Broken Majors, Broken Promises

When the breed counts came up for the Denver shows this year we were excited. More excited than we had been in the recent past when we crossed our fingers and pulled up the information on the Onofrio website. As we collectively stared at the counts it was as if we had just seen the Holy Grail. Maybe we had. At least in the dog show world. Because for the first time in four years we had majors. A four point bitch major all four days. The next thing most of us checked was to see if we could account for all the class dogs and bitches entered. There were three class dogs and seven class bitches. Six bitches on the fourth day but still a major. It takes four class dogs to make a major in Division 6, our division. Five for bitches. Not many when you consider some breeds need more than 20 dogs or bitches to make even a three pointer. This year we had a chance to be like real breeds, working for majors. The three dog owners were no doubt hoping for the cross-over major. If the judge found the Winner’s Dog worthy, he could award him Best of Winners and thus cross him over on the bitches for his own major. This would make at least two people happy.

Since our breed is not a large one we know just about everybody with a Kerry Blue in our region.  Show us the breed counts and we will tell you who is coming. This year we knew all but one class dog and one of the class bitches.  In short order we found out one class bitch was coming with a handler from Texas and the rest were locals.  We couldn’t think who the third class dog might be until a friend from Washington State called and said it was her young male. We knew all the players.  We waited anxiously for the show week to roll around.

As the weekend wore on two of the class dogs won cross-over majors, one finished his championship and one of the class bitches won three majors and finished hers.  It was on the last day a small drama developed and an ethical question emerged.  Should exhibitors hold a major at all costs?  When the opportunity to try for a major win evaporates, everybody feels bad.  In our division we don’t have enough dogs to field majors regularly and nobody is so mean-spirited to purposely break a major just to prevent somebody else from winning one.  Maybe we are all so arrogant as to believe our dogs are the best and ought to win every time.  This isn’t entirely bad.  But what if one dog completely dominates the wins on a given weekend and finishes. The owner has the choice whether to move the dog up to Best of Breed competition or leave him in the classes.  If left in the classes he will most likely win again, but the major will hold. If he moves up the major breaks and nobody can win one.  Dog show logic states that any dog can win on any day and maybe, just maybe, the judge will finally be able to find the best dog, your dog, and pick it. Since it took so much to find four or more other exhibitors willing to pay $25.00 a day to enter their dogs to make the major it seems the height of poor sportsmanship to break one.

Sometimes majors break due to reasons beyond anybody’s control.  Weather may delay or prevent exhibitors from attending shows.  Dogs become injured or ill. But what happens when dogs finish their championships?  In Denver two of the dogs did just that.  The young class dog was pulled for the last day and prudently sent home to mature before tackling the more demanding competition of the specials ring. His departure actually helped the two remaining class dogs. One less competitor, one more chance to cross-over.  The class bitch that finished was pulled for the last day also.  The major was broken.  This bitch was handled by a professional who was well aware of the consequences of sending the newly finished bitch home.  But, could anybody ask the owners to pay for a professional’s time just to help somebody else possibly win the points?  It would be unethical for a handler to encourage an owner to do so. Because this happened on the last day of a very long weekend, at the start of the show season, most of the exhibitors didn’t seem to care. The remaining dogs were all shown and received much needed training.  But what if the bitch had finished on the first day and taken home by her owner?  I suspect nobody would have been happy.  This is also a common occurrence.  Sometimes majors hold for the first day, break the second and mysteriously reappear the third. We owe each other the courtesy of being good sports.  If a dog is entered, barring illness or injury, it should be shown.  If a dog is pulled because it can’t be readied for the ring, or a handler cannot be found, this is less understandable. In our breed we all know the effort it takes to prepare our dogs for competition.  Dogs shouldn’t be entered unless they are trained and groomed for the ring. There is little excuse to pull class dogs if they are ready to show.

We owe each other honest competition. Majors should not be built using filler dogs, animals not of the minimum quality to be legitimate contenders for the points. When majors are built in this way it is disrespectful to the spirit of competition and to each person entering a dog. Though points aren’t handed out with an asterisk, how good can anybody feel knowing their win was set up.  Kennel majors are another bone of contention.  There is a fine line between a breeder who legitimately shows every puppy in a litter to finish it, as opposed to a breeder who puts in enough dogs to make majors to finish a few dogs quickly. Where is the honest competition in this approach?

Finally, some exhibitors bring with them to the ring their dog and a large sense of entitlement.  These people believe that if majors are promised in the breed counts they must be held for them no matter what.  If an exhibitor must pay their handler another days fees, to support the major even if their dog has finished, then so be it.  After all they entered for the whole weekend.  If a dog becomes unshowable due to illness or poor behavior, this kind of exhibitor still believes the dog must be shown.  Breaking a major is sacrilege to this person, especially if his dog has a good chance for the points. This attitude is not limited to amateurs.  A well-known handler repeatedly hounded a friend of ours, with another breed, to enter her bitch to build majors.  This handler and his wife promised to help our friend finish her bitch if only she would help them finish theirs. Once our friend’s bitch was so ill she left the show to seek veterinary care. She became the recipient of angry calls from these handlers demanding her bitch be brought back to hold the major.  After all, they told her, their clients expected the wins.

In the current dog show climate majors are scarce.  Nobody wants to spend time and money, both of which are even more scarce, entering shows and travelling hours from home only to find broken majors. If everybody entered dogs considered worthy of a championship and made sure each one was ready for the ring, there would be little reason to pull dogs.  Entering a show is really a promise to appear but not a promise of winning. It is sad that people showing their first dog expect to win majors just for showing up. Majors make a show more exciting and offer a chance for spectators to see a variety of breed types. This spirit of competition should guarantee more majors at more shows and keep everybody coming back.

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