Why Have Rules?

by Susi on January 13, 2015

in AKC, AKC reps, bullying, Dog Fanciers, dog shows, Frank Zappa, Service Dogs

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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?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlee Helms January 13, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Dead bang on. If we’re going to have rules, enforce them across the board.

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Carla Cunningham January 13, 2015 at 4:10 pm

I so agree. However, it is against the law (ADA) to inquire about service dogs. People need to be ethical enough to do the right thing. This type of infraction hurts everyone. This is a huge pet peeve of mine.

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bestuvall January 13, 2015 at 4:48 pm

love ya Susi but you cannot ask about a service dog.. and don’t we WANT dog to be multi functional.. can’t a dog be a show dog and a service dog too. and I would never reprot anyone or ask hem.. it is their business.. not mine.
there were those who knew this “service dog” wasn’t any such thing, yet no one filed charges, and no one complained. – why should anyone one complain? and can the AKC keep service dogs from a show ground I don’t think they can..nor should they.. what good press.. both a show dog and a service dog..I worked in a very contentious program that “activists” wanted to close down.. some of my staff complained that some of the people were “abusing the system” I always said a few will but if you make all kinds of rules.. no one will be able to use our services..

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ArticCross January 13, 2015 at 9:17 pm

“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” —

Except LEGALLY they cannot actually enforce it and they are idiots for even saying it. I show my service dog, he does not become any less of a service dog whether he is in the ring or out of it AND a dog show is NOT a place that can exclude service dogs (even if they say any dog entered is a show dog and not a service dog). Frankly, they’re lucky no one challenged them on it and decided to take them to court.

Yes, my service dog shows at dog shows. He was specifically chosen for his superb conformation and great working temperament. Both are necessary for the work he does. He wins too… generally, by that time he’s also working his tuchas off hauling my big butt around the ring because, while I can run, I eventually lose the ability to initiate movement after a while and stagger when I stop. And stagger like I’m drunk as the day progresses so while I may be OK in the ring earlier in the day I may not be able to rise from a chair later. Sorry if my wanting to make sure I’m safe, not falling on the floor when I get out of my chair after watching groups upsets your sensibilities.

If someone lacks integrity and fakes a service dog – that is their issue. Over the last nearly 15 years of being partnered with a service dog I’ve seen very few dogs portrayed as service dogs who I am absolutely certain were not. You can pretty easily pick them out — poor manners (dog and human … no, it still is not ok to have your dog in public sitting on public furniture – letting your dog sit on a chair at the restaurant and feeding it at the table calls you out as a faker – sorry) and poor attitudes (dog and human … no, it is still not ok to flash an ID when the ADA specifically calls out there are NONE required – being sanctimonious about having an ID calls you out as a faker – sorry) – But, in general, if the dog is well-behaved I will assume that if the person doesn’t have a visible disability they are like me, and have an invisible one.

You’re wrong in this instance. Makes me sad.

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Zolon January 13, 2015 at 9:25 pm

I really wish people would read the ADA Regulations before saying what is and is not “against the law”.

Part of the answer to question 3: If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability.

Source: http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm

From the section on Inqueries: When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

Source: http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm

If one still questions the validity, they can file a complaint with the ADA. It does carry a nasty fine, and if the complaint if found to be a valid complaint, it can be forwarded to the AKC (who will probably do nothing).

But, thank you for the broad sweep of a brush that says people who a service animal that is also a show dog is a faker.

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Lois Snyder January 25, 2015 at 11:58 pm

I just read about a ten month old “service” dog that was taken on a cruise ship and allowed to pee and poop at will. Really? what training did it have at that age? Obviously not housebreaking.

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