Bad Behavior Gone Viral

by Susi on July 11, 2014

in Competition, dog shows, Facebook, Libel

Post image for Bad Behavior Gone Viral

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.

Poison_Pen

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

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Ricka Smith July 11, 2014 at 10:48 am

Needing a clarification here – are we speaking of airing “personal dirty laundry” only, or are we considering the idea of using/not using social media as a legitimate area of public debate?

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Susi July 11, 2014 at 11:04 am

The idea of using social media as a forum for airing grievances in our sport plays into the hands of those who would see the demise of our sport. As a rule, I’m all for public debate, but our “opponents” are using our grievances against us and at this point of time, I suspect it’s better to go through the process within the sport (our clubs or the AKC) to settle serious matters than to give the ARists ammunition.

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Ricka Smith July 11, 2014 at 11:39 am

I can get behind that Susi … I do think it is important for all fanciers to be able to communicate with one another regarding issues in the sport, but bad behavior gone ballistic is better handled on a private basis. BUT, having said that, I do strongly believe that incidents such as these should be made known to the fancy at large and not kept “hush, hush” to be handled in private by one faction or the other. If I owned a dog that had been trashed in that manner, I would have expected to be informed of the incident prior to the judging … ethics work both ways.

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Susi July 22, 2014 at 5:04 pm

I agree, Ricka, the letter incident should have (and could have) been handled better, and I would want to have known of its existence long before I found out from a show judge.

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Alice July 11, 2014 at 8:56 pm

The key phrase here, Susi, is “public DEBATE” – debating is not attacking, belittling, or inflammatory. It’s a point of view, which can be articulated with decency, decorum and manners if the writer would take a moment to view how they would like those same words they are planning on spewing to be directed at themselves. You use the instance of coat color for example. I am a firm believer that there is “correct” color in my breed, and “incorrect” color. I do not believe that should be a determining factor in judging the dog, nor do I believe MY opinion is necessarily the ONLY or only CORRECT opinion. So there is room in my world for co-existence. I wish it for everyone. It helps open our eyes.

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Susi July 15, 2014 at 10:28 am

Thanks for writing, Alice (and reading the piece!) – I agree there is room for discussion, especially among dog people who typically have opinions!

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Marty B Cornell July 11, 2014 at 10:48 am

Antics are indeed nothing new. I recall a national many years ago when a class bitch won Best of Opposite. A breeder/handler managed to sit with the judge at the banquet and spent the evening “educating” said judge. Of course that b/h was showing a specials bitch that the b/h expected to win.

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Susi July 11, 2014 at 10:57 am

The human condition, I fear, Marty.

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Jennifer Smith July 11, 2014 at 11:03 am

Once again Suzy you show yourself to be a thoughtful leader inspiring all of us in the sport to do better. I am now coming up on the anniversary of when I read your piece on how to get over “show nerves” and while I still experience “nerves” on occasion it hasn’t kept me from achieving many goals: winning a major at a specialty of a dog I bred, placing in the bred-by class at my breed’s national, a group placement, and finishing him this year. As I interact with people in the dog show world I thank you for helping us “people” try to behave as well as our dogs do naturally. My true calling is as a breeder where there are countless opportunities to make ethical choices in how to behave-so keep writing please!

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Susi July 11, 2014 at 11:06 am

You give me too much credit, Jennifer. These qualities were always in you, you just needed a little nudge to peel back the jitters and reveal what was always there! I’m so proud of you!!

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Alice July 11, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Jennifer – I can only say “BRAVO!” to you. Congratulations on your mighty achievements! You should be very proud of yourself!

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Jennifer Smith July 18, 2014 at 6:48 pm

Thank you Alice! :-)

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Monica Stoner July 11, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Sadly, I’m not surprised about the letter. I am saddened that the judge felt a need to share that letter with the owner instead of taking it to AKC. Sharing the letter served no purpose other than hurting the owner.
You judge on the day regardless of whatever outside influences you might be exposed to. And afterwards you do not justify your choices beyond whatever your critique might read.
If you are challenged, you simply state on this day I preferred another entry.

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Susi July 22, 2014 at 5:03 pm

I agree with you, Monica. The letter could have been handled differently (and better) by everyone who received it. I’m not sure the dog owner was done any favors by it being held confidential until the beans were spilled at a pretty bad time.

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