The midterm elections are now well behind us now, though some of us are still be afraid to answer the phone lest a “robo-caller” be at the other end. Despite the mind-numbing frequency of political ads, the elections put many of us in the mood to do our civic duty with pride. We paid attention to candidates, listened to their policies, and voted accordingly.

I’ve long been struck by the similarities between politics, government, and the dog fancy. Government, in its smallest form, has to be the family unit. It operates within a budget, and its decision-makers, usually our parents or other adults, establish the rules by which family members must abide (or get grounded). The dog fancy isn’t that much different. Its governing entity, the AKC, oversees our laws. We have a representative form of government in the form of delegates who “speak” for us after being elected by the membership of the clubs to which we belong.

It’s worth asking however, if our sport is being run in a way that resembles government as John Adams envisioned it – a government made up of laws and not men — or if it comes closer to the view of musician, Frank Zappa, who opined that we are a nation of laws that are badly written and randomly enforced.

As much as I‘d like to think that we’re all on board with John Adams’ noble ideal, these days I sometimes wonder if the fancy doesn’t come closer to Zappa’s interpretation.

Frank Zappa once said, “One of my favorite philosophical tenets is that people will agree with you only if they already agree with you. You do not change people’s minds.” Was he right?

Over the summer, I heard about a dog show on the east coast that was attended by many spectators with their dogs in tow. Aside from the ramifications of exposing show dogs to pets whose owners may or may not have diligently vaccinated them, this became problematic when these same spectators confused a dog show for a dog park.

Their dogs, many on flex-leads, rocketed to the end of their leashes to “say hello” to entered dogs not in a position to respond. Some dogs were about to enter a show ring, while a few others were youngsters at their first show. By all accounts, the show dogs didn’t appreciate the “in-your-face” (if not butt) visit from strange dogs with no manners.

The salient point here, however, is that unentered dogs are not allowed at AKC shows, and yet there they were. Neither the show committee nor the AKC representative stopped these people from entering the show grounds with their pets, nor were these owners asked to leave. The rule, as I see it, is a sensible one, but what happened at this show made me wonder why we bother having it at all if it’s not enforced. In our anxiousness to garner acceptance by the public, have we become too afraid to apply our own rules?

On a different note, I wrote about the problem of bullying in our sport in an article that appeared here several months ago. After the piece was published, I heard from readers who felt compelled to share their stories with me. Some were exhibitors who felt they’d been victims of bullying. A few others had been accused of being bullies. Their personal accounts made me realize that there’s a third “player” in the dynamics of conflict at a dog show, someone whose job it is to be the eyes and ears of the AKC by providing a disinterested account of conduct at a show: That person is the AKC Field Representative.

Part of a Field Rep’s job is to protect the sport against people who harm it. What’s more harmful to the fancy than bullies who drive novices out of it, or make life so miserable for other exhibitors as to make dog shows a thing for them to dread?

Reading of so many similar experiences persuaded me to conclude that a lack of action by a Field Rep is not an uncommon thing. In some instances, the Rep chose to ignore a complaint for reasons never expressed to the frustrated complainant, while in some cases of a bullying, the Field Rep’s friendship with either the alleged victim or perpetrator was a clear conflict of interest, and the primary reason neither of the parties felt anything helpful was done at all.

Most Field Representatives do a stellar job, but it’s not an easy job, not especially if a situation calls for judgment call. That said, why have a Field Rep at all if he or she is unwilling or ill prepared to deal with a situation that might involve a friend or breed colleague? Shouldn’t fairness and impartiality trump everything else?

A governing body, whether it’s the United States government or the AKC, has an obligation to its citizens (or membership) to enforce the laws it passes. Citizens (and fanciers), however, also have a duty to abide by those rules, and that leads me to end my thoughts with a situation increasingly becoming a problem: The abuse of the “service dog” moniker.

