Bad Behavior Goes Viral
Competition at dog shows from the 1800s to now has brought out the best in dogs but the worst in some of their owners. But today the Internet, specifically social media, allows the antics of one person to be seen by many.
Susi Szeremy |
Posted: July 16, 2014 8 a.m. PST
Purebred dog owners need to be twice as well behaved, even online and in social media, to be considered half as 'noble' as animal rights activists.
Something of an unfortunate nature happened at a recent national specialty that was later described to me by a fancier of the breed. As the story goes, someone had sent an anonymously written letter to the board of the national club as well as to every judge approved for the breed. The letter systematically dismantled the attributes of a dog currently being campaigned, the dog’s owner knowing nothing of the letter until breed judging was concluded at the national. At that point, the specialty judge took the dog’s owner aside to explain that his decision to leave the dog out of the ribbons had nothing to do with the letter he’d received about the dog. Needless to say, things went downhill from there. The fancier sharing the story with me was shocked to the core and expressed dismay at the devolvement of our sport.
I wasn’t surprised in the least. To be completely honest, I thought that the fancier sharing the story with me was a bit naïve, possibly because he hadn’t been in the sport long enough to have heard of similar shenanigans over the years. In truth, competition at dog shows from the 1800s to now has brought out the best in dogs but the worst in some of their owners. Nefarious antics have even been the stuff of sensational magazine stories presumed by the public to be based on fact. Two Collie owners are entered at Westminster, one, a rakish cad, the other, the lovely miss who has consistently spurned his romantic advances over the year. Revenge comes the evening our villain learns that the object of his amore is leaving her dog overnight in the grooming area. As the show closes down for the night, the cad makes his way to the dog’s stall and, in a matter of minutes, butchers the dog’s coat with a pair of clippers. It will be six months before the dog can be shown again. The story was published in 1924.
While that was fiction, it was all too real when in 1895 eight Toy breed dogs were poisoned with strychnine at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. All eight dogs died.
Most AKC rules in place today are due to the mischief, if not malice, of early breeders, handlers and judges, and while human nature hasn’t changed much since then, the world in which the dog fancy exists has. The self-serving interests of one is lending to the demise of the other at a time when the sport is already under siege by animal rights and rigid shelter dog advocates. The good news is that there are very few individuals so disturbed as to take matters into their own hands at the expense of a dog, but the bad news is that these days, the Internet, specifically social media, allows one person to yield the power of many. Who among us hasn’t encountered a rant on Facebook about a judge’s lack of breed knowledge or complaints that the results of a dog show were a "fait accompli?” The problem has become so legion that one online dog site is surveying its page visitors by asking how many times they’ve encountered bad behavior at dog shows or in social media by fellow dog people.
Regardless of the grievances, these are not things to be settled on Facebook, and every "friend” of a page on which dirty laundry is aired should roundly denounce the person who posts such grumblings in order to protect their own interests by protecting the fancy. To do nothing is tantamount to enabling the culprit by being the perceived audience to which he or she plays in a highly visible forum trolled by those who would happily see the demise of the sport.
Radicals of the 1960s learned (to their chagrin, I imagine) that the best way to change the system against which they railed was to work within it. Tom Hayden, an anti-war and radical intellectual counterculture activist, became a California State Senator (and, as an aside, is a staunch endorser of animal rights). The Green Party of Germany ended six decades of being a political wallflower to become a mainstream force that shook the traditional political order. The Christian Coalition gained ascendency at the turn of the last century and helped candidates reach political power. These varied examples did it not by whining on Facebook or Twitter. They did it the old-fashioned way by patiently working within "the system” with little steps and small gains. Not coincidentally, the animal rights movement did it much the same way. Late-night television commercials purchased for bargain prices were the last thing many Americans saw before going to sleep, and after 30 years, they, not us, have become the go-to authority on animal issues by the media and the average citizen. How has that worked out for us?
There are mechanisms in place through which grievances are settled at a club or AKC level, though they are less immediate than the click of the "send” button, and perhaps less satisfying than trashing a person’s reputation in front of thousands of faceless witnesses. But has anything ever been truly resolved in a trial by one’s Facebook peers? And worse, does it help or hurt the sport to do so? What would Ingrid Newkirk of PETA make of alleged misdoings in the sport as provided by a disgruntled participant?
The sad truth is that as purebred dog owners and breeders these days, we have to be twice as well behaved to be considered half as "noble” as our adversaries. The Internet may seem like a more "civilized” way in which to pull off the hijinks of our predecessors, but the damage inflicted there impacts the whole sport, not just one individual in it. Nothing on the Internet is limited to targeted individuals anymore, and private spats within the fancy are anything but private. We all suffer one way or another.
From the July 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine.
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