Fri, 02/21/2020 - 3:37pm

Bully Pulpit

Online intimidation and backbiting are, sadly, not unknown to the dog fancy

I am not a lover of what are referred to as “reality television” programs, these being in the main populated by minor celebrities of whom I have never heard, or members of the public who clearly have a burning desire to become a “celebrity,” minor or otherwise.Recently one of the presenters of one such romance-based program committed suicide, not the first associated with the program she fronted to do so, which has resulted in huge press coverage that has suggested that her desperate action resulted from excessive and hate-driven criticism online.

It has almost become regular news that some desperately unhappy teenager has been pushed over the edge by endless online cruelty, and no matter what guidelines are promoted, there seems to be no reduction in the number of tragedies.

“Cyberbullying” has now entered our vocabulary, this being the continued criticism and ridiculing of an individual via social media. Some forms appear to be what might be viewed as harmless teasing whereas others are brutal in the extreme.

Those of us who are involved in the purebred dog world will have become all too aware that cyberbullying has entered our sport in many guises, this having a totally negative effect on the sport. No one is exempt from being targeted. It seems that nowadays everyone is fair game.

We have all seen exhibitors and handlers berated by their rivals, either on private pages or in public groups where the administrators clearly have no concept of their responsibilities. The reasons for such harassment are various and can vary from what is deemed to be an act of poor sportsmanship to more serious welfare issues where dogs are concerned. Those who sit in judgment acquire limitless courage when behind their keyboards in the comfort of their own homes. They tap away merrily, free of any censorship or apparently conscience, and evidently give not a thought to the consequences of their actions. They have an overwhelming need to vent their wrath and spout venom at such a level that they would never consider, were they standing face to face with their victim.

Many of their allegations may have a grain of truth behind them, whereas oftentimes charges are totally fictitious. Sadly we live in age where “fake news” appeals to many, regardless of its lack of authenticity.

Whereas the dog world has been long considered to be one big family where we all looked out for one another, it seems that today it is becoming more a question of dog eat dog. Obviously this applies to a guilty minority and the vast majority of dog people remain loyal and supportive of each other, but the minority always makes the most noise and gets the most attention.

The effect that online bullying has on exhibitors should not be underestimated. In truth, few are able to just shrug it off without a second thought; we are all human. For some who have been victimized it, at best dents their self-confidence and makes them suspicious of everyone around them. At worst they decide to pack in exhibiting and sometimes breeding, thus abandoning something to which they may have dedicated years. We have lost a number of good people who have eventually said, “OK, enough is enough,” and the dog world is the poorer for their leaving.

That sector of the dog world that was once much revered, namely the judges, does not escape. In fact I think they possibly get pilloried even more than the active exhibitor, and it seems the higher profile the judge the easier prey they are to the cyber warriors. Most judges go out there, armed with the knowledge they have and their natural eye and try to reward the best dogs, yet time and again I see decisions which are entirely logical and justifiable being questioned by people who suggest the most bizarre and Machiavellian reasons for an award … and often these people were not even at the show in question!

We live in an age when every show award has to be explained – and the offered explanations never include “obviously the judge felt that the dog was superior and deserving on the day.” Those who claim to have insider knowledge come up with all manner of reasons – pedigree and breeding, winning form, connections no matter how tenuous with the owners and/or breeders, assignment swapping, bedroom liaisons and so the list continues. What was once mischievous ringside gossip now assumes substance when it appears in print on some poor embittered person’s Facebook page.

Then let’s not forget the victims who have no ability to defend themselves and speak up, the poor dogs themselves. Whereas many win pics may attract an unbelievable number of “likes” and sycophantic gushings, often some observers will stick their heads above the parapet and criticize the subject dog based on nothing more than an isolated photograph and a not-too-well-hidden agenda.

When a dog is entered for a show, it is in theory entered for the opinion of one person – the judge on the day. When the entry fee is paid, it is not asking for the opinions of countless critics often unknown to the owner or handler. What, I wonder, gives them the right to pass an opinion on someone else’s dog that was entered under a third party?

I have mentioned in previous articles the positives of social media and how it helps with the exchange of information and the increase of knowledge. Like all technological advances, it can be a source of wonder when used responsibly but, human nature being what it is, it is all too easily abused.

Many social-media groups exist with the sole intention of educating members, and many are conducted carefully and tastefully. Questions are asked genuinely and opinions are forthcoming that are well thought out and in no way destructive or offensive. However, this not sadly always the case.

I believe that every time we sit down at the keyboard and contribute to the world we claim to love and respect, we should ask ourselves two questions: 1) WHY am I writing this? And 2) WHAT could be the possible consequences of my comments?

If we did, I am sure that our social-media experiences will become instantly more pleasurable and far less damaging.




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