I admit that I was a reluctant traveler when it came to going to Crufts. I had so often heard about the huge entries, the amazing numbers of booths and the crowds of spectators and I imagined that if I ventured to Birmingham, I would spend the four days sitting at one ring wishing I could also watch a different breed too far away to enjoy and that the crowds and the sheer volume of things to see would prevent me from having what I think of as "quality time" at the show. I couldn't have been more wrong. One trip to "the world's greatest dog show" and I'm guessing I'll return as often as possible.
It's true that oen can spend almost an entire day watching one breed -- but what a rewarding experience! In my own breed I was delighted with class after class of quality Toy Poodles that to a dog were beautifully trimmed and appeared to be in immaculate condition. I watched big classes of other breeds and entire entries of a few, which seems to give one a nice overall view of the state of those breeds in the U.K. and often across Europe. While it's true that overall, presentation isn't as professional as in the U.S., the owners and breeders showing their dogs at Crufts seem much less stressed about the whole thing and seem to be enjoying their dogs and the process much more than do Americans. I have the greatest regard for the level of professionalism in the sport in our country, but at the same time I greatly appreciate how in the U.K., even in the show ring the dogs are really treated like...well, the loved dogs that they are. (There's nothing quite like watching a big class of Irish Setters and having several of the entrants politely place themselves in your lap for a few past while the rest of the class is being judged. And I found the Brits to be the warmest, friendliest people every place I went.)
One of the great disappointments of recent years in our sport, for me, has been how little we seem to focus on what dog shows are really supposed to be about -- comparing breeding stock -- in lieu of our driving need to be number one, break another record, make more champions, wins, win, win. I realize that for some exhibitors in the U.K. the same caveats likely exist, but to my eye it appears as though the emphasis at Crufts was on a genuine interest in each individual breed and finding the best representatives of each of those breeds. I'm convinced that for many competitors, winning a class, a CC or a reserve CC were the highlights of the day. Sure, Group competition gets its share of attention, but is far less the focus than at even the smallest all-breed shows here in the U.S.
The British experience has even more to offer. A current question at AKC is whether to allow mixed-breed dogs to compete in performance events. The KC in England has long allowed exactly that, with no associated problems that I can uncover. In the modern era we have at one end of the canine spectrum more and more people whose dogs are integral parts of their lives, and a constant need for homes for recue and shelter dogs; at the other end we have a rise in proposed legislation to control all aspects of owning dogs, along with constant threats of anti-dog legislation. By including more dog owners in AKC activities, we can give all dog owners at the one end of the spectrum an opportunity to participate in activities that they can enjoy with their dogs, while exposing more people to education about dogs; at the other we can give more dog lovers a common bond, with which a stronger force against anti-dog legislation can be created. That would seem very wise in my book.
We'll cover the English KC's Accredited Breeders Scheme in a future issue; I believe a program of this kind would be a great asset to us in the U.S.
If you've never been to Crufts, it's a give you should give yourself. It is more a enjoyable and enlightening experience than I can express. Coverage of both the Westminster week and Crufts are included in this issue.
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