Most dog lovers have lived through those heartbreaking moments when the much-loved family pet goes missing. It may have been just for a few minutes after the meter man left the gate open. I had two terrifying minutes earlier this year when my Cairn, Scottie & IG discovered an open gate before I did. Happily, although my dogs will not come on command, they are extremely food-oriented, and can be recalled with the whispered words, “doggy bone.” As it was, the IG still made it three doors down to a major intersection in the first few seconds.
Worse is the stolen dog. Many purebred dogs are targeted by thieves. While microchipping has made it a lot easier to reunite lost dogs with their owners, it is only helpful with honest people. Even more painful than the stolen dog is the dog lost through a custody battle resulting from a divorce or other failed relationship. A recent highly publicized case saw an ex-girlfriend take a man’s Beagle and move cross country with the dog. Six months and $60,000 in attorney’s fees later, a California court gave custody to the dog-napper .
One type of “lost dog” story is unique to our rarified world of the show dog, the disputed physical custody of the show dog. Co-owning a promising show prospect can be one of the most fulfilling experiences in our sport. Most hobbyists dream of taking one of their breeding to the next level of competition in the dog game. Now I won’t get deeply into a debate on how expensive it is to own a show dog. Having participated in a number of hobbies, including boating, I believe showing dogs is no more expensive than most hobbies. Yet, co-owning can make it financially possible to achieve a lifelong dream in the sport.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have never co-owned a dog. I have no objection to the concept. I simply haven’t had the opportunity present itself. However, I have listened to many a story of failed co-ownership. It is my belief that most of the time co-owners get along swimmingly. In fact, many are the closest of friends. However, there are a sufficient number of failed cases to cause the AKC to take the official position of recommending against co-ownership. Think about that. The most important institution in our hobby says, “Co-ownership arrangements, in far too many cases, lead to problems.” I’m not going to go into all those problems. I’m only interested in one aspect of it. Who gets the dog?
Now, all of my dogs are pets first. Their alter egos as show dogs and breeding stock are secondary. Every brood bitch and stud dog I have owned lived out its life in our home. That’s not realistic for a lot of hobbyists. It isn’t that they love their animals less. In fact, many breeders love their dogs enough to make sure they go to homes where they will get the individual attention they deserve after their show and breeding careers have ended. What interests me is the emotional aspects of co-ownership.
A serious show career can be like sending your son or daughter off for a two-year tour of duty with the military. The dog goes off to the handler. You get to see him a handful of times during his campaign. And then he comes home…or does he? Two years is a long time, and a lot happens. Opportunities present themselves. People have differing opinions on what is the best next thing to do. I’m a big believer in getting competent legal assistance in preparing a co-ownership agreement, but the practical matter is that if co-owners disagree things can get nasty. Fanciers with a Facebook account are probably aware of a case where one co-owner took an Afghan Hound from a co-owner’s exercise yard and refuses to return the dog. I also know of several cases where a dog ended up with a co-owner other than the one agreed upon in the contract. The sad reality is that the life of a dog rarely exceeds the life of a nasty civil lawsuit.
So what’s a serious exhibitor to do? Well, first, assess your ability to handle the emotional issues involved with co-ownership. Some people, my wife comes to mind, cannot bear the thought of extended separations from her dogs. Know who your friends are. A true friend will put your friendship ahead of their own interests. Get that competent legal help. Decide on who gets the dog and when. Finally, have some faith in your fellow man. We hear a lot about the petty people in the sport, but most are really quite wonderful people. And that’s today’s Back Story.