As long as anyone can buy a service dog vest, any dog can be a service dog. Who's going to challenge them?

As long as anyone can buy a service dog vest, any dog can be a service dog. Who’s going to challenge them?

Breed judging had concluded at a benched show I attended in the last year when an exhibitor slipped a “service dog” vest over his show dog’s head and left the benching area to become a spectator with his now service dog. Though I learned of this incident after the fact, there were those who knew this “service dog” wasn’t any such thing, yet no one filed charges, and no one complained. Whether the dog was a service dog isn’t really the point. The point is that an exhibitor agrees to abide by the rules of a show-giving club when he or she mails in their entry. The rules of the kennel club giving this show had stipulated in writing that any dog entered in their show was on the premises as a show dog, not as a service dog even if in its “other life,” it served that role.

At the best of times, it’s difficult, if not awkward, to challenge someone about the veracity of their service dog. The abuse of the service dog vest, however, impacts legitimate service dogs and diminishes their role as the public grows skeptical of their authenticity. I’m not a fan of over-regulation, but the need for verifiable certification of service dogs seems clear to me. Until the time that happens, we all of us are on a “brownie honor system.” Sadly, there are some in the dog fancy who are abusing the trust, and even more fanciers who are loathe to report them.

I end with a question I’ve asked myself many times: Why have rules if they’re not enforced?


At First Crack

December 4, 2014

Thanksgiving is now behind us, and judging from comments I’ve gotten in response to the innocent question, “How was your Thanksgiving?” it would seem that heated discussions over the dinner table were as much a tradition in some households as the turkey and gravy. Religion and politics, the standard bearers of topics one is never […]

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Dogs, Dallas and Ebola

October 21, 2014
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My house is pulsating with activity this week as we prepare for an event that’s been on the calendar for a year: The first wedding in the family in over 30 years. We’ve foreseen wondering what to pack for a black tie wedding held out of state. What we didn’t anticipate was speculating as to […]

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Not Your Father’s AKC

October 9, 2014
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When Bill Clinton was president and in the throes of his “Monica Difficulties,” I happened to hear a radio interview of someone whose name I never did catch.  I could picture the man shrug as he opined that no one should be shocked by Clinton’s behavior around women because that’s just who he was. In […]

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Conduct Unbecoming?

September 17, 2014
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How easy do we make it for novices to know what’s acceptable behavior at a dog show? How easy do we make it for the person without a mentor or accessible breeder to know what is preferred conduct? Are the people who whelp puppies in their motor home at a dog show in violation of […]

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How To Feed a Dog That Won’t Eat

September 2, 2014
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It’s something we will encounter at least once in our lives as dog owners, and in my opinion (possibly because of a cultural heritage that associates food with comfort and love) it’s one of the most frustrating of all problems. Our dog won’t eat.  What on earth do we do? Thirty years ago, we didn’t […]

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Guest Column: Saving the Sport

August 22, 2014
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Note: This week, I’m posting a guest column because the inherent message of this article is too important not to share with everyone who has a dog, friend, neighbor, acquaintance or relative. The author, Tray Pittman (whose kind permission I have to share it)  wrote the piece in response to a couple of incidents involving Shelties […]

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Piper and Justina: The Same Difference?

August 13, 2014
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It’s never a good idea to weigh in on a contentious issue without knowing all the facts, and I may come to regret doing exactly that as I write about the on-going saga of “Piper,” the Shetland Sheepdog. But first, I want to tell you about Justina Pelletier. Justina had been undergoing treatment at Tufts […]

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Everything Old is New Again

July 31, 2014
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Last weekend, I was sixteen again. Richard Nixon was President.  A man walked on the moon for the first time.  Sirhan Sirhan admitted to killing Robert Kennedy, James Earl Ray plead guilty to killing Martin Luther King, and Ted Kennedy plead guilty to leaving the scene of the fatal Chappaquiddick accident.  Sesame Street debuted on […]

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