Fri, 01/12/2024 - 12:52pm

To Start 2024

Low points and high hopes for the new year

I have been around a long time, and I can’t remember another time when watching the news on TV left me so depressed, angry and unhappy on a regular basis.

Wars around the world, mass shootings, children being killed, thugs doing smash-and-grab thefts in broad daylight, so little respect for most of our elected leaders and a country more divided than ever are hard things to watch over and over. I truly get depressed, and so I am glad that I can get away to my few private utopian places to clear my mind: my home and wife, my dogs and our dog community. 

There are times — usually at the end of the year — when I may have more time away from judging than is normal, and it is at these times that I am reminded of how much judging — and this dog community — mean to me. (By the way, I am also reminded that to be a good judge requires you to actually get in the ring and judge. When I have my first assignment after being off for a while, I realize that it takes me a couple of classes to get back into my rhythm.) I truly hate the travel and being away from home, but once I get back into the ring and the dogs come in, I am at peace. Very often, the dogs in front of me make me think of my dogs at home: I am happy and pleased with the quality of my dogs, and I am thankful for their breeders who have allowed them to be part of our lives.

I also realize that there are many people in our community who are important to me, and a few make my heart glow when I see them. (Of course, there are also a few who make icicles grow around my heart.) And whether I am judging Juniors or just watching them, they all make me feel proud and happy. 

Like every other judge, I sometimes get depressed when I see a very poor breed specimen being shown — especially by a professional, who should know better. (We know why this “professional” is showing that dog, and it definitely makes me think less of that person.) It is also sad to see a dog that is frightened or very unhappy about being in the ring, but I understand the dog has to start somewhere. It is always important for us to remember (1) someone is loved by this dog and loves this dog; (2) we can’t all own Best in Show winners, and (3) all our dogs are winners and deserve our best.

An example of those who mean a great deal to me in our community is my great English Setter friend. I have never heard him denigrate another dog or handler. He is always willing to help another exhibitor. When asked if his dog is “ready,” he often says, “The judges will show me the answer.” He has done his share of losing and certainly a great deal more than his share of winning, and I have never heard him blame anyone else or indicate a judge didn’t know what he was doing or was “crooked.” We need more dog people like him. 

How nice is it also to hear a professional handler say, “A beautiful entry … happy and proud to be competing against some of the best!!! Win or lose, thrilled to be part of the big shows.” This is the sign of a true pro and dog person. 

Watching the news makes me think of a song and poem that I like. The song is by Brendan Graham and Rolf Loevland, and is sung by my favorite modern group — Celtic Women. Here are some of the words:

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary
When troubles come and my heart burdened be
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence
Until you come and sit awhile with me.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be.

Yes, being around the dogs and those in our community who mean a lot to me helps to raise my spirits, and I am sincerely grateful for that.

I recently saw a quote that fits here perfectly: God knew that my heart needed love, so He sent me dogs.


* * *


It seems like everything we do these days results in a lowering of the bar. To be honest, the “CEU system” that is used to determine someone’s approval to judge our dogs is not that difficult if you are willing to spend the time and money to go to seminars and shows. Does that mean that checking these boxes means the person has the ability to determine the best dogs in the ring? No, I don’t have any magic solution for approving judges, and I do know that the AKC has tried many methods and sincerely wants to approve the best judges, but I don’t know that this system actually does that.

I know many people who are approved for one group or less whom I would trust to judge my dogs more that some multi-group judges. Many years ago, I knew a Golden Retriever breeder who could fault or talk about the qualities of a Golden Retriever as well or better than most people. However, if he were in a ring with three or more dogs, he got so hung up on “faulting the dogs” that he could not make the right choices. In fact, he had a difficult time just making any decisions. But I’ll bet he could fill out a form that showed he had completed the required CEUs, and he could discuss the breed with an AKC representative, so he would be approved to judge, but probably shouldn’t be. 

The past few years our dog community has seen changes that were all designed to award ribbons and placements to more people in the hopes that this would increase entries. It is undeniable that this has succeeded — if more entries were the goal. But should that be our goal? Is lowering the bar what we are all about? The AKC used to be proud to be the champion of purebred dogs. Today it is For the Love of All Things Dog. I truly love all dogs, and believe every one of them deserves a happy, loving home, and I grew up with many mixed-breed dogs. But that was not the purpose for which the AKC was founded. 

And now the AKC has cheapened our national specialties. The ability for the winners of Reserve at a national could be awarded three points if the entry was at least double that required for five points in that region. It was one more thing that made our nationals a special event. Now this same thing can be done at any specialty meeting those requirements. And our nationals have lost a little of their glitter.

How can we defend ourselves against the designer-dog breeders when we allow mixed-breed dogs to compete in some of our events? We have become so concerned with being all things to all people that we have lowered the bar — on ourselves. If we continue to lower the bar by offering different classes designed to let as many people as possible win something, what will become of the sincere breeders who want to produce the best of their breed? Will we get to the point where the best dogs may not win or be used in a breeding program? Or have we already reached that point?

I have a friend — from whom I had gotten one of my Irish Setters — who has been a quality breeder for many years. She spent a lot of time studying pedigrees and health issues, and then going to shows to see the dogs before she decided which dogs/bitches to include in her breeding program. Compare that to the person who looks at the rankings to determine which sire to use. And shame on the owner of that sire if he is used indiscriminately, without regard to pedigree or health testing. I fear that we are losing the former breeder in favor of the latter because it doesn’t seem to matter to “the masses.”

When the relatively few quality breeders are gone, who will take their places? If judges are just expected to award as many ribbons as possible, will it really matter? If we continue to have more and more shows, which obviously weakens the quality at each show but allows more and more dogs to brag about winnings and rankings, where will it stop? In fact, will winning mean anything? At that point, will we need our dog-show community, and will it die the death of apathy? We should demand the best so that this does not happen. 

The poem that I mentioned earlier is by Dylan Thomas, titled Do not go gentle into that good night. Here are a couple of stanzas:


Do not go gentle into that good night

Old age should burn and rave at the close of day

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning, they

Do not go gentle into that good night.



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