I remember the first time I saw her. She was a chunky red and white puppy; the last puppy left in her litter. We picked out the Staffordshire bull terrier breed because of their silly personality and their big hearts with enough love and sloppy kisses to go around. We realized when we brought her home that Maezie was all of these things, and more. She made it clear the couch life just wasn’t for her; she wanted a purpose and was happiest when she was learning new things. What started out as teaching her a few cute party tricks quickly escalated into obedience classes, agility classes and rally classes.

As we trained more and more, we were finally ready to enter shows. We began to travel more, and spent many weekends together competing. After a year of traveling and showing I learned about the Staffordshire Bull Terrier National Specialty, a show where over one-hundred dogs of Maezie’s breed would come together to compete in Confirmation, Agility, Rally and Obedience. The location of the show for 2016 was St. Louis Missouri at the famous to the dog world Purina Farms, a place I had always dreamed of visiting, and now was my chance to go with my furry partner and best friend Maezie.

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I had my entire trip planned well over a year in advance, only to find out I was pregnant. I canceled all of my plans figuring traveling with a dog and a baby just wasn’t feasible. We showed locally and regionally, and Maezie finished 2015 as one of the top 10 in her breed for both Agility and Rally. I felt she really deserved the trip to show her stuff. After the birth of a happy, healthy baby boy, I decided we would brave the trip after all, two dogs, my husband and a   5 -month-old baby.

I could see Maezie’s excitement build as we loaded the car. There was nothing she loved more than a good road trip. Her whole body wagged as we loaded the crates, beds, bowls, food, toys, treats, all this on top of all the gear needed for the baby. The car was packed full, but Maezie happily claimed her spot in the back and lay in her bed in the car while we crammed in the last of the odds and ends. Between the dogs and the baby, our 16 hour trip turned into an 18 hour drive.

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We arrived in Saint Louis in the early afternoon, which gave us enough time to get to Purina Farms and set up before the events started the next morning. As we pulled through the gates, we saw the iconic red roofs of Purina Farms. The grounds were immaculate. I dubbed it “Doggy Disneyland” jokingly with my husband. We spent the next few hours roaming the quiet building. We were one of the first people to arrive to set up, and the building was almost empty.

The quietness of Purina vanished when we arrived at our hotel. We decided to stay at the “host hotel,” which is where the majority of the other competitors were staying. When we got out of the car there were dogs everywhere! Dogs in the parking lot, dogs walking with their owners down the sidewalks, dogs in the lobby, the hallways … no matter where we turned there were dogs everywhere. Maezie and I took a long walk with the baby in tow, while my husband hauled all of our gear to our room. It’s mind boggling all of the things needed for two dogs, two adults and a baby for a weekend stay in a hotel!

The next morning as the alarm went off at 5 a.m. and Maezie bounded out of her crate and jumped at the door. After a short car ride, we were back at Purina Farms, this time the building was humming with people and dogs filing in; the bustle of everyone setting up the last of their things, people playing with their dogs, dogs being groomed and the chatter of dog owners.

Our first event of the day was Rally. The handler walks the course and gets familiar with the signs before bringing the dog into the ring to compete. I felt myself get a little nervous walking the course. With a new baby at home, Maezie and I hadn’t trained as much as I would have liked in the months leading up to the show. I reminded myself I had come for the experience, not the ribbons, and Maezie didn’t know if we came in first or last place, as long as she got a biscuit when we were done.

I warmed up Maezie as we waited for our turn. Finally our number was called and we stood at the ring entrance, as the judge invited us in. The judge looked and asked “Are you ready?” I took a deep breath and answered “Ready.” I looked down at Maezie, she looked back at me with her silly Stafford smile, and we made our way around the course together. We did each sign as a team, and our performance was not perfect, but we made it through the course, smiling together from beginning to end.

I wasn’t prepared for how much a 14” tall dog could change my life, and I am forever grateful for each day we have together, especially days like these where everything seems to come together perfectly. We had a very successful weekend with lots of blue ribbons, trophies and dog toys, but the best moments of the trip were spent sitting in the grass outside of the show building watching the dogs happily chase my husband up and down the rolling hills, while I sat with the baby who would giggle every time Maezie would come up and lick his toes. As we started our long journey home I couldn’t help but think that win or lose, I was driving home with the best dog at the show; my silly, wiggly, wagging, smiling little friend who opened up so many doors for me, and has helped me make so many new friends, who always has extra kisses waiting for me on both the good days and the bad.