Working and showing divided by Sheila Atter

Created: 20/06/2012

The juxtaposition of two very contrasting letters in last week’s Dog World demonstrated very graphically the vast gulf between the General Committee and the rest of the dog show fraternity.
I realise that it is ignorance on my part, but the name Alan Rountree did not ring any bells with me at all. I had not even realised that he was actually a member of the KC General Committee. In fact he does appear to have been there for some time, as he was re-elected in 2010, and also serves on the Finance and General Purposes and Field Trials Sub-committees. Since he lives in County Tyrone that involves a considerable amount of travelling to and from Clarges Street, so we must respect his commitment and dedication to the pedigree dog world, and his opinions must surely have some worth.
He writes: "... some of us who participate in the working activities regulated by the KC” – and because of his membership of the FT Committee I assume that means his interest is in gundogs – "[were] disgusted by those who seem intent on turning dog shows into beauty pageants.”


Minority


Disgusted? It’s a very emotive term, and the rest of his letter continued in a similar vein. "The show world needs to come to terms with the fact that it is in a minority. In the real world, people want fit healthy dogs, which in the case of my kind of dogs can do a day’s work, day after day. They do not want a dog held together by hairspray, nor one that is in pain because of the extreme construction of its eyes. In short the show world needs to see itself as others see it. The view is not attractive!”
In contrast Stuart Mallard’s letter, printed alongside, does not need to use inflammatory language to make its point. I did not have to search for Stuart’s credentials – they are in the public domain for everyone to see. His plea is simply that the General Committee should get on with its job, "part of which should be to reconnect with the grass roots, to create a fair system respected by most and to encourage a governing body that cares and supports its exhibitors and judges. To unite rather than divide.” Stuart goes on to say that it is the majority of exhibitors, those who seldom take top honours but continue to support the world of pedigree dogs, that are the crucial backbone to future survival.
Are the show and working sides of pedigree dogs mutually exclusive? I would say not. I was brought up with working terriers and was lucky enough to have as one of my mentors the late Barry Jones, a wise man who earned his living through his terriers. Long ago, before seminars were regarded as the obligatory method of learning about breeds, Barry would often speak at ‘teach-ins’ as we called them in those days. Experts elaborated on the various breed Standards – and then Barry spoke. His message was very simple. Temperament, breed type and construction are inextricably linked. A terrier may have the instinct to work, but without correct construction it cannot work efficiently. Breed type, ie the Standard, covers important details such as size – a terrier with a deep chest cannot go to ground, or if it does may well get stuck there.
At one such event, after he had finished one dyed-in-the-wool Fox Terrier exhibitor stood up and thanked him. The other speakers, she pointed out, had looked at the Standards purely from a cosmetic point of view. He, on the other hand, had pointed out how important it was to breed to the Standard, as the points emphasised therein were actually designed simply to keep the dog alive while working.


Testing


The show world may not be perfect, but is the working scene any better? Mr Rountree writes: "We are no happier to be associated with the protests at the implementation of health testing ...” This ignores the fact that those making the protests are actually asking for more, not less testing of show dogs. Would he be quite so enthusiastic about similar tests being applied to working gundogs? How would he react if a dog were denied its field trial championship because of scarring on the surface of the eye? I’m sure it would be argued that this was an honourable injury obtained while working – and nothing to do with the conformation of the dog!
Show breeders are mostly assiduous in ensuring that their dogs are health tested before breeding – how many working gundogs are hip-scored or eye-tested? If it can work it must be healthy is the usual mantra – conveniently forgetting the rest of the sentence: if it can’t work, cast it aside and get another one.
While I realise that the main purpose of any AGM is formal, to give an account to the membership of the stewardship of the officers and committee members, and to discuss future proposals, if Mr Rountree honestly feels that the ‘momentous decision’ to incorporate the KC is of more importance to the pedigree dog world in general than the ill-thought out proposal by the General Committee, that committee of which he is a member and presumably one of those who agreed to its high-profile implementation, which has caused such a deep divide between the KC and the show world, then he is living in cloud cuckoo land.
"The show world needs to come to terms with the fact that it is a minority.” More of a minority, Mr Rountree, than those who have the time and opportunity to take their un-hip-scored, non-eye-tested gundogs out into the field for a day’s sport? Or do working gundog folk belong to the Jemima Harrison school of thought – if it isn’t a show dog it must be healthy? How many times does it have to be repeated that those who are protesting are not against the idea of health checking – they just don’t want it to be discriminatory, and above all, don’t wish to see exhibitors and judges humiliated by the implementation of the policy.
It should be the aim of all those breeding pedigree dogs to produce puppies that are healthy and conform to their breed Standard. We should all be on the same side. Despite Mr Rountree’s jibes about minorities, I would suggest that the show world contributes far more to the KC’s coffers than the working side. If we have those within our ranks who are doing their best to de-stabilise the show world then we really are in trouble. I suggest that Mr Rountree, and others who think like him, should read and reflect on Stuart Mallard’s words: "Continue to lose any more of these vital exhibitors and a time will come when there will be no need for a KC.”
Stuart’s final paragraph encapsulates what most of us think. "Less regulation and a good dollop of common sense might go some way to creating an atmosphere conducive to the majority who at present feel neglected, or even attract more people to what can be a worthwhile and enjoyable hobby. That would be a worthwhile target for the KC to aim for.” It would indeed.