Is the benching experiment too limited? by Sheila Atter
One can only applaud the Kennel Club for announcing that there will be a trial period during which shows can apply for exemption from benching. However, it’s surely a missed opportunity to limit those events to ones that draw an entry of under 1,200 dogs, especially as this means that the only two shows that the dispensation will apply to will be held in Scotland. Surely, for a trial to be more meaningful it would have made sense to offer others the chance of taking part as well?
A case could surely be made for scrapping benching at, for example, either UK Toy or National Terrier – or indeed both. Toy exhibitors, in particular, often arrive with their dogs in trolleys and rarely go near the benches. For any self-respecting show treasurer, the sight of all those benches sitting completely empty throughout the day while there is a five figure invoice waiting to be paid for their use, must surely be absolutely heartbreaking.
Similarly only one day shows are included in this trial, although there could be an equally good case for the experiment to be extended to Belfast. I made my first visit to that show last year, and the terrier benches were situated so far from the rings – two halls away to be exact – that it was no surprise that they were unused by the majority of exhibitors. I have no idea of the cost of getting the benching across to Northern Ireland, but it must be quite considerable, and is surely a complete waste of the society’s resources.
Of course, benching is always a contentious topic. For everyone who thinks that it is a complete waste of money and space, there is always another person who asserts that they couldn’t possibly manage without their benches. However, times have changed, and the majority of people owning the smaller breeds, bring their dogs into a show on a trolley and have little practical use for a bench. In fact, if your dogs are housed in a show trolley it is actually impossible to follow the letter of the KC regulations and actually put them on the bench, unless I suppose you take extra crates with you – which makes the whole idea of the trolley rather pointless. It’s certainly impossible to lift such a trolley onto the benching and so most people either ignore their designated position altogether and head straight for the grooming area or set it up immediately in front of their bench, thus blocking the gangway.
If you take several big dogs, then benches are obviously useful, and many who travel to shows on their own feel that they could not manage without their own safe space. I think it is fairly obvious that if benching were abolished there would be some that would cut down on the number of dogs they enter, which is surely not the result that is wanted.
The benching boys have become our friends over the years, and a knock-on effect from any abandonment of the present benching system would almost certainly be that some of our pals would lose their jobs, not a very pleasant prospect at any time, but especially so in the present economic climate. Before any final decision could be taken I’m sure that this aspect would be considered quite carefully. It’s a commonly known fact that several of the directors of one of the benching firms also have direct involvement with various championship shows. I do always feel that this is perhaps something of a conflict of interest. When costing out the show are both benching contractors considered or does the one always get preference? These companies have quite a considerable financial investment in the benching, in lorries to transport it and also in storage facilities and one presumes that they have contracts in other fields throughout the year as well as providing benching for the championship shows.
Waste of money
So what is the answer? Societies are desperate to cut costs, and unused benching is surely an obvious waste of money. The argument that ‘we’ve always done it this way’ is never a good one in any circumstances, and as exhibitors become more sophisticated in the amount of paraphernalia that they feel is necessary in order to prepare their dogs for a show we maybe have to accept that there might be a better way of organising our events.
What could that be? Many continental shows have a certain number of benches that are available on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, and that seems to work well, although it has to be said that at some shows on mainland Europe the British health and safety officers would be reduced to gibbering wrecks! Perhaps it would be better to look to the American example, where exhibitors take even more bits and pieces than we do and expect either electrical sockets at an indoor show or designated areas for generators outside, so that driers can be used as a matter of course. At the shows I have been to American exhibitors have been very disciplined, stacking crates and keeping their belongings in as compact an area as possible, rather than spreading out in an attempt to occupy as much space as possible, as seems to be the wish of some exhibitors, especially at open shows.
There are other alternatives to benching, and hopefully this experiment will give a little indication as to whether any of these could work. I’m not entirely convinced that this very limited trial will actually achieve anything. The sample is far too small – four shows over a two-year period will not really tell anybody anything.
It was very noticeable at the East of England show last month, that when the dreadful weather made conditions in the outdoor rings quite dangerous and the indoor benching was moved to add extra rings, there were actually very few complaints, even from those who arrived with several dogs and nowhere to put them. Some breeds opted to be judged outside, found themselves a comparatively dry spot and used the benches. Others coped admirably inside, and the Peterborough Arena had the air of a giant open show, with exhibitors chatting together and sharing what space was available. In fact more than one person commented on the jolly atmosphere and several claimed that it was the most enjoyable show of the year.
I do hope that further consideration will be given to this experiment and that it might even be widened to include other shows. I believe that the National Terrier committee have already discussed how an unbenched show might work. With so many very heavily trimmed breeds in that group, the concern of many terrier exhibitors is primarily a convenient position to place their grooming table with easy access to their rings – bearing in mind also that many terrier exhibitors show two or three breeds, and even when benches are directly adjacent to the relevant ring, this does not necessarily help those trying to juggle classes.
Whatever the final decision, it has to be said that this is a very positive move on the part of the KC, even if a little overdue, and the outcome is awaited with interest.
Spotty Muldoon, 15/08/2012
Totally agree about Belfast. If you are showing more than one dog in the same breed, there is absolutely no way you can get from the benching area to the show ring in time for your class. Unless you have helpers, or your dogs are at opposite ends of the gender and age spectrum. Not only are the benches wasted, but the hire of the space to house them is also wasted. I really think benching should go the way of playpens for children! Yes, they can be handy, but they represent a very outdated behaviour.