SEA ISLE, N.J. --- The big news here is that Simba, our 1 1/2-year-old golden retriever, just won "Best of Show" in this year's dog show on the boardwalk.
"Paws on the Promenade" is not exactly the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, but he had dozens of good competitors, including five other top-notch goldens, a beautiful Bernese mountain dog, a cute Jack Russell terrier, and a big black poodle wearing a nylon net tutu.
Simba won $155 in prizes, consisting of two free tickets to the upcoming "Great Balls of Fire" concert on the Ocean City Music Pier (I don't know if dogs are allowed, or if he can get a date), a $100 gift certificate at Parkway Vet in Cape May Court House (we donated it back for someone adopting a pet), and a $25 gift certificate from Pawsitively Pets, a local dog-toy store. Simba loves toys! His favorites are tennis balls, some furry stuffed squirrels and a musical Christmas tree.
The contest is sponsored by Beacon Animal Rescue, a local no-kill adoption shelter. They make money in the local beach communities in a unique way, offering a "Goose Chaser" service: "We'll bring our dogs to you and let them chase the geese off your land. The geese find somewhere else to go, our dogs get exercise, and you get your land back. Small donation requested."
Back home in Pittsburgh, Simba is fascinated with what began as our backyard bird feeder but ended up as a hanging basket full of squirrels. We bought him a family of toy stuffed squirrels of his own.
Goldens love to bring gifts and each day Simba carries one of his stuffed pet squirrels out to the basket of real squirrels. The floor underneath the hanging squirrel basket is littered each day with an assortment of toys and gifts from Simba. Perhaps these are a sort of peace offering to the real squirrels, we thought, until one morning we found him on the back porch with one of the squirrels squirming, feet flying and pinned to the ground. Simba had him by the neck (the squirrel got away after we yelled for Simba to back off).
Simba can act tough, but he's afraid of the dark. When we let him out at night in the backyard, he treads cautiously, looking around for any monsters or giant squirrels that might be lurking back there, with his musical Christmas tree playing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" to ward off any evil spirits.
Simba's toughest challenge, though, is our bed, which he has always thought of as his permanent puppy pile. But our 9-year-old golden, Chloe, thinks he has outgrown the pile, and so do we. So Simba is kicked out of bed most nights and left to fend for himself alone around the bedroom.
To keep him off the bed, Chloe makes a face at him with her eyes glowering and her teeth bared. That used to work for her with our other golden retriever, Nugget, but Simba simply won't give up. He brings us crazy things in the middle of the night, which to him are sort of like hostess gifts. Some nights, crying and whimpering, he brings us his stuffed squirrels.
One night he jumped into bed between us with his largest stuffed squirrel, soaking wet, pushing it on our faces. We had no idea if he had left it out in the rain or if he had been dipping it in the toilet.
Last week, after being kicked out of bed by Chloe's growl and evil face, he jumped back into bed crying and carrying in his mouth -- the bathroom rug!
We could have told the people at "Paws on the Promenade" that there was no getting ahead of this dog (his Dad's name is Bad-As-I-Wannabe). Simba came to the contest late and had to sign up in the only remaining category, "Best of Show." He walked over to the judge, laid his head gently on her knee and looked up into her face with his soft dark-chocolate eyes. She patted his head and said, "He's so sweeeeet!" As she started to melt, he laid his head on her chest and gently licked her neck.
"What's his number," she asked. There I was with a big number "35" around my neck but she couldn't take her eyes off Simba. Said the male judge sitting next to her, "Boy, that dog knows how to win."