Guest Column: Saving the Sport

by Susi on August 22, 2014

in Aging, Death, Depression, Dog Fanciers, dog fancy, Hoarding, HSUS, rescue, Rescue Dogs, Sheltie

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 that had to be rescued, and his point of view, I think, is one that needs to be seen by as many people in the fancy as possible. Why? Because we’re not talking about it and we need to. We all know problems exist, but Tray doesn’t just wring his hands and fret,  he offers remedies. The article appears in its entirety, the images are ones I inserted to make for easier reading. (sheepish grin – it’s an editor thing). 

I’m going to write this post realizing it may be controversial. Some may agree with me, others may not. The reasons for why some do, and others do not will be as varying as the positions themselves. I am going to try to address this issue from a place of being totally open, honest, concerned, sincere, vulnerable, and with the purest of intentions for the sake of all of us within our breed and sport. I have a unique perspective to many because I was involved in the breed when I was very young, immature, lacking discipline, lower income and resources and inconsistent standards due to both a lack of maturity, overly committed and as a result time management challenged.

I also have been involved in the breed and sport being middle -aged with the best of health, strong income and resources, impeccable standards and facilities, staff members, etc. I am now beginning to age and beginning to deal with health issues, etc. So I share all of this with you to say my perspectives are wide ranging. I want you to know I am being honest and transparent about who I was at each stage of my life and career. Presenting myself honestly, transparently and with the sincere hope of making a difference.

I also have the unique perspective of having been a breeder, owner, handler, and a professional handler, I have been successfully involved in several different breeds and have been exposed to the parent clubs of many different breeds. In addition, I have had a successful professional career in the business world, having been a Senior Executive for a high profile American Company managing a hundred million dollar a year business annually as well as managing hundreds of people at one time while managing people at all different levels of education, skills, talents, etc. Whether it be an hourly labor person or a senior level executive. I am sharing all of this background with you to share a little more about who I am, where I have been, and things that make up the person before you today. In addition, I would like to share with you for the last seven years I have been very active in fighting the Animal Rights folks, working hard to save our rights to own, breed, and show our dogs. I was a founding board member for the concerned dog owners of California. I was the first, and to date the only, legislative liaison for my local Sheltie club, I am also a member of the ASSA national committee for legislation, led by Mr. David Calderwood. I have volunteered my time, energy, money, leadership, and tirelessly worked around the clock to try to help my sport in some small, but hopefully positive way.

In our breed of Shelties, we have really been through it in recent years having been put in the unfortunate position of trying to lead through some very serious and critical animal care issues. In the last 18 to 24 months alone, we have had three separate very serious animal cruelty issues to deal with as a group of people. I will not mention any names in this article/post. I also will not judge them in any way shape or form. I will simply discuss them as fresh new issues, that will allow us all to intellectually look at these three issues separately, try to educate ourselves on the details and the reasons why. Then more importantly to review and discuss what have we learned from these experiences collectively as a group of fanciers, and what have we learned about ourselves, and then most importantly from these experiences what have we learned has worked well, what has not worked well, what are our best practices, what mistakes have we honestly made and what do we know we want to do consistently each time as a best practice. What mistakes have we made that we never want to make again. Then my suggestion a national program designed to address these serious issues, establish Minimum Care Standards, develop a Code of Ethics, etc.

The three current cases are all very different, and yet there are some similarities. I am very sad to say two of the three cases have been in California and one in the Southeast. I will again not mention names, I will only mention facts that I am certain of, and only for the purposes of leading us to come to a place of facing these problems proactively to resolution or in a perfect world proactively helping the person in advance, and never allowing the information to even become common place.

I will in advance apologize if I offend anyone as it is not my intention at all. My goal is singular. To proactively develop a national program, or national set of guidelines in order to better help us all as a people provide the best and most loving care and to provide a safe place for the breed we all love so much. I realize it would be so much easier to ignore these difficult issues, to bury our heads in the sand, and not discuss the problems openly and honestly. I understand how difficult and sensitive all of these issues are and I understand that collectively I am sure we would all just like it to go away. We wish we did not have these animal rights freaks to deal with, wish we did not have to give endless hours of hard work trying to defeat anti dog legislation and so on.

