When Jean Spencer’s husband was asked to judge a dog show which the King of Bahrain had entered into, she wondered what on earth he was going to do.
She and Robin had been asked to travel out to the Arabic island to spend a week there for the prestigious agricultural show, the Mara’ee.
The couple, from Leyland, have been showing their own dogs for decades, and Robin is now a judge himself – but never did he expect to find himself before royalty.
Jean explains: “Robin was judging the Saluki (Arabian Greyhound) champion show, and all these people came out in traditional costumes.
“I realised it was the King’s lot and thought ‘oh Robin, what are you going to do?’
“I’m glad I wasn’t judging it. The King’s kennels are all made of marble and gold!”
The contest was fair though, with Robin not being made aware which dogs belonged to who.
The biggest shock was still to come though.
“The King’s dog didn’t win,” Jean says.
“But he decided that he wanted to take home the dog which did win. I couldn’t believe it.”
The pair, who moved to their home in Rhoden Road 22 years ago, have travelled all over the world for dog shows, including New York, Finland and Northern Ireland.
But it was their latest venture to Bahrain which was a real eye-opener.
As well as dogs, other animals which were judged included camels, goats and horses, and the five-day event inlcuded show-stopping entertainment too.
“It was spectacular,” Robin says. “Children were dancing and the Arab tribes were doing sword displays.
“There were horses and dogs on parade and falconry.
“A few years ago they weren’t even interested in animals but that’s really changed now, which is good.
“The point of the Mara’ee is to teach people how to rear and feed their animals, and look after them properly. It’s amazing.”
“I judged some dogs I’d never done before, and some were quite dangerous,” he adds.
“It’s like a family thing though.
“People take picnics and it’s a really big occasion.”
Jean adds: “It wasn’t what I was expecting, it was such an experience.
“They put us up in a luxury apartment and there is a big ex-pat community out there. We spoke to a lot of Americans.
“And it’s not every day you get to meet royalty!
“It was brilliant really, we were made to feel so welcome.”
So what does Robin look for when he’s judging?
“The primary thing to look for is that a dog is healthy, and fit for the purpose it was bred for,” he explains.
“Then you look at how it’s constructed, what condition it is in, such as the length of the chest, and to make sure there are no weaknesses.
“Then you look at the movement of the dog and the coat.
“All coats are different, so you’re looking at its length, if it is glossy or wired, that kind of thing.”
The interest in animals started for the couple when they lived in South Wales, which is where they grew up and met.
Jean says: “A friend of ours had a Borzoi (Russian wolfhound) and when I asked Robin what he wanted for his birthday one year, he said he wanted one!
“It started from there really. We had 25 Borzois at one point and we started showing them and won a bit, and started to learn about the different breeds.
“Then Robin started going to seminars and did some assessments and exams so he could become a judge.”
The couple now have seven dogs (four Scottish Deerhounds, a Wirehaired Deerhound, a Borzoi and a Cocker Spaniel Cavalier cross, which is a rescue dog.)
They also have two cats, six chickens ..... plus a son and two grandchildren!
“They’re all family to us,” Robin says.
“We don’t really see the animals as just pets, so we don’t even think about the cost.”
They used to have horses when they were in Wales too, and lived in Oxfordshire for 10 years before moving to Leyland for Robin’s work.
“It was such a rush moving here actually,” Jean says.
“We only had two days to find a place, so we saw this house and I just said ‘this is it, we’ll have this one’.
“We’ve been here ever since.”
Robin adds: “We walk the dogs every day. We do it in three lots, so it keeps us active.
“Whenever we’re away, our son Adam and the family stay at ours to look after the animals.
“He was brought up with it, and our grandson Jason is doing equine science at Myerscough College now.”
Robin, a former power station manager, is retired now, but says he’s never been busier.
Over the years, he has been vice-chairman of the Northern Borzoi Association, on the committee of the Dearhound Club, and chairman of the Northern Borzoi Rescue, which he and Jean ran together for around five years.
Another highlight for the couple was when they were asked to organise and host the three-day Deerhound Club Breed Show at the De Vere Blackpool hotel. Jean says: “We were the show managers and 300 people came to the event from all over the world, from places like Bermuda and America.
“It took us about 10 months to plan it and raise funds for the entertainment and everything else.
“We also had to choose a theme for the entertainment, and we picked Hollywood.
“It was fabulous. It’s a big community in the dog show world, and you make so many friends from all over the world.”
Other shows the couple have been involved in include the Borzoi Club UK Championship Show five years ago, which they said was ‘an honour’, and the 125th Deerhound Annual Show three years ago.
This year though, nothing too glamorous has been penciled in the diary just yet, as the only confirmed judging job they have for 2014 is the Preston Open Show in August.
“That will bring us back down the earth,” Robin laughs.
“I’m sure a few more will come up throughout the year though.”