Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Divided we fail

I've been following a thread on the Our Dogs forum.
For those who don't know much about dog shows, Our Dogs is one of the two weekly papers for dog show exhibitors and breeders.
(Confession to newcomers to this blog: When I was young (oh dear that feels a very long time ago!) I used to write for Our Dogs and my next job was a year in the office of the other show paper Dog World. When I was a child, I was a really serious dog show person/breeder... There are embarrassing photos of me in very old breed books and show newspaper archives showing me wearing the uniform - a brightly coloured man-made fibre trouser suit - so there's no point in denying my past!)
Anyway, back to the forum.
I didn't realise when I joined (to correct David Cavill who had claimed I'd prevented him from commenting on this blog - free speech always welcome here David - do join in!) that I would continue to receive emails every time anyone said anything.
I started to witness some quite horrid bullying and I've been mulling over what to do or say. It's not like seeing someone being assaulted in the street, you're just overhearing a conversation - at what point do you join in and become part of it?
We have one very enthusiastic pet owner in one corner who has lost a beloved dog to a distressing disease trying to persuade the hard core dog breeders to get a bit more enthusiastic in the fight to improve all our dogs' health.
We have a load of dog show types pretty much saying, "Who the hell are you - clear off our forum."
This sort of tribalism may be natural - but isn't it rather disappointing?
We need to look at what joins us together rather than what divides us - and we all should be pulling in the same direction. Ultimately pet or show person should want the same thing - healthy dogs.
I'm still receiving reactionary emails from the odd breeder who still claims all this fuss is just nonsense, bias - that there's simply nothing wrong with inbreeding - or line breeding as they like to call it.
These are people who genuinely seem not to be able to grasp the correlation between declining effective population sizes and the increasing levels and weird and disturbing conditions popping up in all breeds. I reason with these people for ages hoping for a breakthrough, but it's still far too easy from they to say I'm just biased rather than just think about it logically for a moment.
How can these people ignore Professor Balding and all the other scientists and simply think that it's okay to breed ever closer regardless?
Could it reveal that perhaps some of these people might have lost sight of the special bond between dogs and their owners, that they can no longer honestly empathise with the person's grief at the loss of just one dog. When you have 14 more in the kennel perhaps you become slightly dulled to one popping off early?
I was once a show person. I know how everyone uses "pet quality" as a euphemism for "rubbish". Where someone showing a pet dog is dismissed with a roll of the eyes.
I remember many successful breeders that had obviously stopped loving their individual dogs, they hardly touched them if they weren't grooming, showing or exercising them. The lottery ticket effect of chasing winners spawned its own vocabulary and morals. For eg "Passengers" - dogs that didn't win and were too old to be bred from.
Dogs that didn't deliver were frequently rehomed or "bumped". I remember one person in my breed putting chalk marks on kennel doors and calling the vet in when numbers got too high. "Thinning out" with a lethal injection was a regular occurrence. Another saved the vet bill and shot the dogs herself.
It's morally reprehensible - but if we are honest and we live or have lived in the show world we probably know several people in every breed that fit the profile of someone who shows dogs but doesn't feel that attached to them individually any more.
Those sorts of people need driving out in my opinion.
There are plenty of other breeders that do still love their dogs and they need to be brave and hound out those dinosaurs that often spout the ridiculous doctrine of, "proper show people won't be told what to do by a bunch of scientists."
It's time for the caring people to come out of the closet and say they unashamedly love their dogs and that they care about their health - whether or not they are show or pet people.
Leave those miserable people who don't care out on a limb and start supporting each other.
Let's try to form a central movement of dog lovers who welcome progress: breeders, show people and pet people - everyone who loves dogs with a passion.
The majority of dogs are bred by pet owners in any case, if you look at the KC's own stats. Most litters are bred by people who only breed one litter in their lives.
It's time for pet and show people to start getting on with each other.
I feel the pet owners voices should be listened to by the hard core show people. That lone voice talking sense to people who don't want to hear may well make a breakthrough with some of the less entrenched.
Maybe I'll start joining in on the Our Dogs forum... care to join me?

7 comments:

cambstreasurer said...

"The majority of dogs are bred by pet owners in any case, if you look at the KC's own stats. Most litters are bred by people who only breed one litter in their lives."