I will give you just a small example of something we could have all done so easily and collectively to have made a difference: I posted on my Face book wall this week an outstanding article exposing the HSUS for the gangsters and robbers they actually are while citing specific examples of current actions against them. An article that addresses the HSUS losing it’s great charity ranking and explaining why. It was a great article, all factual and would have helped our cause tremendously. So I posted it on my FB wall. I requested, no make that begged, that people just take a couple of minutes to read the article then post it on their walls respectively and challenge their friends to do the same. As a result, we could make a real dent in educating people about how horrible HSUS really is and to educate the general public so we could make a positive difference. It was so simple. I literally almost begged. I got ten times the response just on my own person health, which effects no one but me, and does nothing to help us collectively as a people. So I am not being naive about how difficult it will be to bring about fundamental change.

I am also not so naive as to believe that all of you may not want me to lead this charge for a variety of competitive issues. Let me say right off, I am fine with that, I understand it, I could care less who credit is given to, and I am not seeking any credit, nor do I wish to be bashed for at least trying. Please fellow Sheltie fanciers, dog show participants and simple lovers of man’s best friend: Take the time to listen, open your mind and hearts and consider the tremendous importance of this effort. Then in some way shape of form, let’s get off our duffs and do something about this matter. Do something for the dogs we so love, do something to off- set the animal rights freaks, and do something selflessly, bravely, boldly to help our breed and sport. Don’t just give this a little lip service, or dust it under the cloak of denial. We as a people can no longer continue to be dysfunctional as a people, and expect we will have a bright, healthy, and happy future. We must be dead honest with ourselves, and for goodness sake let’s pull together and do something about this very serious issue.

In all three of these cases there were some consistent issues that jump off the page:

  • DEPRESSION. Depression seems to be a consistent theme in all of these cases. It also clouds judgment because it is a clinical condition. Depression drains us of our energy and resources to do the work needed to provide proper care for our animals;
  • DEATH. Death of a spouse or family member;
  • AGING . Health issues that arise due to aging then ultimately lead to depression;
  • FINANCIAL CHALLENGES. This can result from weak economics, job change or aging demographics. Also since 2008 this has been the worst economy our country has seen since the Great Depression
  • HOARDING. In some cases the depression resulting in losing someone important is replaced by a hoarding disorder otherwise known as a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs. So this results in increased numbers, reduced resources to care for the animals properly, increases the work load to provide a clean, safe living environment for the animals. The Hoarding of animals can replace the emotional loss of a beloved person. While suffering depression the person is losing control, a way of gaining some control is by hoarding and as a result, the feeling of losing people and things you love, can be offset by hoarding.

Overview in our three cases: We know for a fact that all three people were suffering from serious depression.

In Case # 1 : The death of important loved family member involved in the sport , a loss of her perceived position/ importance within the sport, the loss of income as a result of a failing economy starting in 2008;

In Case #2: The Suicide of a Spouse;

In Case # 3: The death of a spouse, and the ending of a high profile life style.

Conclusion: Those of us with close personal relationships with these people can instantly identify and bring to our attention a key factor that may lead to the depression of a key club member. We can communicate this proactively to all our club member and we can do outreach. We can consistently offer assistance, help and care. We can communicate honestly and openly with the person facing the depression. We can and should make routine casual unannounced spot visits. Perhaps bring a gift, or just stop for a visit to offer emotional support. If you start to see signs of a problem you can casually on these spot visits offer help . For example, “Those darn toenails grow so fast, they can sure get away from us quickly when we are feeling down, let me help you with those quickly.” If you’re noticing numbers increasing, address this head on and honestly. Say things like “Are you having difficulties finding good homes for your babies, or are you not finding good homes for the retired ones?” Offer to help, or get your club rallied to get these dogs placed. If you are not having success get a partner to help you, stay after the issue, do not turn your back. Whatever you do, do not stop talking about it with fellow club members. Brain storm ways to help. If you see all the animals are losing weight perhaps just drop off free dog food. You could say you found a bargain or you could say you bought a bunch of food, and realized it was the wrong food. If you can’t afford it, discreetly reach out to trusted club members to see if someone is willing or able to assist. I know in my case, I am a VIP for Purina, so I reach out to them for donations, letting them know what the issue is, not who the person is. Then the company can write these off as a charitable donation.

