R-E-S-P-E-C-T and Common Sense

From the February 2020 issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe.

At times it appears to me that everywhere I turn there seems to be a general lack of Civility and Respect between people in just about every area of our lives. I often wonder why that is and just where did this trend begin.

Growing up in America as a member of the baby boomer generation I am full of many fond memories of my youth. At school we all learned how to read and write, we learned math, history, spelling, social studies, geography and many other subjects. At home as well as in our neighborhoods we also learned many other things such as;

  • Always respect your elders
  • Say “Please” and “Thank you”
  • Treat others as you would wish for them to treat you.
  • Be kind and helpful to your neighbors.
  • The police and fire fighters are your friends
  • Listen to and respect your teachers, coaches and any other figure of authority.
  • Never wear a hat inside the house.
  • Always be on time.
  • Do not steal
  • Never Lie and if you are caught in one don’t ever try to cover it up with another one.
  • Appreciate America, The Flag, and the freedoms and sacrifices of many that they symbolize.
  • Always be quiet in a Church or at the Library.
  • Never be disruptive in a public place.
  • Always open the door for a lady and the elderly.
  • Clean up after yourself it is a sign of respect for yourself as well as those around you.
  • If you participate in sports always display good sportsmanship on and off the field
  • Cleanliness is next to Godliness
  • The customer is always right
  • Appreciate what you have and know that there are many with much less
  • Be kind to animals

Having gone to Catholic school we also had other regulations to follow such as wearing a shirt and tie everyday for the boys while the girls had school uniforms to wear. Our hair could not touch the collar of our shirts and when a girl knelt her skirt had to touch the floor, or it was too short. These were the rules and although we did not like all of them, we learned to accept them and the discipline and order it brought to our lives.

While many of my generation were growing up TV and radio were expanding, and our country started to change. We lived through the Cold War with bomb shelters and the drills that accompanied them, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, Draft dodging, the space race and saw the first man walk on the moon, the burning of bras and draft cards, The introduction of the birth control pill, free love and hippy movements and of course the counter culture of drugs. We had political unrest, race riots, the threat of communism, Watergate and a world about to explode with technology that would forever change the landscape not only in America but all over the world.

Our world today appears to be in constant chaos. One only needs to look at what is happening in our own country to see that mankind and America are heading down a dangerous path. As I remember during my childhood the Political parties of both the Democrats and the Republicans sought to find the common ground and compromises that only required “common sense” and results to benefit our country and the greater good.

It seems to me that today the extreme views of those both on the left and the right are slowly dividing not only our country but families and friendships along with them. I believe that there are probably about 10-15% of Americans that fit in the extreme category on either side of the political spectrum with about 70% of our country fitting somewhere in the middle. I think that most people may lean to the right or the left but, they agree on more subjects than they are opposed to. If it were up to me, I would create a third political party in America simply called the “Common Sense Party”, where that 70% could use common goals and reason to solve the issues we face as a country.

It has always been my opinion that our sport is a scaled down version of America. We have people of all races, nationalities, religious beliefs, social, economic and ethnic groups. We have people of all ages, sexual orientation, as well as educational and professional backgrounds. We are a melting pot of people with a common interest in our sport of pure-bred dogs.

Also, like America I think that as a sport we may also be heading down a destructive path. A path that without some changes may lead to an end of the sport as we know it. Let’s look at some of those areas:

