Something unfortunate happened at a recent national specialty that was later described to me by a fancier of the breed. As the story goes, someone had sent an anonymously written letter to the board of the breed’s national club, as well as to every judge approved for the breed. The letter systematically dismantled the attributes of a dog being currently campaigned, the dog’s owner knowing nothing of the letter until breed judging was concluded at the national. At that point, the specialty judge took the dog’s owner aside to explain that his decision to leave the dog out of the ribbons had nothing to do with the letter he’d received about the dog. Needless to say, things went downhill from there. The fancier sharing the story with me was shocked to the core and expressed dismay at the devolvement of our sport.
I wasn’t surprised in the least. To be completely honest, I thought that the person sharing the story with me was a bit naïve, possibly because he hadn’t been in the sport long enough to have heard of similar shenanigans over the years. I suspected this because I had much the reaction when I witnessed a variation of the same thing thirty years before. In truth, competition at dog shows from the 1800s to now have brought out the best in dogs but the worst in some of their owners. Nefarious antics have even been the stuff of sensational magazine stories presumed by the public to be based on fact. Towit: Two Collie owners are entered at Westminster, one, a rakish cad, the other, the lovely miss who has consistently spurned his romantic advances over the year. Revenge comes the evening our villain learns that the object of his amore is leaving her dog overnight in the grooming area. As the show closes down for the night, the cad makes his way to the dog’s stall and in a matter of minutes, butchers the dog’s coat with a pair of clippers. It will be six months before the dog can be shown again. The story was published in 1924.
While that was fiction, it was all too real when in 1895 eight toy breed dogs were poisoned with strychnine at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. All eight dogs died.
Most AKC rules in place today are due to the mischief, if not malice, of early breeders, handlers and judges, and while human nature hasn’t changed much since then, the world in which dog fancy exists has. The self-serving interests of one is lending to the demise of the other at a time when the sport is already under siege by animal rights and rigid shelter dog advocates. The good news is that there are very few individuals so disturbed as to take matters into their own hands at the expense of a dog, but the bad news is that these days, the Internet, specifically Facebook, allows one person to yield the power of many. Who among us hasn’t encountered a rant on Facebook about a judge’s lack of breed knowledge, or complaints that the results of a dog show were a “fait accompli?”
Regardless of the grievances, I don’t think these are things to be settled on Facebook, and every “friend” of a page on which dirty laundry is aired should denounce the person who posts such grumblings to protect their own interests by protecting the fancy. To do nothing is tantamount to enabling the culprit by being the audience to which he or she plays in such a highly visible forum, and trust me, these pages are trolled by people only to happy to see the demise of the sport.
Radicals of the 1960s learned (to their chagrin, I imagine) that the best way to change the system against which they railed was to work within it. Tom Hayden, an anti-war and radical intellectual counterculture activist, became a California State Senator (and, as an aside, is a staunch endorser of animal rights). The Green Party of Germany ended six decades of being a political wallflower to become a mainstream force that shook the traditional political order. The Christian Coalition gained ascendency at the turn of the last century and helped candidates reach political power. These varied examples did it not by whining on Facebook or Twitter. They did it the old fashioned way by patiently working within “the system” with little steps and small gains. Not coincidentally, the animal rights movement did it much the same way. Late night television commercials purchased for bargain prices were the last thing many Americans saw before going to sleep, and after thirty years, they, not us, have become the go-to authority on animal issues by the media and the average citizen. How has that worked out for us?
We no longer have the luxury of acting out the less-than-attractive parts of our human nature, and not especially in venues like Facebook or Twitter. The problem has become so legion, however, that one on-line dog site was surveying its page visitors a month ago by asking how many times they’ve encountered bad behavior at dog shows or in social media by fellow dog people.
There are mechanisms in place through which grievances are settled at a club or AKC level, though they are less immediate than the click of the “send” button, and perhaps less satisfying than trashing a person’s reputation in front of thousands of faceless witnesses. But has anything ever truly been resolved in a trial by Facebook friends? And worse, does it help or hurt the sport to do so? What would a “friend” of the vile “I Hate Dog Breeders” page make of alleged misdoings in the sport as provided by a disgruntled participant? I’ll tell you what they’d do. They use it as ammunition. I’ve seen proof of it on a page I administer for purebred dog fans. Even a minor disagreement over, say, an accepted color in a breed, is used by animal rights proponents to suggest that we’re oblivious to what’s really important (the dog’s feelings).
The sad truth is that as purebred dog owners and breeders these days, we have to be twice as well behaved to be considered half as “noble” as our adversaries. The Internet may seem like a more “civilized” way in which to pull off the hijinks of our predecessors, but the damage inflicted there impacts the whole sport, not just one individual in it. Nothing on the Internet is limited to targeted individuals anymore, and private spats within the fancy are anything but private. We all suffer one way or another.
This article first appeared in Dogs in Review, July 2014