Depression is a consistent key factor in the beginning of these problems. Identify openly and communicate consistently with all club members regarding the issues. Whatever we do we cannot drift away or allow distance to grow between us. We cannot live in denial or give up on them. They are one of us, they need us. Even if they are difficult and insistent, you must be stronger and more creative. We simply must keep after this problem affecting our breed and our sport. The most important thing is not to judge them and don’t allow others to judge them. People are less likely to accept help if they are being judged or belittled. Do not allow others to use these issues competitively. Stop negative conversations, name calling, back stabbing, etc. Be strong and stop it. The life of these animals, perhaps the life of your friend, the reputation of all of us as breeders, and the reputation of our sport all depend on you being strong, consistent, and helpful at this time. Get lots of partners and helpers to put together a time and action calendar, a plan.

Conclusions:

  • Again consistent communication, do fund raising within your clubs, seek charitable contributions through “TAKE THE LEAD;”
  • Offer to help sell and place dogs in new loving show, performance, or pet homes, thus raising income, cutting numbers back, cutting care costs back;
  • Offer to help host garage sales to raise funds. This also clears out goods they may be hoarding. It also opens up the home to traffic.

Often times depression is a result of isolation as well as the other reasons we have discussed.

This is just a quick overview of a few things we can do, share best practices, support one another at all times. Remain strong for the sake of the animals well being, your friends well being, our reputation as responsible breeders, and the well being of our sport’s reputation.
The consistent theme among all these parties were in many ways they were isolated, alone, depressed, lacking in resources and struggling with great emotional and physical challenges, and absolutely dealing with either severe or clinical DEPRESSION.

I believe we need to consider implementing the following items:

  • Develop a Comprehensive National Program and a Local Program to deal with the changing environment within our sport. I am aware that during the Spring ASSA meeting there was a discussion about implementing a Safety Net program but this is still a work in progress and the details of the program have not been released;
  • Speak frankly and candidly about this subject matter. Continue with educational programs supporting the issues that are addressed within this program;
  • Do an age demographic of your club’s membership. The average age of members actively participating in our sport, our club members are aging greatly.

We do not have the large number of young people and new people that we once attracted to the sport coming along like we once did in the past. Complete an analysis of our median age and complete an honest assessment of the challenges we are facing as a result of these aging demographics  A personal example: Because of my aging, I am facing failing and serious health challenges. This led me to have an honest conversation with my partner and team that we could not properly take care of the number of dogs we once did before and that we could not attend the number of events we once did at an earlier age. So we proactively cut our numbers by 50%. We did so smartly and well thought out as it related to the impact it would have on us and the breed. But we proactively made the cuts. Now I am fortunate compared to most as there are two of us working full time on the dogs. Then we have three additional staff members working full time on the care and presentation of the animals. Even with that said, we proactively cut our numbers back by 50%.

Some other questions to ponder and things to consider…

  • What is the financial impact on our local clubs, shows, majors, etc. because of our actual numbers being cut back? What can we do proactively to offset these losses?
  • Do education programs on aging and fitness for the aging, put together walking partners, do educational programs on fitness in elderly dogs;
  • Develop a Code of Ethics related to this subject matter both at a national and local level;
  • Develop Minimum Care Standards, abiding by legal standards within our communities and seek buy-in from the current membership by having every member sign a Code of Ethics, a minimum standards of Care Code, and Code of Regulations to adhere to your local statewide and community wide laws relating to local dog laws;
  • Develop a National Committee on these issues because the reality is our sport is evolving , our age demographics are changing rapidly and this presents a whole new level of challenges to all of us. Included in this National Committee should be an Ethics Review Board to ensure that this program is administered fairly to all and that these standards for care etc. do not become tools we use against one another for competitive reasons. In addition, develop a local ethics committee within each club as well.

We all need to work together and give back to the breed and sport we love in order to maintain a healthy and productive population amongst our dogs and our fellow breeders/exhibitors.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth Adams August 22, 2014 at 12:13 pm

LOVE this article. It’s about community and how to save/make a community to be proud of.

Reply

Susi August 22, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Agreed, Beth, it’s in the spirit of doing what’s best for the dogs, the sport, and ultimately, for each of us who care about the aforementioned. Building community – I love this.

Reply

Amy August 22, 2014 at 12:35 pm

As someone who lives with bipolar disorder, I’ve been taught to look for the signs of depression in myself but to someone dealing with it for possibly the first time, the unintentional isolating behavior is confusing and difficult to deal with. It’s HARD to be their friend right then but oh so important!!! This article is well said and much needed!

