (and people at times!) and walls covered with photographs and information. It's overwhelming and you could spend hours talking to all the owners and cuddling all the dogs. As usual, our stand was looking amazing - the ladies who put it together every year do a wonderful job.
It wasn't long before visitors started arriving to meet the girls and ask about the breed. But it also wasn't long before the rest of my volunteer helpers arrived: an old work colleague and her daughter (who would cuddle the dogs all day if she could); and an old university friend who happens to be a vet (very handy). Together, we took it in turns to share the wonders of life with Elkhounds, while making sure we took breaks to look around the rest of the show.
The girls love all the attention, but it's very tiring for them. Despite regular breaks in a covered crate, it only took an hour or two before they were no longer rushing up to greet each new visitor. Instead, Disa lay in the front corner, so adults could reach over to stroke her and children could touch her through the wire. Busy decided my lap was the best place to be - this meant that everyone could reach into the pen and stroke her ears very easily.
The world of Elkhound owners is very small and occasionally during the day one, or several, would turn up. The girls recognise a friendly face and would get incredibly excited each time - running around to welcome each one and check if they had biscuits.
By the late afternoon we were all flagging, most of my volunteers had been fed icecream and sent home, and my throat felt like I'd been swallowing drawing pins. That strapping young man I mentioned at the beginning helped me load everything up again and get it all back to the car. Then it was back onto the M40 for a slightly busier drive home.
Once in the door we all collapsed and, after a quick meal, it was time for a very well-earned sleep.