That's absolutely fascinating! I didn't think of checking KC stats for info. about "pet" breeders, but that absolutely clicks with my impression of the dogs we see at our animal clinic; that they are much less extreme than the true show-dogs.

Presumably that means that (at least for the popular breeds) it would be possible to get back to a more sensible genetic population just by going back to the pet population.

Jane Ardern said...

I too have been a show person for over 10 years. I also work with the pet owning public. I have seen some breeders and how their thirst for tickets and rosettes effects their moral judgement.
I always advise people, just because a breeder has bred 20 champions does not mean your getting a healthy puppy with a good temperament, just probably a conformationally sound one.
As a trainer I have on several occasions been the shoulder and support for the pet owning public when health in their puppy takes a turn for the worst. Where is the breeder???

alfmcmalf said...

Well as I said on my blog lately you are a Beverley to be cherished indeed.

Thank you for this.

Jan said...

This is quite difficult. I haven't looked at the Our Dogs site, but as a pet owner have posted a couple of times on the Dog World site. The response was so aggressive from one person I am reluctant to post again. However, there are a few strong writers who are for healthier dog breeding who keep posting - even some breeders.

I think that there are many breeders who think that the current debate should have nothing to do with pet owners - despite the fact that we are the ones buying the dogs and paying the vets bills. It's easy to feel bullied out of posting by such people.

I also know of breeders who stay out of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club as they don't like the attitude within the club. Unfortunately that leaves it open for those 200 breeders who voted Margaret Carter off the Committee.

I would encourage pet owners to get involved wherever possible. I don't think some breeders realise that the majority of pet owners want to see healthy dogs, not show winners. They are too wrapped up in their own little world and don't want anything to change, but it has to.

Anonymous said...

I too have been part of the show world for many years.
There are some wonderful, caring, responsible breeders out there, but not enough, and we all tend to get blinkered by the prevailing culture.
Showing is for many a very important part of their social life and, if they want to continue showing & sometimes winning, they learn to be wary about upsetting those top breeders & exhibitors that dominate so many breeds.

"Ultimately pet or show person should want the same thing - healthy dogs"

So many times in the heated discussions that have followed the Pedigree Dogs Exposed documentary, I have read that 'no breeder sets out to breed an unhealthy dog' and that is obviously true, why would they? .....but it is not enough.

Breeders should set out to breed the healthiest dog they can, using the most up-to-date knowledge that is available to them.

Some breeders have many excuses why they don't health test, but the truth is that nobody in the showing circles breeds to produce healthy pets. They breed to produce a beautiful dog that will win well in the show ring and/or sell at a good price.
They need an income to maintain their hobby

Health testing, with the possibility that they may have to remove their champion bitch, or top stud dog, from their breeding programme, with the subsequent loss of top quality puppies or stud fees, is something they just do not want to do.

"Could it reveal that perhaps some of these people might have lost sight of the special bond between dogs and their owners, that they can no longer honestly empathise with the person's grief at the loss of just one dog."

I honestly think that something can happen to some otherwise very nice people when they enter the highly competitive world of dog showing.
These proud & loving pet owners, who went along to a small show and won with their one & only precious pet may, somewhere along the line, can end up with too many dogs to keep in the house. They will decide they need a dog room or a kennel, the dogs stop being pets & are no longer part of the ordinary household.
Gradually these nice people, although they still 'talk the talk' and present themselves as caring dog owners when selling their puppies, are able to divorce themselves completely from their responsibilities to the dogs they breed & the buyers who trust them.
They do forget what it is like to adore a special dog.

I so agree that everyone should be involved with taking things forward. As you say.... breeders, show people and pet people, we all have a chance to change things & we should be making the most of the opportunity.

I'll see if I can join you on the Our Dogs forum.

Margaret Carter

jo siemieniowski said...

Iagree 100% with margaret on this, also a note about David Cahill, he has a video on youtube, and on it he said of me, that as zaks owner i was going to be prosecuted by the RSPCA for cruelty to animals! ( totally untrue) and all this was because i allowed zak to be filmed for pedigree dogs exposed whilst having a fit!, and apparently so too is the owner of the cavalier with SM. I think Mr Cahill should get his facts right before talking about his rubbish on youtube!!

Pai said...

This post is an articulate version of what I've felt more and more as I have come to learn more about dog shows and their cultures. If only more people who are not afraid to speak up for science and progress were out there pressing for change!