I recently had the opportunity of a lifetime to judge American Pit Bull Terriers in Pavia, Italy. As I type this, I am sitting on a train on my way from Treviso to Bologna recollecting the whirlwind of the past four days. I will do my best to accurately describe this amazing experience. The only problem is I’m doubtful words can do this amazing country full of passionate people and high quality dogs justice. Upon arriving at Milan Malpensia airport, I was greeted by ADBA Club Italia members Gianluca Feduzi, Elissa Sabattini and Lorenzo Trere. Even though I am of Italian descent, I regretfully have never learned the Italian language. I only know a few basic words I’ve picked up over the years listening to my aunts and uncles speak. Elissa speaks fluent English so communication was not a problem. They promptly brought me to a quaint café for breakfast, which in Europe consists of pastries or cookies and espresso or cappuccino. Within minutes, Mr. Luigi Bezzi, the ADBA dogman of the year for 2013, joined us. Mr. Bezzi is the president of the ADBA Club Italia and carries immense respect within the dog community in Europe. We talked dogs for a bit and he showed me many pictures of the dogs he’s had over the years. He’s had some incredible dogs that anyone would be blessed to own. A few are Socrates, CH Lucy and CH Shakira. Another passion of Mr. Bezzi’s is boxing. He is a former boxer and now coaches boxing. His son Michael is an international boxing champion, winning a tournament recently in Atlanta, GA.
After a short time at the cafe, Mr. Bezzi took me to his parents’ house who lived nearby. There, he showed me a few of his dogs before we chatted a bit more and then made our way to his house. There he gave me a quick tour of his old pedigrees, pictures and training equipment. Afterwards, I met Bezzi’s CH Shakira. She is a strong, well-built bitch. She could easily be mistaken for a male if you looked quickly. That is just how I like my bitches. After a few minutes, Luigi’s beautiful wife Sandy met us outside and could not have been more welcoming.
My next stop was to inspect the show site and then get pranzo (that means lunch in Italian). The fairgrounds were nice, with a very big show ring. There Linda Vinci gave me a copy of each of the APBT Club Italia Gazettes from their past shows. I will cherish these as they are jam-packed full of ADBA Italia history. Next, we headed to a small restaurant named Trattoria Tre Stelle for lunch. This was a small place with terrific, home cooked food. We started with a couple of large plates of Antipasto consisting of fresh cured meats, cheeses and of course a glass of delicious vino. I ate so much salami, prosciutto and cheeses that I was pretty full. Good thing I like to eat because we were just getting started! The next thing I knew I had a large plate of tagliatelle in a ground sausage Bolognese in front of me. I made quick work of that and then Linda gave me another plate of tagliatelle, this time in a ground beef Bolognese. Words cannot do the taste justice. The tagliatelle was obviously homemade from scratch, as anyone who has eaten homemade pasta can recognize. It was cooked perfectly al dente and the meat sauce had the perfect flavor. It needed nothing. Before you know it, out comes the meat and potatoes! We finished up our meal in the typical Italian way, a coffee (espresso) and a shot of Grappa. For those of you who do not know what Grappa is, it is an Italian after dinner drink made from discarded grape skins from the wine making process. It is a very strong drink that my uncle has always told me helps with digestion! Anyway, after about 2-3 hours at lunch we went to check in to my hotel. I was basically in a food coma at this point, but there was no time to rest as I had a seminar and formal dinner with the ADBA Club Italia members in an hour!
When I walked into the room where the seminar was to be held, I was amazed to see the room packed full of people from all over world. Drinks, snacks and espressos were being served and the buzz was incredible. Everyone was excited and the room was full of smiles and joy. After being introduced to many people, it was time to give the seminar. I did my best to explain the ADBA standard, breed type, proper athletic structure and why in a working dog nutrition, conditioning and breeding are important. I love to talk dogs so my translator Elissa Sabbatini had her work cut out for her. Nevertheless, she did an excellent job as everything went seamlessly. A question and answer session followed and then Mr. Bezzi and I signed certificates for everyone who attended the seminar. Many pictures and autographs followed and then some informal dog talk followed. After a bit of this, it was time for, you guessed it. Cena (Dinner)!
Mr. Bezzi had reserved a room for about forty of us at the restaurant. Dog enthusiasts from across all of Europe were present. I sat at the head of the table next to Mr. Bezzi and promptly started eating. All of the food was really, really good. Although I didn’t ask, I suspect the little restaurant is home-style cooked as a little old man and lady would cart around a table on wheels filled with each course and pass it out family style. Everything was perfect. I was able to sit and candidly talk dogs with Stephan Fehres from The Netherlands and Mr. Luigi Marta. I met a few close personal friends of Mr. Bezzis from my grandmother’s hometown of Calabria, Italy. Very nice people and it was very special as Calabria has always been close to my heart. Once dinner wound down myself, Mr. Bezzi and a few other gentlemen took a short relaxing walk down the brick streets of Pavia. The Italian way of life is very relaxed. The Italians really enjoy life and keep things in perspective. Once we finished our walk, it was late and I needed to get some sleep as I had a big day ahead me the next morning. I had to judge my first International ADBA show and I wanted to make sure I was 100% ready!
