Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Westminster Musings

It has been a week now since BIS judge Cindy Vogels pointed to the Peke, Malachi, for Best in Show at Westminster. Her decision is still being second guessed (and probably will be until next year’s BIS winner).

This got me thinking about being Westminster’s BIS judge – not on my bucket list thank you! It is an all expenses paid trip to NYC and a great excuse for buying a new outfit. Sadly, I believe the BIS judge gets sequestered and misses out on all the fun pre Westminster events plus of course the two days of judging. That lowers the fun of the trip a bit. Fifteen or thirty minutes of fame depending on the TV schedule and how judging has progressed will be yours. And bragging rights for the rest of your life.

But what about the pressures on you, Westminster and dog showing in general?

By choosing a dog to the extreme edge of dogdom, PETA and HSUS are undoubtedly crowing about a perfect storm of PR. “How unhealthy, how deformed are purebred dogs!”, they will cry. Of course, if the Irish Setter had been chosen, PETA, along with some shelters and rescue groups, would have ads showing fifteen dead mixed breeds offset by 15 Irish Setter puppies. The fact that PETA has filled a dumpster or two with perfectly healthy, adoptable dogs will not be mentioned. Puppy millers are thrilled that Pekes are a small breed that can easily be stacked four cages high in the back barn, but a bit worried about whether or not their Peke stock can free whelp. Should any of those things matter?

I have to say, we have been crated near Malachi and his human at various shows, and it is clear that Mr. Fitzpatrick is dedicated to his dogs. Their welfare comes first. His dogs are always well cared for, exquisitely groomed and kept comfortable no matter what the situation. Animal welfare doesn’t have a leg to stand on if they choose to complain about the care of this dog.

Do show records matter? After all, the top dog for 2011 never made it out of the breed and some other favorites also dropped out along the way. (Let me add, a friend knowledgeable in the way of Spaniels who was at Westminster said the black Cocker who is spectacular at his best, simply wasn’t at his best on that day and the judge was correct, as well as courageous, to put the other dog up. Perhaps he was a bit exhausted from his heavy show schedule or simply having an “off” day. We have “off” days, so why shouldn’t our dogs?)

Still, show superintendents, handlers and magazine advertising managers all hope that show records do count as it justifies their existence. While the BIS judge may not know until he/she walks into the ring which dogs will be there, realistically any judge who has made it to the level of BIS at Westminster will undoubtedly recognize the dogs and their handlers. The judge probably knows registered and call names, maybe even the pedigree and whether or not the handler’s wife just had a baby girl or boy. At the highest levels, the dog show world is a small village. So, as the judge, do you reward the dog who has promoted our sport heavily all year round? Or go with the upset who catches your eye?

Going along with the “small village” concept, I suspect the BIS judge also knows which dogs are going to retire from Westminster, whose owner is ill and who has made it to this point in previous years without snagging the top prize. Should any of that matter? Does it matter?

And what do you do if you walk out into the ring as BIS judge and NONE of the dogs are your favorites? They may be excellent examples of their breeds but what if you happen to dislike all seven breeds represented in your ring? That could be tough. As the consummate professional, you do simply “suck it up” and of course “the show will go on”, but how depressing would that be?

As I said, being BIS judge at Westminster is not on my bucket list and I admire those who do step up to the task. But why would a woman who runs marathons, choose a Pekingese?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Catching up and jumping into controversy

I am WAY behind in oh, so many things and will strive to catch up, but figured better to jump in with controversy than be left totally behind.

Westminster dropped Pedigree and signed up Purina for their TV coverage ads. Why? They have been quite open about their reasons - Pedigree insisted on concentrating on mixed breeds and stressing shelter adoptions. Westminster's entire reason for existing is to promote wellbred purebred dogs - from reputable breeders and with excellent breed standard representation. When you see a Chihuahua on Westminster, you KNOW it is a Chihuahua.

Westminster does not hate mixed breeds or hate shelter adoptions. Simply, their "product" if you will, is purebred dogs. So why have advertising that represents someone else's ideal? Would you expect Ford to run ads featuring Toyotas?

Westminster has done a great deal to promote dogs, all dogs. The "Angel on a Leash" therapy dog group that David Frei works with encourages any and all dogs. Many of the fund raisers support causes that will help all dogs. Education is worked into the broadcasts and mixed breed owners would benefit from learning about the "dogs behind their dog".

Many shelters have discovered themselves that showing photos of dirty, crowded, starving dogs does not help adoptions. When people see clean, obviously happy dogs, they think what a great addition a dog would be for their family.

Yes, there are those who are attracted to the idea of rescuing an injured or abused dog, but motives are sometimes suspect in those cases. Shelters have to carefully screen adopters who are only interested in the dog who made headlines for his sad situation. While some are truly good hearted people, some simply want to be able to say that they "rescued" the dog in the paper. Fifteen minutes or less of fame and a dog who isn't truly loved or wanted.

Before I am jumped on with both feet, note that *I* have worked at a shelter, have adopted a dog from a shelter, have helped with rescues and yes, heaven forbid, I choose for the most part to own purebred dogs - from reputable breeders.