BEST IN SHOW
Picture a grin, a smokeless cigar stub, a slow dry drawl, and what have you got? You’ve got Joe Fleming, that’s who!
Raised and educated here in the foothills city Joe had no trouble playing the role of a Calgarian, because he was one, right from the start. In fact, Joe took the caricature of a Calgarian, added a few of his own distinctive touches, and became more of a White Hatter than most native sons.
After all, he was a very little boy when he was brought to this country by his English parents. He was only a teenager when he became a Scoutmaster in the international boy’s movement that was to appoint him Calgary Assistant District Commissioner. He was an innovative, young-at-heart manufacturers’ agent. So, true to his lifelong credo, he was independent, bossed by nobody. That is unless, in a warm, loving way, by his wife Joyce and, at times maybe by Brenda Jo, the daughter he introduced into the exciting world of the dog fancy.
I always thought Joe’s eyes had more fun with life than his mouth did. He could purse the grin right off his face, making his mouth a thin line that labeled him as being opinionated, stubborn, and just plain angry. That is, because Joe Fleming was a very human person, amply capable of anger and stubbornness, and unwavering opinions. It made him a rather prickly person to some people, but never to a dog. Joe had an enemy, I know he had one, but it was never a dog. His one big enemy was stupidity.
When he encountered stupidity, whether in a customer, a handler, a breeder, a club official, Joe’s hackles would rise and usually the person he considered to be stupid was left with no doubt. One thing about Joe Fleming, he believed only people were capable of being stupid. If a dog was bewildered in, or out of, the ring, he always forgave it, knowing its confusion was caused by a person.
Joe thought like a dog does, that’s why he always got along with them so well. Besides that, when he was vexed, Joe could even look a lot like one of those fine bulldogs he used to breed and handle. The glower was something that, if you ever saw it, you would put out your hand first, before you got too close!
All the rest of the time Joe Fleming’s grin was one of the merry sights of our town. You saw it a lot when he was playing one of his favorite roles, host to out-of-towners. He loved showing off the place and was the best “greeter” any club could wish for. Often, when a lot of visitors had to be taken care of, Joe conscripted members of his family to help handle the job he loved, meeting, greeting and chauffeuring visiting judges and their spouses. Then he would top it off, all in good time, by officiating at the White Hat Ceremony. Let’s face it, Joe was corny and knew it and enjoyed being corny. His sly digs and joshing became known to so very many of his acquaintances and friends because he was a master of the joke.
Years ago, when I was president of the Alberta Kennel Club, Joe used to bug the heck out of me by firing questions at meetings. If ever I gave him an answer I thought he might want to hear, I suddenly wished I hadn’t because he rarely asked questions just for the sake of being heard. He wanted facts, and always was so pleased when his straight questions received straight answers.
I never saw Joe Fleming on one of his scores of out-of-town assignments. But I can imagine what a hit he was with his cigar, his pointy-toed western boots, his ranch-cut suit, bolo tie and that forever white hat! Over in Hawaii and down in Melbourne, Australia, they likely had him tagged as a straight out of a horse opera, and how Joe must have loved that. I’ll bet he always did a great job of selling Canada, himself, and Calgary, and not necessarily in that order!
Like many of you, I saw Joe’s show ring performance from the viewpoints of both spectator and competitor. Sober as the judge he was, he would look intently at each dog in the ring appraising individual behavior and, chances are, much of his rating from 1 to 10 was based on large part upon the behavior of “the person on the other end of the string”. Because suddenly Joe would bark an order to reverse direction. Joe’s friends, the dogs, seemed to enjoy his maneuvering with much more alacrity than the grumbling handlers while Joe, I know, chuckled deep down inside as he watched the dismayed human disarray.
Another Fleming trick that drove a lot of exhibitors to snarling heights of exasperation was his sharp command to “Walk your dogs!” Did that ever show up structural faults, as Joe knew full well it always would! And what about his handling classes? This man could whittle down to size anyone who deigned to blame the dog for misbehavior and missed cues. When you graduated from one of “sergeant major” Joe Fleming’s ordeals you had a pretty fair handle on ring behavior and etiquette, and your animal’s point of view. He praised where, and when, it was deserved. He heaped disdain wherever it was warranted. That was how it was with Joe Fleming, international judge, community booster, lifetime lover and admirer of dogs.
However, I still find myself worrying about one important thing now he no longer is with us. Wherever he is, I devoutly hope that they have plenty of matches or a perpetual lighter for that interminable collection of unlit cigar butts. I am certain that if “Someone up there” sanctimoniously asks him if he has seen the light, Joe will say, “No, have you got one? This darn thing’s gone out again!”
JACK PEACH, Calgary, 1985