Representing ordinary dog folk by Sheila Atter

Created: 16/05/2012

As the Kennel Club annual general meeting drew near there was, quite naturally, interest in the names of those who were standing for the General Committee. Some are well known to us in the show world already, others are highly respected in different disciplines, one or two are fairly anonymous to everyone – but may have talents and expertise that would make them extremely valuable members of the committee.
It seems strange that every year there is such reluctance by some to allow their CVs to be widely circulated among rank and file dog folk. While we realise that, as non-members, we naturally have no rights when it comes to choosing those who will serve on the Committee, we do have a vested interest in the choices that are made. My own personal inclination would always be to vote for those who are prepared to stand up and say publicly who they are and what they stand for, but I’m not sure whether this isn’t regarded by some KC members as not quite the done thing and might even go against candidates in the end.

Decision makers

Unfortunately there does seem to be a perception, rightly or wrongly, that the General Committee is composed of those who, having reached such heady heights, don’t want to encourage others to step up and join them – especially if these newbies have high ideals about involving the ordinary dog folk in decision making and policy. However, I would like to offer a word of advice to all those that do aspire to office within the KC. It is we, the ordinary dog folk, who are denied membership of your exalted body, who nevertheless keep it going. It is the breeders who are actually the face of the KC to the general public.
That’s an important concept, and I will repeat it. The breeders are the people who represent the KC to the man in the street. The chairman of the American Kennel Club obviously recognises that point. He recently issued the following statement:
"Through knowledge, passion, and determination, these breeders not only help preserve breed type, but improve the health, temperament and quality of their respective breeds as well. Responsible breeders serve as canine ambassadors, opening their homes to prospective owners, matching puppies with suitable families and bringing the AKC into their puppy owners’ lives. But the most noticeable accomplishment of our breeders can be seen in homes throughout America, in the happy and healthy family pets that bring joy and rewards beyond measure to their families. In fact, 90 per cent of the dogs from all AKC registered litters are not bred, nor are they entered in any AKC event. Families have experienced not only a well-bred puppy, but also a supportive breeder who is there to provide advice on every issue imaginable throughout their dog’s life. It simply is what our breeders do and do so well.”
It’s a powerful comment and one that recognises the importance of good breeders, giving them a sense of self-worth. Contrast this attitude with that of our own KC where breeders often feel completely under-valued and almost a necessary evil. When did we last hear anyone from the KC actually praising breeders for the good work they do? The Assured Breeder Scheme (ABS) is trotted out as the answer to every question about dog breeding, but the KC continues to operate a two-tier system that in effect penalises financially those who carry out health testing and aspire to the ideals of the ABS while giving credibility to puppies bred by backyard breeders and puppy farmers by still registering their puppies. This doesn’t support the best breeders – it just makes them feel resentful.

Blaming the breeder

I seem to have ruffled some KC feathers with my column a couple of weeks ago about George, the puppy who was sold with endorsements preventing the registering of his progeny, an endorsement that was then lifted by the KC. The inference has been that this particular breeder did not place the endorsement correctly, and that’s why it was removed. I would be the first to congratulate the KC if it could be proved that I am wrong, and that such an occurrence cannot happen without the approval of the breeder. The breeder in this case is adamant that the endorsement was explained to the buyer, and they indicated that they understood its meaning. But how easy is it for the owner to say, a couple of years later that they hadn’t understood?
Every time it seems, the breeder is at fault. Maybe this loophole has been tightened up recently and it doesn’t happen now – but my mailbox has been inundated with examples from those who have run into this problem. Surely it would be quite simple for the welcoming letter that is attached to the registration certificate to give prominence to any endorsements? That way, if a new owner truly hadn’t understood the relevance they could query it straight away – and if they didn’t raise any objection, then the endorsement should stay unless lifted by the breeder. It’s so simple – but at the moment the KC seems anxious to always regard the breeder as being in the wrong.
It’s the same with contracts. The KC has insisted that all ABS members send their puppies out with a contract, which is all very fine, but the lawyers tell us that these really aren’t worth the paper they are written on. You can insist that a puppy is returned to you if the new owner can’t keep it – but legally, once you have sold that puppy the new owner can do exactly as they wish. Maybe the new puppy contract drawn up by the RSPCA and others will become accepted as a legal document and its conditions become enforceable, but sadly the KC opted out of involvement so KC breeders will be out on a limb once again.
There was so much positivity after last year’s AGM – but little subsequent action. I hope our concerns were not brushed under the carpet again, because you might just find that we are not prepared to be trampled on a second time. The formation of the Canine Alliance and the support it has gained is evidence that there is great unrest among the rank and file.
Those of you who are members of the KC will have had an opportunity at the AGM to choose from a number of candidates for the General Committee. Some are tried and tested, others are eager to make a difference; some will see such an appointment as a social achievement, others genuinely aspire to use their talents and experience in the service of their fellows. It was up to you to choose those that will put the good of pedigree dogs above their own ego.
There were some important issues to be raised at this AGM – issues that need to be discussed more fully than can be done on the day – and unless the new General Committee will take the concerns of ordinary dog folk on board and will genuinely try to resolve the problems that beset the dog world at the moment, they will have betrayed not only their office, but also the breeders who represent the KC to the general public.