From the ShowSight archives. ShowSight Dog Show Magazine, May 2014 Issue. From the monthly column "Becoming" by Jacquelyn Fogel. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.
I believe many dog show people have learned to relate to dogs better than they relate to people. Over the years I have often noticed that people attracted to this arena of dog breeding and competition have arrived with injured souls. Something has happened to them that has caused them to mistrust, misunderstand, mistake intentions, and just generally suffer from a basic disconnect from human beings. I am not suggesting this is about other people. I place myself quite firmly in the camp of people with injured souls. Things have happened to me at the hands of others outside the dog show world that should never have happened, and I still suffer their effects on my soul. My own experiences have proven to me that it takes work to rebuild connections with humans when your soul has been so bruised by them. Dogs are easier. They just listen.
That being said, I really enjoy spending time with many dog show people. I seem to be drawn to those who readily admit their injuries, and have put effort into working on their issues. These people want to connect with other humans, it has just become difficult or too complicated in some cases. Avoiding emotional or physical pain has become a preferred option, so their social circles have become small and intimate.
It has not been a surprise to me that within the dog show world it seems as though we have a propensity to “eat our own.” We play in a sport that is highly competitive with creatures that many of us credit with saving our sanity. The mama bear in all of us comes out when one of our little darlings loses or is cruelly criticized by someone inside or outside the ring. We lose all sense of objectivity. We flip into attack mode – sometimes even kill mode. I know kill mode. I have seen it in my bedlingtons. It’s not pretty. There is no thought process or warning – they go from zero to kill in a heartbeat. It’s why bedlingtons are not sparred in the ring – they give no warning, there is no posturing before the attack.
Two recent events in the world of dog competition have once again illustrated this inherent problem within our group.
The willingness to” kill” became painfully apparent on the Louisville weekend. The Bedlington Terrier National is held that weekend, and our entries are the biggest they will ever be during the year. Competition is fierce, and tempers can flare, especially when exhaustion kicks in. It is a marathon weekend for exhibitors who bring multiple dogs to compete in multiple venues. But this year we had an added level of depravity to deal with.
Many of the exhibitors and all of the terrier judges received an 8-page document mailed to us anonymously in the days before the shows. This document used pictures and quotes from the bedlington standard to nastily critique one dog. It was 8 pages of a vitriolic hatchet job on this particular dog and his owner. Especially upsetting to me was that several pictures of my dogs were used in this document to illustrate correct structure or movement. I had not authorized use of any of the photos. One was a private photo available through only one source (no, I am not telling). Whoever printed the document was not only doing a hatchet job on the dog they critiqued, they were trying to set me up as the perpetrator. Their intent was quite obvious – kill two top competitors with one nasty document.
Most BTCA board members were highly insulted by the document. They want to find out who sent it. I have my own speculation. I have compared the “voice” in which this document was written with documents I have scanned from various websites, and I am pretty confident I know who produced the document. It is probably a joint effort with two or three people involved in the planning and execution. But without proof it is merely speculation. I am hoping that with time we will find out who produced the despicable piece so we can deal with them appropriately, and in a civilized manner. However, anyone cowardly enough to send a document like this out anonymously will likely not be brave enough to come forward and claim it now. I know our club needs to get better at judges’ education, but this was not at all what we had in mind.
A second incident also made me think about why we are so cruel to each other, and how much more could be accomplished without so much meanness.
Last year the AKC produced a lovely video highlighting two young dachshund breeders in the Madison, WI area. They were chosen as breeders new to that particular breed, even though they had shown another breed for several years prior to the dachshunds. The video highlighted these two as good new breeders, and presented a picture of happy, healthy, well-bred purebred puppies. It was designed to encourage others to become breeders. I loved the piece partly because I had recently met the two fine young men featured in it, and they are truly a terrific example of the kind of people we want breeding dogs and coming to dog shows. And the puppies are adorable!
Someone in the Dachshund Club of America was not happy that these breeders were selected without input from DCA. That someone got the club to write a letter to the AKC which was read by their delegate at the last meeting. The letter suggested it was inappropriate to highlight breeders that were not members of the parent club, and criticized the AKC for their error in judgment. All I could think was how much better it would have been for DCA to simply invite them in, rather than embarrassing them in front of hundreds of delegates. I would be dancing in the streets if these two had decided to breed bedlington terriers. With time they could join the parent club and begin to participate in club events, but that could wait. I had bred and competed with bassets for 5 years before deciding to join the BHCA. How much better might it have been for DCA to embrace the two new breeders and suggest that as new YouTube stars, they might be able to find something fun to do within the parent club? Invite them to join! Invite them to chair the new social-media management committee. The circle could have been drawn large enough draw them in instead of publicly embarrassing them. Parent clubs should be encouraging new young breeders. I am not sure I would ever want to join a club that would rather publicly humiliate me than invite me to join.
A really good friend of mine once said he loved dog shows because nothing of lasting significance or real importance in the world ever happens at a dog show. I made him repeat what he had just said because I wasn’t sure I heard it correctly (I know him as a great breeder and a fierce competitor). He repeated it, and went on to explain that was why dog shows were so fun for him. The competition was not about anyone’s livelihood or health. We were not participating in the Hunger Games or a battle raged with killing weapons. The health of the economy or the safety of our community did not depend on the results of a dog show. None of the results of the day would cause anyone to be physically or financially harmed beyond repair. All competitors could pack up their dogs and gear, and go out to dinner to celebrate the camaraderie of the day – winners and losers – because in the larger scope of things none of that day’s dog show results really mattered. As a breeder, he loves the competition, and he loves the dogs he has bred. He would not allow one day’s results to change that. As someone who has often taken a dog show result incredibly personally, I had to stop and really process what he had just said. I decided right then to begin trying to internalize this entirely healthy way to look at the competition. As the title of Dr. Jess Lair’s self-help book says, “I Ain’t Well – But I Sure Am Better!” I felt my own injured soul begin to heal a little.
Competition does not always bring out the best in us, and it never will unless we stop using it to bludgeon each other, and begin using it to make us better at what we do. We breeders provide a valuable service to the world of dog lovers. We make healthy, predictable pets for people who want specific traits in their dogs. Our competition should be helping us to get better at that, but it may also point out where we are going wrong. We need to learn to re-frame the issues. Perhaps consistent winning is the result of doing things right, not just politics. Perhaps losing is the result of having an inferior exhibit that day, and is an indication that work needs to be done. Or perhaps that judge’s opinion does not really matter, so it can be ignored. None of these possibilities requires anger, or a willingness to “kill” another person. Disappointments need not trigger a willingness to “eat our own.”
Yes, we as a group are feeling the effects of battle fatigue. Not a day goes by that we aren’t told about how horrible breeders are, and how the ONLY place for the public to get a dog is through a shelter or rescue. We should spend a lot more effort in explaining why this is illogical thinking, and a lot less effort eating our own. It will be a better use of our time and energy.