Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Where will dog shows be in 2021? by Debra VeyVoda-Hamilton, Esq.

I recently finished reading Dr. Al Grossman’s article, The Dog Show Game at a Crossroads* from his syndicated column From the Skeptic Tank. It made me think about what I am seeing ringside and what I hope will become a more proactive movement in the coming years.

In his article, Dr. Grossman “looks in his crystal ball” and throws out a few of his observations on where, in his opinion, conformation competition is headed.  His visions are disheartening.  He feels the AKC is not responding to the times, rather it is following the status quo with the appointment of the “usual suspects” to review and make suggestions.

I agree with some of what Dr. Grossman suggests however, I take exception to a few of his notions and offer alternative suggestions.

I have seen and spoken to the new faces at the AKC.  They are ready, willing and able to rise to the occasion and adapt their role in the conformation arena to meet the needs of the changing world of dog performance.  I have approached the AKC and asked them to speak to colleagues of mine in the animal law community.  Although they have met with huge resistance and have been ambushed at several prior animal law events, they are willing to continue trying to get the world out about our extraordinary pass time.

Dr. Grossman goes on to say, “[a] s the fancy grays more and more, Specialty clubs will drop by the wayside because of lack of interest from younger people, and the older members no longer willing and able to carry out the tasks of holding shows and keeping up their interest.”  I suspect this is a fear all specialty breed clubs share.  It is such a fear it has spurred some breeds clubs into doing something about it.

It is clear to current exhibitors that the time, expense and political nature of conformation dog show participation can prohibit the ‘regular Joe’ from participating.  If we want to continue to exhibit our dogs as we have, in some instances for over 100 years, we must recognize the need to educate and nurture the next generation of breed fanciers.  If we don’t, our pastime will fade, as no one will be left to fill our shoes and follow in our footsteps.

My breed club, the Irish Setter Club of America, has taken steps to start a dialogue and get suggestions on how to keep our breed club alive.  We conducted an Irishville Town Hall meeting at our National this year.  It was patterned, with permission, after the Saintsville program created by the Saint Bernard Club to initiate a dialogue in their club.

At our first Irishville meeting, each of the 8 groups participating stated that getting people, young and old, involved and participating and having our older members mentor the younger and new members was tantamount to the survival of our club.  The overriding consensus was we needed to bring new people in, make them feel welcomed and valued.  People have to feel they are valuable assets to the breed before they will commit to stay and become an integral part of our club and work hard to maintain its integrity.

Breed people are aware of what is needed to sustain a club, personal mentoring and a welcoming atmosphere.  The problem lies in the  ‘how.’  How do we get our current members to commit to doing what is needed?  In this world of Internet and cyber space communication, I propose the way we do it is through educating people on what it is we do both in person and on the web.  We must make the time to speak at local pet days, grammar schools, 4-H and future farmer’s clubs, Lions and Rotary clubs.

We also need to write articles for online pet blogs and websites, as well as our local newspapers, like Dr. Grossman does for syndicated dog magazines.  We need to do this with a view toward educating those who don’t know anything about what it is we as pure breed dog owners and clubs do for the health and welfare of our breeds.

Dr. Grossman predicts designer dogs will be the new breed dogs.  Conformation as we know it will change “as it adjusts to the ever-changing conditions forced upon [it] by the cost of the current configuration.”  He goes on to say other “leisure time activities…and…the inhospitable climate found by eager new entrants” to the dog show world will spell the end of a sport we all know and love.

Before that happens we should all, as All Breed Clubs and Specialty Breed Clubs, speak to our members, old and new, in an organized fashion such as the town hall meeting.  We need to get honest feed back on who we are, what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong and where changes could be made that will make a difference.  Change can occur if club members are excited about ‘talking dogs’ to people who know nothing about the real and approachable world of conformation dog show.

If we don’t start communicating who will?  If we don’t start communicating soon we may have nothing to communicate about. If we follow the status quo, Dr. Grossman’s crystal ball will be prophetic and the end of conformation competition, as we know it, may be just over the horizon.

Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton is an attorney practicing collaborative law and mediation in New York.  She writes and speaks on methods of alternative dispute resolution in lieu of litigation.  Her practice concentrates on attending to conflicts in the animal world prior to litigation.  Ms. Vey Voda-Hamilton is also a successful breeder exhibitor of Irish setters and longhaired dachshunds under the prefix Rumraisin.

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