From my Dog World column ‘Crossing the headlines’ on 10th September 2014.

Like most of the writers for Dog World, I write because I have a passion for pedigree dogs and nothing thrills me more than having an article engender debate and argument. Recently I wrote an article about my first year’s experience of showing, written off the back of two excellent articles by Sheila Atter and Andrew Brace tackling the thorny issues of bullying and the integrity of judges.

Having now had first-hand knowledge of both of these areas I wrote about them through a newcomer’s eyes and demonstrated what it was like for someone starting out in our world.

I was stunned by the response I received as soon as the piece went online. Again and again the same theme ran through their emails, “It just isn’t worth it; the outcome’s decided before you even step in the ring.”

Discussion inevitably followed about the various ‘charmed circles’ and the ‘you give me a CC and I’ll give it back to you (even if it’s in another breed) brigade’.

And the responses didn’t just come from newcomers; the most heartbreaking ones I received came from people who had been in their breeds many years and had been ostracised or bullied for speaking out or simply ignored because their face ‘didn’t fit’. Stoically, a number have continued to show while others said they had dropped out completely and were glad they had.

You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out what is going to happen to our hobby in the not-too-dim-and-distant future with the loss (through retirement/death) of so many of our great breeders, exhibitors and judges without enough younger people pushing up through the ranks to replace them. We simply can’t afford to also lose good people through bullying and bad judging.

Encouragement

Of course the problems I encountered aren’t found across the board; many breeds have incredibly supportive people within their ranks. I have had several Irish Wolfhound people contact me to say how generous their people are in encouraging and supporting newcomers. And, as a true Son of Erin and a lover of this breed, I have witnessed this generosity of spirit myself and it would outwardly appear to be the same situation in Borzois and Salukis – those ringside seem to have an uproarious time! 

Now, as many of you know, I’m a Dachshund man and I was pleased to see in the letters page a letter from Katherine Herrington. She was writing on behalf of the Smooth Haired Dachshund Club as it would appear some members had expressed ‘concern’ over the article I wrote. I’m glad that they were concerned but was mildly surprised that none of the ‘concerned’ members had contacted me directly when countless others (including, surprisingly enough, a number of club members) had contacted me saying “Well done, it’s been long overdue”.

Katherine then stressed that the problems of “exhibitors whose behaviour leaves a lot to be desired” and “judges who, if challenged, would be unable to justify their decisions aren’t problems unique to the Dachshund world”. Not once did I imply they were; in fact, I made it abundantly clear that, sadly, we are far from unique. She then stated that, “the Smooth Club encourages all newcomers in any capacity”. Now, I’m quite sure the ‘concerned’ members wholeheartedly believe this statement to be true but where is the evidence? If any potential dog-showing newcomer had happened to wander through the Miniature Smooth Dachshund classes at Crufts, for example, do you think the long, glum faces of those sitting ringside would have encouraged them to pause a while and fill them with a burning desire to join our ranks? Do you think seeing the winners of classes being met by the usual deafening wall of silence/indifference – an occurrence that, despite protests and pleas in breed notes, is all-too-common – would have encouraged them to take up showing the breed? 

I know of another newcomer who was also at this prestigious event and overheard two ‘names’ enthusiastically gossiping about them and, then, the end of the day’s showing was crowned with yet another newcomer being left in floods of tears. Hardly rolling out the red carpet is it?

It might well be a good idea to spell out to members that bullying, malicious gossiping or intimidation won’t be tolerated by the club. 

Go and say hi

I know many of us, myself included, suffer from the old British reserve – not speaking until we are spoken to – but is it really that difficult to support a newcomer or anyone winning in the ring, whether or not you agree with the result, simply by putting your hands together in applause? Reading that letter made me think of Doreen Joy’s breed notes (Dogue de Bordeaux) and her plea:

“I am sure we’ve all been there; gone to a show and no one has come to say hello or made you feel welcome. Showing should be a fun, social hobby where you can take your dog and meet likeminded people and have a good day out. In the normal world you wouldn’t pay travel and entry fees to spend a day with people who didn’t make you feel welcome.

“So, please, when you are out and about showing through the summer, if you see someone new, standing alone, like I was all that time ago, go and say hi and welcome them. Don’t see them as a threat or a numpty, but someone who is where you were when you first started. We all hate learner drivers because they slow us down but we were all learners once. So let’s help those newbies, make them feel welcome and let our days at the showground be fun.”

Doreen nailed the problem facing us and succinctly provided the solution. It really isn’t a difficult one to solve.

Strangely enough, on the day Katherine’s letter was published, immediately opposite appeared the Canine Alliance column with a fantastic article written by Howard Ogden. It began with, “As I left the meeting with Keith Young’s SOS (Save Our Shows) Working Party, late May, he threw out a challenge to me and the CA board: help us find a way to engage with young people. They are our future.”

He went on to announce the birth of the Canine Alliance Academy and listed exactly what they are doing, and what they plan to do, to turn things around.

Thank God an increasing number of people have seen sense and are now grasping the nettle and doing something proactive to halt the decline. For far too long many have looked to the KC to bring about change but the necessary changes simply aren’t going to come from them. Change will be brought about by us – the grass roots. Mr Ogden understands what needs to be done and understands that the world and society at large has changed.

I remember being told at the beginning of the year, “You’ve been very lucky with your dog but you will have to wait your turn and earn respect before you get anywhere in this game”. They then went on to tell me that a certain young up-and-coming future star was, in their opinion, “Getting far too big for their boots”. Their crime? Putting their name forward to join the C-list (yes, that’s right – the C-list!) and judge their breed at an open show in 2015. This person then, I am reliably informed, actively tried to thwart this plan. How very sad and terribly damaging such behaviour is to the hobby and this isn’t an isolated case.

We are fortunate that we still have a number of younger talented people, many of whom have been successful exhibitors, who for some reason or another are being stopped from progressing to become the great judges of the future. We can ill-afford this stagnation and loss of talent. If we are serious about breaking up the damaging cliques that dominate certain areas then we need to promote this new blood. Anyone with a spark of interest in judging needs to be nurtured and encouraged. Shows like UK Toy Dog which, as Howard said, “positively includes young people in responsible show management roles” need to be applauded and emulated by others.  

The ‘know your place/you can’t possibly judge until you are at least 30’ kind of attitude has to be consigned to the past, as Howard said, “just as we did with the outdated practice of not addressing top breeders by their Christian name”. Even if things aren’t wonderful, many still cling to them because they are at least familiar – they’d rather stay with what they know. That’s understandable but change is inevitable and necessary and, just as the newly formed CAA has done, the show scene would be much better off if we all supported and embraced it.

Read more on Dog World’s website http://www.dogworld.co.uk/product.php/121849/

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