As the show season ramps up across the country the dog show world seems to be in a frenzy. Specialties are in full swing and it seems winning at all costs is the order of the day. There are many shows each weekend now and the top dog handlers spend their time carving up the country to wins for their clients.
The AKC publication, Rules Applying to Dog Shows, is a fascinating document outlining among other things the dos and don’ts of show participation. I’m not sure how many people have actually read the whole thing, usually we all just access it online to try to bolster some complaint we might have against a competitor. Usually we find out there is nothing technically to do about the imagined slight and we move on. Sometimes you have to wonder if a few more rules are needed. I think there are enough rules in dog showing already. Most exhibitors don’t look to exploit the loop holes in the rules or plot to take advantage of technicalities, but there are those exhibitors who cause you to shake your head.
Three times this past weekend the fancy was treated to such ringside and back stage shenanigans. These three strikes only reinforce the perception by many amateurs that the deck is stacked against those of us on our own, showing our dogs without big money backers, big face handlers and with our ethics intact.
Strike one occured on the West Coast where a well known handler showed a client dog he’s had out all year, to the judge that bred a huge winner this same handler showed all last year. It came as no shock to those ringside that his current dog was awarded a Group One, by his ex-client the judge. Technically, there was nothing wrong with this, but ethically it looks bad. This is not to criticize the quality of the group winning dog, he’s had many wins by many judges, or the judge’s actions, he’s entitled to do what he wants, but with so many shows on that weekend one is left wondering if this was the only show this handler could find to attend? This relationship is common knowledge clearly seen in the pages of any of the well known brag rags.
Strike two was occurring at one of the terrier breed specialties in the East. During this weekend a foreign judge precided over a sizeable entry in one terrier breed during a regional specialty weekend. A highly ranked dog of this breed was flown to the area of the show and delivered into the care of the judge’s daughter. The wife of the regular handler, who happens to be from the same country as the judge and the judge’s daughter, was there to manage the dog during this weekend. The judge’s daughter is known, by dog show regulars who show in the are of the specialty, to be engaged to a certain assistant handler who works for one of the bigger name terrier handlers. This assistant showed the dog to his future mother-in-law and picked up a nice breed win. He went on to a group three later in the afternoon under a different judge. This is not in any way to suggest the judge was involved in this ethical breach. The whole incident just appears to be somewhat suspicious. Again, nothing in the rules against what went on, as none of these parties live with the judge. Still, this incident was talked about ringside as it was happening. Vastly more interesting and comment worthy to many than the quality of the dogs in the ring. This was a shame because there were some of the breed’s best dogs being exhibited.
The final strike also occurred in the East at another terrier regional specialty. This time the parties involved were carelessly arrogant and were caught and punished in full view of many. During the judging of this breed, by a well known judge, the professional handler piloting a certain exhibit around the ring saw fit to cower in a corner and minister to his charge with a can of Black Magic, doggie spray paint, and some additional clear spray. As he worked his magic in full view of the ringside some took exception to his flagrant violation of the rules. This time something could be done and it was. Independent witnesses agreed to make statements and a bench committee was called on this handler. The committee voted to give the cheater a reprimand and a $500.00 fine. This was very affirming to everybody who was there or has since heard about the events that led to the discipline. Good for the members of this club to take a stand and force action. The sad thing here is that the handler managed to mitigate his punishment by stating that he has done this same thing in the past with no repercussions.
These three strikes against the fancy as a whole are disheartening. These are only the most aggregious examples I was aware of this past weekend. The wins of these dogs are cheapened by the antics of those who conducted themselves so poorly. Their quality is overshadowed by the circumstances surroundings their wins. I choose to believe, maybe hope is the better word, that in these three cases these ethical misteps were perpetrated by those handling these dogs at the shows, not by the owners.
These three strikes mock the integrity of the sport and those who choose to play by the rules. They bring shame to dog handling professionals and give those exhibitors looking for an excuse for a loss an easy scapegoat. Ideally, the fancy should police themselves. Like the club members who insisted upon a bench committee when they saw misconduct going on in front of them, we should all- handlers, exhibitors, breeders, judges,and field reps – have the courage to confront those walking this ethical line and let them know they are noticed and not appreciated. Only this way can the sport of purebred dogs be enjoyed by everyone on every level.