I so, so desperately wish our lead story on Monday was not about dead dogs due to an AC outage in a professional handler’s truck.
Somebody asked me “how would you feel if it happened to you?” My reply was I have worked for 20+ years with one primary goal: to never find out. I give the young woman mad props for standing up and taking the guff on this. I know full well I, personally, would not survive such a blow.
Our place is not to pass judgment. It is not to burn anyone at the stake. None of us are perfect and every one of us has made mistakes. By grace, for most of us, those errors in judgement have not cost lives. Many have spoken quite eloquently on this topic. Other handlers, particularly, who live this life and know the rigors that are involved are always putting the dogs first.
This last Saturday was warm in Portland, Ore. In the 80s. Fortunately, the humidity was low and the temperature dropped to a very safe level at night. Nonetheless, like many of my contemporaries, I was in my Sprinter eating cold chicken for dinner, with my nine dogs, until midnight. Mostly fighting tears for the lost lives, the lost innocence and the lost trust.
A friend’s assistant, the 14 year old kid who is tasked with sleeping in the truck with their dogs, told me the next day he woke up with nightmares because his team had been discussing the incident at dinner. I told him, it’s ok, I did too.
As I sat in my truck, just on the other side of the lighted window to my hotel room and comfortable bed, one of my clients sent me a message about a new temperature alert module. I thanked her. And assured her I was still sitting with her dog.
How many meals foregone. How many naps not taken. How many hours in the last 8,035 days have I spent in some level of discomfort in order to ensure, to the very best of my ability, that the dogs in my care were ok.
PHA and AKC RHP both have very good guidelines, directions and programs for apprentice handlers to learn all of the minutia of the job. An electrical engineering degree isn’t required, but it is absolutely necessary to learn the number one rule. Before anything else. The dogs come first. Every professional handler I ever worked for enforced this rule. It is the first thing I was taught and the first thing I teach today.
The following was published a month and a half ago.
The horror of the current situation encompasses the lost lives of dogs well loved. The lost innocence of the handler involved in the incident. The lost trust of the fancy and the general public. But it also is comprised of the senselessness. This didn’t have to happen. A tragedy? Yes. Intentional? Certainly not. Preventable? Entirely.
Consider this a “teaching moment.” When it’s hot, *you do not leave the dogs.* Period. Gadgets fail. People sleep through alarms. Generators crap out and circuits break. Direct human supervision of the animals in extreme weather is always the right answer.
This applies to owner and professional alike. But professional handlers typically have more dogs to care for and less flexibility as regards bringing them all in a hotel room. (Although, I have brought a half-dozen dogs or more into a skanky motel room in Illinois in June, in Kansas in August, etc ad nauseum….) To this day, I have never left my dogs in a show building overnight — for many reasons. I would rather sleep in the truck. I trot them in and out, a.m. and p.m., by myself if I have to. I’ve been crippled, exhausted, sick and even in tears, but I *always* have my dogs where I or someone I trust can see and/or hear them. This philosophy explains why I love my RV so much and miss it when I’m not driving it.
Meanwhile, our sport has a serious blind spot. One that bothers me a great deal, and has for some time. From aging out of juniors to acquiring enough on-the-job experience to apply for any of the handler programs is a gaping hole of time, anywhere from three to seven years, that was once spent, by the most serious devotees of the fancy, as a handler’s apprentice learning the ropes. If not there, then, like I was, in college and/or at dog shows working weekends for a handler. Today, that is too often not the case. Without knowledgeable mentorship, guidance, direction, encouragement, support and training, how are these young people expected to acquire, for example, the basic, life-saving information that 110 power (a regular wall outlet) cannot *reliably* carry the load of a major air conditioning unit?
In the Year of Living Well, complete, detailed and continuing education of our young people who hope to move into careers as professional handlers absolutely must become, not just a priority, but a necessity. I join our entire community in prayers for the souls of the dogs, the owners and the handler. I hope we can all work together toward the goal of life-long learning that makes this the last time we hear such devastating news.
As always, this is JMHO.