Rarified atmosphere of the ivory tower by Andrew Brace
Having had very little time in the past few weeks, I managed to catch up with some reading of the various international periodicals that regularly drop through my letterbox.
It came as no surprise to see that the implications of the disqualifying of five Crufts BOB winners (and no matter how you may try to fancy it up or cloud the issue with semantics, that is what happened – five BOB winners were disqualified from the awards they won under the breed judges) had taken up considerable column inches in the many serious specialist publications whose main interest is purebred dogs.
Writing in America’s Dog News, the much revered Elkhound breeder and author Pat Trotter opens an article entitled ‘An Impartial Breeder on the Crufts Controversy’ with these words: "If ever the saying ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’ pertained to a given situation, it very well might be the current fallout result from the disqualification of the six BOB winners at Crufts in March. Who would have known that such well-meaning ideas to do good for dogs could go so astray?”
In her article Pat goes on to point out: "Even if there is some merit in ruling that exaggerations of individual breeds have caused compromise in their functionality, is the world’s largest dog show the appropriate place to address these issues? Can on the spot veterinarians always determine whether a particular abnormality is the result of an injury or inherited by the individual? Is the outrage generated at Crufts among exhibitors and spectators what our sport wants to display to John Q Public? Do we think that publicly airing this procedure will make us more acceptable to society or appease the animal terrorists who would do us in? And what will be the long-term legal ramifications resulting from these actions? Is any dog that has suffered an injury yet fully capable of performing the breed’s original job description vulnerable to such action? And what can well-meaning dedicated breeders do to arm themselves to fight perceived enemies within the sport as well as those on the outside?”
Of the formation of the Canine Alliance, Pat writes: "This Alliance could serve as the wake-up call the entire dog world needs to recognise that we need an international union to fight for our cause.”
She closes her comprehensive, thorough and highly articulate piece thus: "So if this controversial process is to continue, let us all join in the hope that the Kennel Club will iron out the kinks and eventually provide a service that is fair, consistent and healthy for the entire sport. There is little doubt that the KC has lots of room for improvement in the execution of this programme and would be well advised to take advantage of hindsight. Otherwise, such an endeavour could be viewed as a witch hunt aimed only at the appeasement of our enemies. History shows that such people cannot and will not be appeased. As for me, I’ll stick with the American Kennel Club with its much more rational approach in appreciating our breeding efforts.”
Since I began writing for Dog News – probably more than 20 years ago – the title has undergone several makeovers, the most recent metamorphosing it into a full-colour glossy that one is reluctant to ever discard. Consequently my old copies get recycled through a whole chain of keen enthusiasts who are keen to keep abreast of what’s happening in the American dog scene.
I then travelled to the antipodes as I unwrapped the March issue of Dog News Australia whose cover headline was: AKC & ANKC on record ‘It won’t happen here’. Celeste Bryson’s cover story begins: "Dog exhibitors globally have reacted with shock, horror and disbelief to the withholding of six best of breed awards at Crufts, after widely criticised veterinary checks on the aptly named 15 ‘targeted breeds’ took place at the show.”
In fairness to the Clarges Street publicity machine I must say I cannot recall ever having read the words ‘targeted breeds’ in any of its statements. It has preferred to opt for the equally accurate but much more palatable ‘high-profile breeds’ in all its communications.
Well known Sydney breeder and exhibitor of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Jeanie Montford, who is also a long-time personal friend of this year’s Crufts BIS judge Frank Kane, was – to quote Celeste – "there to witness the Crufts drama unfold.” Jeanie is quoted as saying that "British exhibitors felt betrayed”.
President of the Australian National Kennel Council is Hugh Gent who not that long ago was in the UK when, at the City of Birmingham show last year, he and Steve Dean signed a ‘letter of agreement’ which presumably was intended to reinforce the understanding and co-operation between the governing bodies here and down under. In January 2011 Mr Gent told Dog News Australia that the ANKC was confident that its judges, although not vets, had the competence and common sense to take the appropriate action when they encountered an exhibit that had a condition that might compromise its health. It would appear that our own governing body does not share the same faith in its approved judges.
Mr Gent also makes the point: "As opposed to the UK, where you can be a breeder without being a member of the British kennel club, in Australia if you want to breed a pedigree dog, you have to be a member of the Australian National Kennel Council, where part of the fee for each puppy you register is donated for research.” This is one area where there exists a veritable abyss – despite any ‘letter of agreement’ – between our two countries as the Australians, along with many other countries, expect anyone who wishes to register a litter of puppies to become a member of the ruling body.
And then I slipped out of its transparent cover the April issue of our own Kennel Gazette, wondering what references would be made to the KC’s own flagship show and the problems with which it has had to cope since.
On the first page the ‘From the Chairman’ article opens "Crufts is simply the best dog show in the world ...” and having started in such an arrogant tone it came as no surprise to discover that the party line was that nine of the high-profile breeds passing the veterinary check was "a marvellous result”. There is no reference to the fallout that resulted in the formation of the Canine Alliance and very swiftly, having patted everyone involved firmly on the back for the success that was Crufts, chairman Steve Dean’s offering then rattles on to the wonders of genetic diversity and how it may be advisable to deliberately mate a bitch to multiple sires. Call me old fashioned, but really?
It would seem that there is a distinct shortage of oxygen getting through to the ivory towers in Clarges Street.
One of the most damaging consequences of the current obsession with ‘health’ is that it turns all the ideals of judging on their head.
When I was starting off I was lucky to have several mentors; great judges who had been great breeders in their time who were happy to share their vast knowledge with an enthusiastic obsessive. And I was not alone. The common thread when it came to judging was ALWAYS that dogs should be put UP by virtue of their merits and not DOWN because of their faults. The whole judging exercise should be a positive one and it must be accepted that even the great dogs have minimal faults which they carry well. These were the kind of people who, if they had an otherwise outstanding dog in the ring that was displaying some feature that compromised its health and well being, would have a quiet word with the exhibitor afterwards and explain the problem without making a song and dance about it and completing paperwork that could have been responsible for the demise of half a rain forest.
Now, the message coming out of Clarges Street is loud and clear and it is rapidly turning the new generation into the one thing we always dreaded becoming – fault judges. Today we are told we should be seeking out minor blemishes that professionals can only find after unacceptably intrusive examination. Such blemishes should then take priority over countless virtues and inevitably outstanding dogs will be lost. The baby is well and truly being thrown out with the bath water.
There have been various comments about the fact that the Canine Alliance has expressed the desire to see KC membership becoming more representative of the average breeder and exhibitor. Judging by the reaction in some quarters you could be forgiven for thinking that they were proposing the slaughter of every family in the land’s first born!
If you talk to the average breeder exhibitor, they have no problem with the concept of a private club continuing, free of the embarrassment of having to share a dining room with underlings from the provinces who may not know the difference between a pastry fork and a poop scoop.
They would be perfectly happy for such a club to survive and prosper, its limited members paying a handsome annual fee for the privileges it brings.
What bothers them is that the huge number of people who pour money into the KC’s treasury as breeders and exhibitors have absolutely no say in its government, no vote and no voice. All they seek is democracy where, for a realistic annual fee, they can feel that they actually have some control over the future of the sport they hold so dear.
Is that really too much to ask, or even to acknowledge?
I'm sure Mr Brace speaks on behalf of many people who show and enjoy their dogs. He is correct on so many points and speaks from the heart and also uses his head! Shame Spotty has nothing constructive to add.
Spotty Muldoon, 26/04/2012
Will somebody please give Mr Brace a judging appointment out of the country - quickly.