The news that the current Kennel Club chairman, Prof Steve Dean, has decided to leave Dog World and join Our Dogs is perhaps not surprising. Indeed what is surprising is that it has taken him so long to make this move.
Let’s not beat about the bush. Dog World IS critical of the KC quite a lot of the time. But instead of joining his predecessor in crying that because we don’t want to play the game his way we are all nasty, horrible people with a mission to destroy the KC, perhaps it might have been more sensible to take a long deep breath, step back a little, and ask himself why it is that columnists, letter writers, those who pen the breed notes on a week by week basis, all find it necessary to criticise the KC and its actions on a regular basis. For Prof Dean Dog World must have made uncomfortable reading on occasion. Are we, as he seems to suggest, ‘deliberately critical’ out of a desire to destroy the KC? Or maybe it is because we want to have a little malicious fun at the expense of the ruling body of our sport? How ridiculous!
A way of life
On more than one occasion I reminded Prof Dean’s predecessor of the fact that when people are apathetic or complacent they don’t bother to criticise. It is when they actually care very deeply about something that they feel the need to point out where things are going wrong, and perhaps even suggest – constructively, not in the destructive way that is suggested – where improvements might be sought. For those of us for whom our dogs are our way of life, a strong, purposeful KC is an essential. We only have to look back a week or so to see how the mainstream press jumped eagerly on a couple of minor incidents at Crufts and turned them into front-page news.
We have to accept that we live in changing times. Britain is no longer a nation of dog lovers, and those who keep more than one or two dogs are seen by many as at the least harmlessly eccentric. Because of this we need to present a united front to the world. We need strong back up from our ruling body, whatever the occasion. A foreign handler, in the pressure bowl that is the Crufts BIS ring, handled her dog in a manner that is second nature to her – and the dog – but is not deemed acceptable in our ‘appease the animal rights movement at all costs’ society. If it had been any other championship show it wouldn’t have mattered, wouldn’t even have been noticed or remarked upon, but because it was at Crufts comments were made. And because comments were made, the KC press department felt obliged to step in, and in their usual ham-fisted way made the situation even worse by trying to shift all the blame onto a ‘foreigner’ and making vague promises about disciplinary action. A simple statement of the fact that although this was the traditional way of handling terriers in many countries including, until fairly recently, the UK, and that the dog suffered no ill effects, it was not encouraged by the KC, would have been sufficient. Instead, by appearing to shift the blame onto the handler the KC came across as completely ineffectual, in that they were apparently unable to insist that their recommendations were followed and then not prepared to follow this up with appropriate sanctions.
‘Tailgate’ was, or should have been, a total non-event. Instead the gloss was taken off a fantastic win by a superb dog and her talented handler. There are times when ‘bad news’ should be buried – and this was one of them. Where instead was the post-Crufts press release highlighting the wonderful achievements of Ryan Ross and Sophie Lawrie, both taking on the adults at their own game and coming through brilliantly – not just in breed classes, but also handling the pressures of the main ring confidently as well. Were any of the fantastic photos of Ryan’s reaction to his group placing sent out to the mainstream media? Young people are the lifeblood of our sport. They are the ones that will decide whether or not we even have a thriving pedigree dog scene in another 20 years. We should not just be paying lip service to their achievements, but giving them maximum publicity. I have no idea of the relative numbers, but my guess is that the YKC must be one of the most thriving youth organisations in the country and we should take every opportunity to publicise its work.
Does this all sound negative Professor Dean? Do you see the words I have written and immediately think that I am ‘talking down’ the whole sport of dog showing? Or am I just ‘making snide comments’ in an attempt to compare the KC unfavourably with other organisations?
Backbone of the sport
When I first started writing this column I was asked by the editor to reflect the views of the ordinary dog folk, the foot soldiers that slog around show after show every weekend, only occasionally hitting the heights, but nevertheless devoting their resources to supporting the dog game – and the KC. They are the backbone of our sport and if they are unhappy and restless that backbone will crumble away. Instead of calling ‘foul’ and trying to pretend that all is well, it really is time to take stock of exactly what is happening in the world of pedigree dogs, and then to address the problems robustly, rather than trying to pretend they aren’t there.
Despite Prof Dean’s plea at the commencement of his tenure of the post of chairman, there is still no perception of the organisation being ‘Our KC’. On the contrary, the old boys club is just as active, perhaps even more so, as it ever was. There are those in positions of power who abuse their authority and ride roughshod over others. I recently witnessed a member of the General Committee being verbally abusive to a Crufts steward, simply because he was asked to abide by the KC’s own rules with regard to who could, or could not be in the ring during judging. The ‘charmed circle’ of those who swap judging appointments with such regularity seems to be just as active as ever, with one or two apparently seeing membership of the General Committee as being a qualification to judge any breed as often as they want. There are now several championship show secretaries on the General Committee, as well as some who are directors of one of the main benching contractors. What happens when there is a question of the allocation of CCs I wonder? Do those whose shows would be directly affected, say by losing or gaining tickets, declare an interest and absent themselves from the discussion, or do they valiantly fight their own corner?
There are worthy members of the General Committee who conduct themselves honourably at all times. But their reputation is being tarnished by the actions of others in their midst. Be strong Professor Dean. Say that there is no place for such behaviour at any level – then you will get support from the press.