By my estimate, the boy may have been about 7 or 8 years old. He walked into the hall somewhat nervously, looking around at the crowds and, I'm sure, observing the general air of "packing-up-to-leave" which pervaded the dog show. Benny spotted him first, and the cute, half-grown mongrel pup trotting beside him on a lead, a blue bow tied prominently around the pup's neck, over the collar.
Benny moved to intercept the boy a second before I did. He was nearer than I was and reached him first. The other judges noticed the two of us converging on one spot and began making their way toward us to see what was up.
"Looking for something, son?" Benny was trying to be kind, but there was no mistaking the attitude of "you-don't-belong-here". Fortunately, I arrived on the scene at this point, ready to hijack Benny's conversation.
"I... I... ... Is it over?" The boy blurted out.
"Did you want something?" I asked, as kindly as I could. (Being the main organiser of a dog show has some advantages, including being able to hijack a conversation started by the senior judge, without causing too much offense by doing so).
The boy plucked up his courage before replying "I wanted to enter Fix in the show... I..."
"This is a show for pedigreed dogs, son" said Benny. "Besides, we've already given out all of the prizes." (Benny is a good man, but sometimes he has all the tact and subtlety of a bulldozer).
The boy's little face fell. "B-but I worked all day to get ready!" he protested. "I've bathed Fix, an' brushed him an' put a ribbon on him an' - an'..." he looked on the verge of tears.
"Hmm" I said, extending the sound somewhat so that Benny wouldn't be able to reply before I did. "Well, there is one prize left." I started giving Benny the Eye. I had anticipated a situation like this and made preparations, but I had not told anyone else.
By this time, the other three judges were within earshot and they all heard me make that strange (to them) statement. All, including Benny, gave me puzzled looks.
I turned to the other judges. "You know...?" I said, questioningly. "The award for 'well-cared-for canine of no particular breed.'" I winked with the eye furthest from the boy. "The one that we don't have to give out unless we want to; the one with the ten-dollar prize?"
Smiles broke out among the others. Yes, even Benny. He really never intends to be unkind. "Oh-h-h, that prize," said Sue, "I'd completely forgotten that one." "Yes," added Gerald, "we don't often give out that one." John nodded, "no wonder we forgot about it."
Benny just grinned, and tried to suppress it to only a smile, in case he 'gave the game away' by too much enthusiasm.
I turned back to the boy, whose face now wore a slightly more hopeful expression. "Of course, before we can award any prize, we have to be sure that the entry deserves it" I said, looking at the little mutt, which immediately gave me an intelligent look and wagged its tail enthusiastically. I gave the others a serious look. "We must examine the dog's general health, and check the coat for fleas and overall cleanliness. We can only award the prize if everything is satisfactory." I hoped the other judges understood. I really did intend doing a proper examination of the boy's canine friend. This was not going to be just a 'soothe the poor child's feelings' prize.
We placed the little mutt on a table and began an examination. Sue (a qualified vet) carefully checked the dog's health, while I inspected the coat. The boy must have worked very hard on that long-suffering pup. Although I looked very carefully, nary a flea could I see, nor any 'flea dirt'. The coat was wonderfully clean, and there was no sign of any 'matting' of the hairs. It was obvious that the pup had been recently bathed and brushed with great care. I was pleasantly surprised. I had not expected such diligence in so young a child.
I looked at Sue as she finished her part of the examination. "Well," I said, "how's his health?"
Sue smiled. "Very good. No sign of worms or rickets; both ears are clean and the eyes are clear; temperature normal: all in all, a healthy little dog."
I turned to the boy. "What's your name?"
"Well, Martin, you have a beautiful dog here, but I'll have to talk to your mum or dad before we award the prize, just to make sure it's okay with them. What's your telephone number?"
Fortunately, he knew the number. I went to the office and dialled. Martin's mother answered the telephone. During the conversation which followed, I gathered some more information. Martin had done all of the hard work by himself. Mum only helped to hold Fix still for his bath while Martin did the scrubbing. His mum was obviously proud of him. She was quite happy for him to be given money as a reward for his efforts. I thanked Martin's mum and hung up.
Then I moved to the computer. I had prepared a 'certificate' earlier, on the computer, 'just in case'. All I needed to do was to fill in the name of the owner, the name of the dog, then print onto pastel blue paper. The final step was to use the club's embossing machine to place a gold-leaf stamp in the bottom-left corner, bearing the name and logo of our dog club. I withdrew two $5 notes from my wallet and placed them into an envelope before leaving the office.
I headed for the table where the examination had taken place and saw that a small crowd had now gathered around Martin and Fix. As I approached, I called the other judges together. "Are we agreed then?" I asked. Nods all around. "He deserves the prize?" A chorus of agreement.
I turned to young Martin. "On behalf of the dog club, I hearby declare this to be a Well-Presented Dog of No Particular Breed" I announced, "and I award this certificate and prize of ten dollars to Martin." I handed over the certificate and envelope.
Little Martin's eyes seemed to grow as big as saucers as he saw the gold stamp on the paper. Everyone started applauding as he opened the envelope and withdrew the notes. Martin seemed lost for words, but his eyes spoke the joy which his mouth could not say.
As I conducted Martin to the door a little later, I saw him looking thoughtfully at the certificate, a slight frown on his face. I decided to ask. "What are you wondering?" I paused.
Martin looked at me, a little uncertain.
I prompted him again, "Don't be afraid to ask. It won't be impolite, if you don't mean it to be impolite."
Martin slowed to a stop and looked me in the eye. "Is this a real prize?" he asked, holding up the certificate. "I wanted to earn a real prize, not a made-up prize."
I returned his gaze and replied honestly, "I made it up, just for you, but I wouldn't have given you anything more than some good advice if you hadn't earned that prize. That examination we did of Fix was real, not pretend. You earned that prize. So, the answer to your question is; yes, it's a real prize, because you earned it."
Martin looked a little doubtfully at the certificate, then at me again.
I continued, "Anyway, the so-called 'real' prizes have to be 'made up' by someone, some time. People don't have to give dogs fancy names like Dalmation, German Shepherd, Boxer and so on and give out prizes for 'best of breed' and suchlike. We do it because we want to; because we think that people deserve a reward for working hard to prepare a dog for a show like this. You worked hard to get Fix ready, didn't you?"
Martin nodded happily, his eyes shining as he looked at the certificate once again. He now understood.
"Then you earned it" I concluded.
Martin nodded. As he left, he turned, waved, and smiled at me.
I smiled and waved back.
Benny cornered me in the office later. "Why did you do that?"
I gazed at him. "Ten dollars and a little effort. Did you see his smile?"
Benny grinned, in spite of himself. "Yes."
"Do you really need to ask?"
"Umm... I guess not."