From my ‘Crossing the headlines’ column in Dog World (24th February 2016).

Thousands of words and column inches have been spent in this paper bemoaning the state of our open shows. Undeniably there are far less of these shows than previously which is a shame as it is widely acknowledged that these shows are where the majority of fledgling exhibitors first step into the ring and ‘find their feet’ and of course, they also provide wonderful opportunities for the up and coming judges of the future to ‘get their hands on some good (and not so good) dogs’. 

The importance of open shows was eloquently summed up (as per usual) in an article by Sheila Atter who wrote:It is at open shows that most exhibitors step into the ring for the first time. A small success at this level can inspire a novice to reach for greater heights, both as an exhibitor and then breeder, and maybe eventually as a judge. Those who are just coming into the show ring as a hobby, are easily sidetracked, and if there aren’t many shows in the vicinity then these folk will go and find other more accessible hobbies.”

We’ve often used a local open show to meet prospective puppy owners and a couple of them have gone on down the exhibiting route, so Sheila’s words are ‘spot on’.

Friendly and vibrant

I’ve always felt quite lucky living down here in the South West, as our open shows seemed to have bucked the general downward trend experienced by others and have remained friendly and vibrant places, with lots of new and young up and coming faces. Those held around my old stomping ground in Dorset were very professionally run and inclusive with well filled classes, and when we moved to Devon it was fantastic to see a wealth of equally well run open shows organised and held in a fantastic venue, The Matford Centre, in Exeter.

At the end of January we took our Standard Dapple Dachshund, Reba, to an open show here and I was greeted like a long lost friend by complete strangers. I had a lovely chat with a lady showing her Parson Russell Terrier puppy and an equally long natter with a group of French Bulldog exhibitors. This is another great thing about the open shows, you can quietly bring out a puppy and get her used to the hectic nature of such events without any pressure. However this lovely show was later marred by the actions of a selfish minority who by their thoughtlessness could bring about the demise of open shows at this wonderful location.

Just before the Plymouth open show last week, an email was sent to the organisers of all dog shows held at the Matford Centre from the building facilities officer it said: “I am contacting you as we are still experiencing problems at some events (particularly with dogs using the inside of the venue as a toilet, and bagged waste not being dealt with properly) and we have had problems with smells after recent shows, especially in the area outside the office entrance. You should ensure that you mop and disinfect any area affected by dog urine. Dog faeces should be bagged and taken away – this should not be left on the premises for our staff to deal with. Dogs are not permitted in the toilet areas, we have had problems with dogs fouling in our toilet areas recently.

“We appreciate that the scale of the problem varies from society to society and we are contacting individual societies as and when problems occur. The issue had improved, but recently there seems to be a lack of committee members for these events and we are starting to experience some of these problems again. It is imperative that committee members deal with these incidents quickly and more importantly educate their customers that this is not acceptable, if they continue to misuse the venue then they are putting future lettings at risk.”

Cringe moment

It seems incredible that a group of ‘doggy people’ have to have such an email sent to them. Of course everybody’s dog has the occasional accident… it’s happened to us all and, yes, it can be embarrassing. My particular ‘cringe’ moment came when laden with a crate, various bags and Alfie on a lead at Crufts, the little fella (who always ‘point blank’ refused to urinate/defecate away from home) suddenly decided he needed to ‘go’ and then proceeded to flood the floor in an almost biblical fashion. Fellow Miniature Smooth exhibitor, Ellen Blackburn, kindly (and discretely) pointed downwards and I looked down aghast (I don’t think either of us had ever seen such a huge puddle emanate from such a small dog!)

Thankfully the mop and bucket was quickly produced and it was all quickly dealt with. I wouldn’t have dreamed of just walking off and leaving the mess for someone else to deal with and neither would 99 per cent of dog exhibitors… but it just takes that lazy one per cent to ruin it for everyone else. This behaviour lets down the responsible dog owners and exhibitors and puts a much loved venue at risk. And remember, once these venues are lost, that’s it, there’s rarely any going back.

When I was growing up in North London there was a particular venue that was widely used for all kinds of animal shows, dogs, rabbits, cavies, cage birds etc. I loved spending my Saturdays and Sundays there. And then various voices were raised and ‘health and safety’ concerns expressed about sharing the facilities with animals. Eventually the loudest voices won and this excellent venue was lost.

There is a huge (and growing) number of people in this country who do not like or want to be around dogs and stories like this is ‘manna from heaven’ for them and justification for their prejudice.

However, in this instance the Plymouth and District Canine Society wasn’t going to just lie down and allow this venue to slip away from them. The Bulldog spirit was invoked and a post was put out on Facebook by committee member Tanya Ann Pilgrim, titled, ‘We need you!’

She asked if there were any exhibitors who’d lend their services for the day to join a ‘poo patrol’. These people would be given high-viz jackets and offered a free cup of tea and a bun as a reward for giving up some of their time to walk around and check the venue and for emptying and refreshing the mop bucket. They would also report people who didn’t pick up after their dogs to the show management. Tanya also had to announce the rather drastic action of only using one entrance to the centre to limit the amount of mess (and smells from male dogs cocking their legs and urinating in the hallway). The response online was incredible with a number of show goers quickly offering help. This is a very tight-knit doggy community that love their open shows and they demonstrated that passion. Last week’s show went off without one errant poo or wee.

This has certainly highlighted to me, how much we all can take these venues for granted. If we don’t have the venues then we can’t have the shows. And of course it’s not only the folk who attend open shows who are guilty of letting their dogs foul their environment. I well remember being at SKC a couple of years when our boy had a fantastic day winning CC, BOB and the hound group and it was memorable for another reason because we were among the last few to leave the building and walking across the empty car park I was stunned at the amount of excrement (wrapped and au natural) that littered the ground.

With Crufts looming I hope we can all work together to keep our show venues (and their carparks) free from dog mess and if they don’t then sadly maybe we will have to follow the Plymouth and District Canine Society’s example and start reporting offenders.

Read more (including comments from the readership) on Dog World’s website