Marilyn Donlon of Westlake and her golden retriever, Lacey, stood in the shade near Ring 18 on Sunday at the county's annual dog show in Ventura, as Donlon primped and preened Lacey in anticipation of their turn to enter the ring.
Moments later, the judges called for Donlon and the long-haired canine to begin. Lacey, with head held high, embarked on a series of well-practiced walks, turns and jumps that Donlon hoped would result in a blue ribbon for her 6-year-old companion.
Afterward, Donlon rewarded Lacey with snacks and sips of cold water.
But she doubted that the effort would be good enough to take first place at the Ventura County Dog Fanciers Assn. Dog Show concluding Sunday at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Instead, she learned later, Lacey won a yellow ribbon for a third-place showing.
"She tried and that's what was most important," said Donlon, a professional dog trainer who won champion status with Lacey at an earlier meet. "There are still some weaknesses, but she did a nice job."
Lacey was one of more than 2,300 dogs entered in a series of competitions at the fairgrounds in a weekend contest that attracted canines from all across the Western United States.
"People have to love animals to do this, and you have to love the competition," said William Bergum of Ventura, a director of the American Kennel Club, which sponsored the three-day show.
"Most people are here just for the joy of competing," he said. "Nowadays, there are very few money prizes."
Thousands of people streamed through the Ventura County Fairgrounds on Sunday to applaud the animals' performances. Dogs competed in divisions of two primary categories that assess obedience and physical appearance. Divisional winners are presented ribbons that increase their value for breeding.
Dogs competing for obedience ribbons must perform a routine that calls for the animals to walk unleashed on long stretches of grass and sit at their owners' commands. They must also fetch bones and hurdle a three-foot-high fence.
Contestants in the conformation category, Bergum said, are judged strictly on physique and how closely they match a perfect computer-generated model.
Tom Holstein, a Navy physicist who lives in Oxnard, brought his 3-year-old golden retriever, Trooper, to the show Sunday. But he didn't enter the young canine.
"He just hasn't been trained enough," Holstein said, watching the obedience contest near the fairgrounds entrance. "I'll have him in the Lompoc show at the end of the month."