The next morning, I joined Mr. Bezzi for breakfast where I presented him with a Canine Athletes T-Shirt. A small token of my appreciation for the generosity he had shown to me. After a quick breakfast, I went back to the room to change into my suit and do my pre-show ritual of re-reading the ADBA written standard and some of my dog show notes I’ve accumulated over the years.
We arrived at the show site and I couldn’t believe the amount of cars. The parking lot was overfull with cars and so was the street as far as the eye could see! There wasn’t even a parking spot for Mr. Bezzi! Well he took care of that by driving through the grass to give us front row parking next to the registration building. A quick walk through of the holding area and the show ring and it was time for the opening ceremonies. Mr. Bezzi addressed the crowd in Italian. I have no idea what he was saying but he had everyone’s full attention. He is the kind of man that when he talks, people listen. He then introduced the mayor of Cerisola and myself to the crowd. Then one by one, invited all of his guests from other countries, out to be acknowledged. People as far as Spain, The Netherlands, France, Germany and more were all in attendance -- there was even someone from Aruba! Mr. Bezzi presented all of us with a gift of appreciation which I thought was very thoughtful of him. Next they played the American National Anthem, the Italian National Anthem and then we had a moment of silence for those lost in the recent attacks on Paris.
The first class was junior handler and there were some lovely kids participating. Anthony James son stood out as he was dressed in a full suit and when I say this young man can handle a dog, I am not exaggerating. He kept his dog on his left side the entire time walking him out, presented him with skill and when the dog didn’t stand as he wanted him to, he calmly talked to his dog and reset him. When showing the teeth, he kept control of the dog between his legs and showed me his dogs teeth without dropping the leash. I was very impressed. He earned the trophy he received and my talks with him were really a joy. To see someone of his age have passion for the APBT is really promising. He is a very well-spoken young man and it is evident that his parents are doing a phenomenal job raising him.
Next was Best Conditioned and it was the biggest class I’ve ever judged. I didn’t count the exact number of dogs but the class was so big we had to bring them into the ring in four sets! Similar to how we judge the Champion class at Nationals, where we bring in the first group, then make our selections and dismiss the rest, then bring in the second group. Except I had to make cuts four times before getting to my final group! What a difficult class to judge, I wish I had four or five trophies to hand out because so many deserved to win.
On to the regular classes and just as I expected, the competition was high. All of the competitors were well mannered, humble and gracious. Win or lose, everyone was happy for each other and left it all in the show ring. Contrary to what we do here in the U.S., after every class we break to take pictures with the class winners before entering the next age group into the ring. That was different for me but I quickly got used to it and enjoyed it. It really gives the winners a sense achievement. Another thing they do different in Italy, is after the puppy class is over, they break for lunch. We all joined in the building to enjoy fresh cooked Italian sausage sandwiches and have an espresso. Mr. Bezzis wife Sandy apologized to me saying “I’m sorry but we only have sandwiches for lunch now as we don’t have a lot of time.” I thought that was funny as it was almost as if she was embarrassed by the lack of variety! I ensured her Italian Sausage was just fine for me.
On to the adult classes and we moved things along a good pace. Before you knew it I was looking at my Best in Show class and boy was I impressed with my picks! This was easily the highest quality Best in Show class I have judged to date. There were no weak links and I really had to nit-pick these dogs to make my decisions. It’s times like these that conditioning, handling and the dog’s ‘presence’ really can make a difference between winning and losing.
After the Best in Show Class, we finished up with the Judges Choice Trophy. The Judges Choice class was interesting because I was able to essentially choose my own Judges Choice Class. I had a stack of Judges Choice cards, and throughout the show I had the opportunity of handing out these cards to any dogs I personally liked, whether they won or lost in the regular sanctioned show. Needless to say, that made my Judges Choice pick extremely difficult! After some back and forth, I ended up awarding a sexy little black female with the trophy. I’d would have loved to bring her back to New York with me.
I’d like to thank the ADBA Club Italia from the bottom of my heart for such a wonderful experience. As I understand it, together we broke attendance records for the seminar, the after seminar dinner and the sanctioned show! I am blessed beyond belief to have been a part of such an incredible event. Quickly I would like to personally thank Luigi Bezzi, Sandy Bezzi, Gianluca Feduzi, Linda Vinci, Elissa Sabbatini, Silvia Tasca & Danielle Satori. Salvatore Frusco and his wife Rosa for the delicious casatiello. Stephen Fehre and Anne for the breathtaking artwork of my boy Lucio. Diego Gennarino for drinking Grappa with me. Lorenzo Trere for being my show chauffeur. There are so many more people I would like to thank but it would take up every page of the gazette to do so! I was made to feel like family and it is only fitting that my first trip to Italy was because of the American Pit Bull Terrier; the breed I’ve dedicated so much of my life to. These dogs continue to give back to me and I’m so very blessed to have found them.