When I was in eighth grade, my parents bought a show dog—a sweet, melancholy thing with long white fur, not small enough to be absurd, not big enough to be useful—called a Tibetan terrier. His kind was bred to sit on a Himalayan mountaintop and keep a monk company. We just wanted a family pet, but, at the breeder's insistence, Mozart remained a show dog. We were not allowed to have his testicles removed—a dog's testicles are the font of wealth, the horn of plenty, from which breeders make fortunes.

And that's how, as a teenager, I found myself unwillingly implicated in the world's most mortifying secret society. Our dog breeder (a stocky, lonely woman who thought it would be a good idea to name a dog Mozart) encouraged me to become a junior handler. What? You mean put on a pantsuit and prance around in a circle with a bunch of home-schooled bumpkins? Social suicide by dog? Um, hell naw.

I hadn't been to a dog show for years, but walking through Qwest Event Center on Saturday, March 10, I found myself saying things like "Is that a Belgian Tervuren or a Malinois?" and "I hate to deviate from breed standard, but I do wish Australian shepherds had tails." Everywhere you looked, bouncing dog testicles.

Dog people are all white and mostly crazy. Everything about them is hysterical and/or devastating. One handler's calf sported a giant, slobbering mastiff tattoo. Almost everyone was wearing a novelty T-shirt ("I HEART BITCHES" or "Who rescued whom?"). A pet psychic sat placidly beneath a banner: "DOGNOSTICATION." A Saint Bernard walked by, wearing a bib, while, nearby, a man hair-sprayed his Pomeranian. Upstairs, where various breed clubs brought sample dogs, we stopped by the basenji table. The basenji is one of my favorites: a tidy, barkless African sight hound that can climb trees and smile like a human. A curious passerby asked about the dog's uncanny silence. "Well, he can make a sound like a woman being raped," said the owner, without emotion.

The impulse is to make fun of dog people. In an event called Canine Freestyle Dancing, middle-aged women don sequined vests—their dogs in matching collars—and perform choreographed routines to songs like "Cotton-Eyed Joe" and "The Circle of Life." Props, paw holding, and tender kisses are involved. The eye contact is intense.

My 14-year-old self faints at the thought. But on Saturday, watching a woman with a broken arm twirl delicately to "Simple Gifts," I was punched in the face by the poignancy of these awkward people and their loving pets. Laugh if you want, but these people are happy. Happier than you.