Friday, Feb. 22 was a good day to be an Abrams Hebrew Academy student.
Right after shacharit, rather than being shuttled off to class as they normally would, the entire student body was seated in the auditorium, big kids in folding chairs and little kids sitting criss-cross on the ground — when they could actually be cajoled into sitting.
Teachers and administrators milled about as the exquisitely groomed star of the assembly scrabbled on the slippery wooden floor on all fours, panting and yelping, clad in tiny pink bows the same color as her extended tongue.
Adults shushed hopelessly as Brooklyn the Tibetan terrier, the Best Female Tibetan Terrier at the most recent Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York, prepared for a special stop on her victory tour. (Her prize is technically the “Best of Opposite,” awarded to the opposite sex of the Best in Show winner.)
“Please, let’s be on time, let’s go!” pleaded Rabbi Ira Budow, one half of Brooklyn’s ownership team (more on the other half later). Again, useless, Brooklyn was too exciting.
Budow described the enormity of Brooklyn’s victory to the students. The event seemed bigger than the Super Bowl, he said. Her victory was like the Abrams’ basketball team beating the 76ers.
“I said, ‘Susan, you don’t have a chance to win,’” he recalled.
Meanwhile, his wife, Susan Fuchs, Brooklyn’s other owner and her primary trainer, stood off to the back, keeping Brooklyn as quiet as she could. After one growl, Budow raised his eyebrows to the assembly.
“She’s telling you to be quiet,” he said.
Fuchs, chair of the department of psychiatry at St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton for more than 20 years, now runs her own private practice. She always looked for new ways to treat patients, she said, and as she started to learn more about animal-assisted therapy (especially regarding dogs), she became more interested. She ended up getting her master’s degree at the University of Denver relating to the subject a few years ago.
When she found Brooklyn at a breeder in Calgary, Canada, she knew almost immediately that Brooklyn was a good candidate to be a future therapy dog; Brook, for short, ran right up to her.
“I said, ‘You know what, I think she’s good with people,’” Fuchs recalled.
Now, she’s an active therapy dog, registration and all, training up with extra classes a few times a month, helping Fuchs give the children she works with confidence and comfort during their sessions.
Her victory was unbelievable, Budow told the students. As Fuchs later said, the politics involved in tailoring a dog’s performance and grooming to specific judges, not to mention the long hours and resources that need to be poured into training, are often prohibitive to those who don’t spend their lives doing such a thing. The people of Westminster, well …
“It’s a very snobby group of people,” he said. “These Westminster people have a different view of the world.”
Nevertheless, he focused on the positives. He showed her ribbon off to the crowd, even as he groused that it came with no cash prize. He recalled the story of Brooklyn’s inability to relieve herself on pavement, so acclimated she’s become to the rolling green in Bucks County; consequently, Brooklyn was ferried to Central Park, where she did her business in dignity.
Budow noted that he was approached by another competitor who told him how happy she was to see him and his wife — the first visibly Orthodox Jews she had ever seen at Westminster in her 25 years of attendance.
“This is such a great lesson for your people,” he told the children. “You can dream the impossible dream!” Im tirtzu …
Indeed, it was an improbable victory.
“I was absolutely shocked,” Fuchs said. “It was so totally unexpected.”
A lot of dogs, Fuchs said, are sent away to handlers for years at a time, only rarely seeing their actual owners. Fuchs, meanwhile, did the majority of the training for Brooklyn. Additionally, the gung-ho members of the dog show world are out every weekend, establishing a rapport with the judges. Some even go so far as to do Academy Awards season-style campaigns for their pups, taking out ads in the industry magazines.
Fuchs introduced a short video compiled of Brooklyn’s victory to the students, showing as she was trotted around a small ring by a gray-haired woman in heels and a red pantsuit. There was also a clip of Brooklyn’s award presentation, as she panted happily.
The floor was opened for questions, as well as comments asked in the form of a question. “I’ve never seen a dog with so much fur,” one student asked. “I’m from Brooklyn,” another inquired.
“How old is Brooklyn?” She’s 4, was the answer. “What is Brooklyn’s lifespan?” Probably another decade. “Can she do a backflip?” That’s a negative. One student stood up, raised his hand, was called upon, and with the eyes of the room upon him, got too bashful and sat back down.
Speaking of sitting: The conclusion of the Q&A led into a display of Brooklyn’s talents. She rolled over on the ground, she spun around on her hind legs, and yes, she sat.
“That’s better than my class at sitting,” one teacher called out.
“You don’t have to go to the circus, come to Abrams,” Budow told the students.
After the presentation ended, students were invited to pet Brooklyn on their way to class. Though Fuchs thought it might be a bit overwhelming for Brooklyn, she seemed to enjoy the attention.