  1. If we don’t change how we respect our venues and hotels we may no longer have anyplace to even hold a show or a hotel that will accept us with our dogs. I just came back from the Orlando cluster and could not believe how many people did not clean up after their dogs. People allowed males to lift their legs on everything and even those that did clean up would leave their bags of poop everywhere for someone else to collect. At our show this year we put in the front of our judging program that failure to clean up after your dog would result in a $25.00 on the spot fine and would subject you to a bench hearing. We further made it known that all club members as well as the facility people were aware of it and would be enforcing it. Much to my surprise it seemed to work as we did not have to fine anyone and only had one or two piles to clean up from people that were obviously not observed leaving the piles.
  2. Respect for fellow exhibitors. There is absolutely no reason to berate or humiliate another exhibitor because they made a mistake on an entry or in the ring. There is a proper and civil way to talk to people without cursing or throwing a tantrum. Just remember the Golden Rule.
  3. Judges are human and even if you do not like them or agree with them public outbursts or tearing them apart on social media is just not acceptable. If you don’t like their judging just don’t enter under them no one forces, you to enter.
  4. Judges need to be kind to exhibitors and occasionally remember that this may be these exhibitors first show and a bad experience may prevent them from coming back. Remember many of us that have become successful in our sport did not always start with a good dog or polished skills.
  5. Our sport has always prided itself on a certain type of class. Men with Shirts, Ties and Coats, Ladies with nice dresses or outfits that present them in a professional light. Whether you are a judge or an exhibitor you need to show our sport the respect it deserves by dressing appropriately in clothes that fit you and show you as a professional not a Wal Mart shopper in the middle of night.
  6. The American Kennel Club needs to show respect to the exhibitors by making sure that judges are qualified and have a proven record before advancing them. Going from one breed to 13 in one application is depriving the exhibitor. We have many good judges that came up in a system that although was slow and took many of us 8-10 years to be approved for a whole group made us all better judges.
  7. The AKC must also learn to stop giving special treatment to certain individuals and they must also maintain the integrity of the sport by punishing and suspending those that don’t follow the rules. There are numerous rumors about falsified applications and special treatments in the past and in the present that don’t play well to the other judges and exhibitors. Scandals happen and people must be held accountable for their actions.
  8. If we are going to continue, we need to be a positive influence in our communities and on a national scale. We need to get back to that time when being an AKC registered dog had real meaning.
  9. Breeders need to be mindful of how they talk with potential puppy buyers. New people need to be educated and encouraged not dismissed and treated rudely just because they may not understand why you are asking the questions you do before selling your puppies.
  10. Participants need to be respectful of those that choose to compete in venues other than those that you may prefer. One of the great things about our competitions today is that there are so many things a person can compete in that anyone can enjoy competition with their dog in the area they enjoy.
  11. The AKC needs to review their policies and stop making the kennel club the place where those handlers that want to retire go to work, with the AKC making them instant Experts evaluating judges and, on some occasions, bringing their personal Bias with them. There are many people with great backgrounds in our sport that should be considered.

These are just a small sample of the issues we face. You may or may not agree with a few of them or maybe all of them but as a nearly 50-year participant in the sport they are just this writers’ observations.

As a country, might we be headed toward another civil war. Is the world we live in headed toward destruction? What about our sport? Will it still exist in 5-10-20 years?

On the positive side our sport is truly international, and we have dog lovers all over the world exhibiting. Is it possible that some day in the future we will all compete under one system? Who knows?

I admit I miss the golden age of dog shows the early 70’s and 80’s where we were a truly family sport where the weekend was two days to look forward to and not the rat race of the 4-5 day circuits of today. A time when judges and exhibitors would talk, listen and share without having their integrity questioned. Where fellow exhibitors stayed till the end to laugh, to learn, to share and to create great friendships. What do you think?

  • Walter Sommerfelt of Lenoir City, TN has been involved in the sport of purebred dogs since acquiring his first Old English Sheepdog in 1972. He is a former professional handler as well as a breeder, and exhibitor of breeds in all seven groups, most notably Vizslas, OES, Pointers, Bearded Collies and Weimaraners. Judging since 1985 he is approved for All Sporting, Working, and Herding breeds and groups, Junior Showmanship and Best in Show and has had the honor of judging on four different continents. Mr. Sommerfelt has judged many of the most prestigious shows in the United States including the herding group at the 2014 Westminster Dog Show in New York City where he has judged on three separate occasions. Mr. Sommerfelt was the founder and chairman for the St. Jude Showcase of Dogs from 1993 until 2009, a unique event showcasing the world of purebred dogs. This special event was the largest collection of various dog events in one location, featuring an AKC all Breed Dog Show, AKC Obedience and Rally Trials, AKC Agility trials, (prior to AKC adding agility NADAC trials ) One of the largest Fly ball tournaments in the U.S.A., Herding and go to ground demonstrations, A main stage featuring performances by Canines from Television and the Movies, Freestyle, Demos by drug and various therapy dogs, A full room of booths for meet the breeds, over 50 AKC judges seminars annually, Lure coursing, A fun Zone for Children, and other dog related fun activities for the general public and their dogs. Over the years the event not only raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the world-renowned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, but also raised awareness of the many activities for people with their dogs as well establishing a voice for dog people in the Memphis area with regard to legislation. Many aspects of today’s AKC Royal Canin show can be traced back to the St. Jude event. Along with Carol his wife of 36 years they have bred well over 90 AKC Champions including Group, Best in Show and Specialty Winners, dual Champions and multiple performance titled dogs. During the past 40 years Mr. Sommerfelt has been active in a number of dog clubs and is currently the President of the Tennessee Valley Kennel Club. He is recipient of the AKC outstanding Sportsmanship Award and is also a career agent and financial planning specialist with Nationwide Insurance. The Sommerfelts’ have two grown children, both former Junior Handlers and they are still active breeders and exhibitors of the Vizsla breed.

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