Reply

Susi August 22, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Thank you for sharing something so personal and painful, Amy. The article has value in lots of ways, but especially if it encourages us to reveal the personal impact that depression and similar challenges have on us and the people we know, let alone our beloved dogs and the entire sport. Those who oppose our interests as dog fanciers, purebred dog owners and/or breeders have cited hoarding as a problem within our ranks, and revealing the true nature of hoarding can only deflate their argument unless they also chose to be insensitive louts about depressions, anxiety disorder, etc. So, let’s make a pact to all check in on each other from time to time!

Reply

julie August 22, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Tray I’m soooo glad you wrote this article. And susi, thank for for reprinting it.

I’ve spent the last few days mulling about these same issues and wondering how I was going to organize my thoughts into a coherent form……….. who knew I was trying to re-invent the wheel! You’d already said everything perfectly.

With the latest issue in the LA area I was thinking………. how much better if we, as a dog show community, had been proactive and helped PREVENT the issue, rather than it fall to all of the good folks that swooped in and helped clean up the mess. People get in trouble sometimes. We all need help and often are too proud to ask. If you see someone that has gotten themselves underwater with there dogs, reach out that hand to help bring them back to the surface.

The other think that occurred to me is that our ‘standards’ need to be consistent. If I say that I’m a responsible dog breeder and that I insist on a home visit by either myself or a representative………I need to hold strong on that. Just because someone is a long time exhibitor and maybe I’ve known them for years (heck we see each other every year at the national) that doesn’t mean I have first hand knowledge about their husbandry practice in their home, day in day out……….

If we don’t police ourselves………. and help avoid really sad situations, someone is going to legislate it for us.

Reply

Susi August 22, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Thanks for writing, Julie. Tray’s article is the first time I’ve used a guest article, and this one is too important not to share far and wide. I can’t think of an issue as important to the conversation about dog ownership and beating back the animal rightists agenda than the points Tray raised. I’ve been thinking for a long time that we’ve needed to “police’ our own, but I’ve also come to decide that I’ve been using the worst word possible because “policing” is what the anti-breeder, adopt-don-t-shop crowd and animal rights zealots want to do to us. I like Tray’s approach which emphasizes the community spirit of looking out for each other not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s just as you said: Someone else will do it for us and we won’t like their way.

Reply

julie August 22, 2014 at 4:51 pm

you’re correct susi……….’police’ was a poor choice of words for me to use. i think we also need to take the shame out of the equation. Perhaps folks would be more open about having gotten themselves ‘over dogg’ed’ and reach out for help if they knew that the national breed club would respond as Marcellus did in pulp fiction and say, “you ain’t got no problem, jules. i’m on the mother****er. go back in there, chill them n******* out and wait for the wolf, who should be coming directly.”. …………

Tray also mentioned the depression aspect of things. It can become a vicious cycle when the burdens become too much to bear the load alone. unkempt dogs and feeling overwhelmed can contribute to the depression.

Reply

Shiloh August 23, 2014 at 4:32 am

A very well written article that sadly hit very close to home for me. At the end of last year, I lost someone very close to me, lost my job, had my relationship break up and was forced out of my home all within 2 months, all completely out of the blue. To say I was devastated seems to be an understatement. I had two litters of puppies (one of which was to be raised by my co-breeder who was gravely ill), plus her dogs and my dogs. Depression has been a constant shadow in my life but something inside me broke, things were so bad I just couldn’t feel anything any more and was on the worst kind of auto pilot. Fortunately other breeders stepped up to help with the babies, for a couple of weeks so I could breath. The puppies all went to super homes but at the end of this I was in a dreadful depression, with far more dogs than I would ever choose to have, and desperately looking for somewhere to live. As with many people I love my dogs fiercely and they come before all else. I don’t think they minded it all too much, as long as they are healthy, fed, and get some time they’d be happy living in a tent. But I have now placed most of them (in lovely homes) and I am once again able to enjoy the few dogs I have.

Ironically when a person is depressed, we may know we need to have less dogs, but the actual process of placing them seems like an insurmountable task. I had to recover somewhat from my depression to even be able to do it, it is time consuming, mentally and emotionally draining. There is a lot of shame, a feeling of failure, and also not wanting to be a bother or seem like a drama queen. In a sport where is seems important to be seen “to have”, this can be almost too much to admit to anyone. Much of this I struggled through alone.

