From Breed Points To Dollars, It's All About The Numbers! But, What's The REAL Cost?
Written by Scot Northern
(Found on Pages 70 & 92 of The Dog News, November 13th, 2009 issue)
As the end of the year approaches, it is a certainty that specials all over the country are gearing up for that final push. Owners and Handlers are furiously trying to find out where so-and-so is going to be, if it will really take 16 hours to drive to that 400 dog show in hopes of winning 10 breed points or a 40 point Group Win, and crunching the stats on a weekly basis to see if they have moved up in the rankings. Just maybe they can boast on an email list in cyberspace how they are the #1 Left Handed, Blond Haired Breeder Handled Black and Tan Whippet in the country! (If, in fact, you are the #1 Left Handed, Blond Haired Breeder Handled Black and Tan Whippet in the country...um...sorry...who knew? Congratulations!)
I'm not saying the rankings/lists don't have their place. As a society, we LOVE rankings...if you can make a list, that list has to be ranked. From the Top Ten Celebrity Divorces, to the Fattest Cities in America, we adore lists. Maybe it's because when we look at a ranked list, we don't actually have to think. There is no effort put forth to think for ourselves. We shouldn't dare question the list. It's a ranked list, with numbers, and 1 is always better than 2...the list told me. After all, numbers tend to have a way of always maintaining their relative value to each other. In order to prove the worth of my Special, I MUST move up in the rankings!
Once again, at this time of year, it's that PUSH to bump up a couple of spots which drives our insanity.
Most likely, that push will come in the form of double and triple entering, countless "service dogs" being flown all over the US, and dogs from all over the country magically showing up thousands of miles away at shows totally out of their area. Numbers, baby...it's all about he numbers! But, at the end of the day, what do those numbers actually mean? What are those ribbons really worth?
A Win Is A Win..Or Is It?
I know that double/triple/quadruple entering is a fact of the show world. Dog showing is expensive, and why shouldn't someone go where they stand the best chance of winning, and not wasting money? I'd be lying if I said I never double entered. But, just like all things, when it's taken to the excess, when it's an every weekend occurrence...well, that just doesn't seem right. At that point, the best dogs aren't being rewarded. Doesn't it just become the best dogs whose owners can enter the most shows and go where the least competition is?
Just like following "your" judges all over the country. (Once again, it takes place every weekend.) Wins in those circumstances are just about guaranteed, and help pad those stats. Congratulations! You won your 6th Group 1 in the last 3 weekends...under the same 2 judges...in 3 different states. You should be very proud of that. (Of course, you had quadruple entered every weekend, showed one day and lost in Louisiana, and then drove 16 hours to show the rest of the weekend in Pennsylvania.) But still, nice job!
Unfortunately, the rankings don't rank based on "quality" of win. Here's an idea for a ranking system...each dog can have only THREE wins, in 1 year, under the same judge count towards their stats. That would apply at the breed and all breed level. In the last two months I can name several dogs in my breed that would have already exhausted that number. Once again, I ask, what do wins like that really mean? Are the rankings really telling the whole story? Another idea would be to NOT count class animals owned by the owner of the special. By doing that, the rankings would eliminate those exhibitors who stockpile the classes with their own stuff just so their special can get the points. But, it's all done for that push up the rankings. Now, I'm using those as examples, in no way am I proposing another ranking system. Although, I bet a number of readers will look at that and say "Only THREE wins under the same judge count?!?!" To which I would ask, "At what point does winning under that SAME judge lose its meaning?"
The AKC, We're Not Just Champion Dogs, We're "Service Dogs" Too (Wink, Wink)
Wouldn't it be interesting to see how much of a jump there is in "Service Dog" tickets being issued to Long Beach on or around the beginning of December? Admit it, that's the dog show world's dirty little secret. Can you imagine the field day PETA would have with that one? I can see the commercial now...There's Little Johnny in his wheelchair with his service dog, Bradley, curled up at his feet to make sure that Johnny can navigate the terminal on his own...while on the opposite side of the aisle is the other "service dog," Ch. By Law You Can't Ask Why I'm Here, with perfectly manicured hair and nails sitting with their handler to make sure they don't have any "seizures." As the camera fades, the voice-over comes on, "Which one of these dogs is actually a service dog? And which one is pretending to be a service dog so they can fly to a pure-bred dog show?" Then the tag line..."The AKC, We're Not Just Champion Dogs, We're 'Service Dogs' Too (Wink, Wink).
But hey, that's ok, by flying that "Service Dog" from Blue Mountain, WY to Back Waters, WV, he was able to win 20 more breed points and become #1 in its breed...plus, no seizures along the way...it was a win-win. Gotta push!
Isn't that embarrassing? It's true, though. As you read this, you probably thought of a couple of people off the top of your head that have done this.
The argument for this practice (if there is one), is that flying a dog as "cargo" is just too dangerous. Granted, I would not fly my dogs due to the numerous horror stories about [losing] dogs, or dogs getting lost. But, is it REALLY worthy stooping to the level of faking a debilitating condition that would warrant the use of a service animal, when there are so many people in the world that would give anything to NOT have to use a service animal? Maybe it's a sign from the show gods that you just aren't supposed to get from Adminzona to Maryland to show that weekend.
People In Glass Houses
Unfortunately, this was a very uncomfortable article to write. Not because it was difficult to put words to paper, but rather because the truth hurts. But, unless we face those truths, and recognize where the sport needs to improve, it will never get better. At the rate we are pushing the dogs (at all costs), and at the rate that new ranking systems are being created (Grand Champion System coming soon), we are at risk of not only becoming a punch line in a PETA commercial, but seeing our own "real-life evolution" of the dog show world. Except this evolution won't be for the betterment of our breeds...this will be Economic Darwinism, Survival of the Wealthiest. Whoever has the most money to enter the most shows, and fly the most places MUST clearly be one of the best in the breed! Rankings never lie. However, at what point does our obsession with rankings become a hindrance to our breeds' future? Are most breeders able to discern between the #1 dog in their breed, and the dog that would bring the most to their breeding program? Maybe they're one and the same, maybe they aren't. I'd like to think that most breeders aren't influenced that much by rankings, but rather step back and look at the whole dog, not just the number next to the name.
Am I guiltless? Am I the "White Hat" guy who would never do any of these things? Have I never made that push to bump up a couple of spots? No, as I wrote earlier, I've double entered, I've driven 7 hours for 10 breed points, and I've gone to the same judge a couple of times to get those points. I even have a spreadsheet with where I've ranked as the year has gone on. Regardless, in hindsight, I will be the first to admit how insane some of those actions are. Looking back, it's almost embarrassing. Scratch that, it IS embarrassing. All I am asking is that as you consider that "push," ask yourself what it's worth. Is it worth driving all over the country? Is it worth the stress on not only yourself, but your dog? What will those wins really mean? What does being ranked #8 vs. #6 really say about your dog? I asked myself those questions, and found out that I'm not willing to make that push, I'm not willing to make that sacrifice.