I am not a bad person. I am absolutely not a BYB. But there was just a perfect storm of events wildly beyond my control that tipped everything upside down. Its very easy to judge, but you never know what could happen to anyone with 1, 2, 3 or more drastic life events all at once.

On a kind of similar subject, I’d like to add that I hope everyone has their dogs covered in their wills. At a bare minimum naming who the people are that will know where these dogs need to go, and perhaps someone who would be an emergency care contact.

Reply

Susi August 23, 2014 at 10:52 am

I applaud your courage in sharing your experience, Shiloh. We can talk and talk and talk, but unless one has walked the walk, few of us can speak with the voice of experience. The “perfect storm” that erupted in your life could happen to any of us, of that I’m sure. Now that you’ve emerged successfully out the other side, do you have advice or words of wisdom for the rest of us (besides covering dogs in one’s will)?

Reply

chienblanc4csi August 25, 2014 at 7:55 pm

You are very brave, Shiloh, for sharing your experiences. You have probably helped someone, you just may not know who for now. Best wishes to you.

Reply

chienblanc4csi August 25, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Where to start . . . Thank you for publishing this, Susi, it’s terribly important. There have been far too many tragedies in the dog world in the past few years, many of them precipitated by the financial depression of ’08-09, which changed even my relatively ordinary life dramatically. Tray is absolutely right, if we don’t watch out for each other, we all risk feeding the vultures at HSUS/PETA/ASPCA and Friends. I can think of two cases very similar, with an undercurrent of depression or directly caused by the illness. One ended in terrible tragedy, the Williams family in North Carolina, murder/suicide following unbelievable and unnecessary suffering. Kim Alboum, HSUS’s NC state director has blood on her hands, I don’t know how she sleeps at night. I don’t know if fellow fanciers helped or hurt the situation, but I have my suspicions. The other case I know of had a far less tragic outcome, the worst was the loss of two dogs, while about 12-13 were saved because of intervention by the parent club and co-owners of the dogs, including the professional handler who discovered the situation and stepped in. People were incredibly angry at the owner, but cooler heads prevailed, and even though the media covered the story, it never got out of control, and the usual witch hunt never materialized. The events were eerily similar to the situations Tray describes – job loss, depression, family issues, lack of support, a high maintenance breed. Apparently someone had seen the owner at a dog show with dirty dogs, and attempted to offer some help grooming, but the owner was too proud – and too deep into depression – to accept help. Could more have been done? Probably.

It is a challenge to know how firmly to push into someone’s private life, but when it comes to dog owners and people in our sport, it is critical to our future to go the extra mile, take a chance, go out on a limb sometimes, because we could all find ourselves in a similar situation but for one unexpected event outside of our control. And even though it should go both ways – asking for help, swallowing pride – the person suffering from severe depression is unlikely to ask, it is just too demoralizing and embarrassing in the midst of the storm.

We all worry about legislation hurting our sport, taking away our rights to enjoy our way of life, our dogs, our hobby, but how often do we find ourselves judging others and participating in gossip? After reading some of the responses to that nasty Best In Show Daily blog a few weeks ago, about the AKC’s high volume breeder program – which is intended to help breeders improve standards – I realized we have a long way to go to. There are still too many fellow fanciers who just can’t seem to avoid gossip and name calling, and have no idea how they are hurting THEMSELVES. Just venting, I guess, but thanks, Susi, for this guest editorial. It’s important.

Reply

Theresa September 6, 2014 at 10:25 am

This is a great article and as someone who experienced some of these events (deaths, depression, loss of income) I can identify and was on the edge of collapse. My dogs became my comfort and thank goodness i am considered fairly young without physical limitations. I kept my head above water. Unfortunately my breed is a very small highly competitive judgemental clique and in no way a supportive resource. Fortunately I am connected with people outside my breed. I have made it through the crisis stronger and thick skinned vowing to be a firm, fair, compassionate and friendly support to others in the sport.

Reply

Susi September 6, 2014 at 9:08 pm

I thought it was an important article, too, Theresa, and I’m glad you liked it. As far as I’m concerned, few of us emerge out of this life without a brush with bad times. You discovered an important resource in the dog world, and that is people outside your own breed. I’ve marveled more than once why it is people in our sport tend to be more supportive of the people outside their own breed than in it. Competition explains only so much. When I figure it out, I’ll send up a flare. That said, I’m happy to hear that you came out the other side stronger and with a firm resolve to be more compassionate than some were to you. Well done, you.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: