Showsight July 2020

1939 Estate Wagon Technology and dog shows have always gone together as demostrated by Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge’s custom body 1939 Cadillac. Photo courtesy of St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center.

The idea that the sport of dogs in America has always been “this way” or “that way” is a false impression. To the contrary, the com- munity of purebred dog fanciers in America has always responded to challenges, great and small, by adapting to its circumstances. After all, no organization manages to exist for 135 years without changing with the times. Never has it been more criticial for the sport to find innovative ways to adapt. Last month, all eyes were on Guthrie, Oklahoma, as the Bartles- ville KC, Mid-Del-Tinker KC, and Claremore KC of Oklahoma opened their doors to the first AKC all-breed shows to be held in more than three months. Following on the heels of a successful match in Florida and a specialty show in Ohio, the Oklahoma clubs found unwaivering support from fanciers longing to return to the ring. (Entries closed in less than an hour, drawing dogs from across the country.) Branded “The Learning Cluster” by its organizers, the shows proved that an event’s success relies heavily on preparation, planning, presentation and, most importantly today, prevention. To this last point, the show chairs and their committees have been roundly lauded for their seamless introduction of mandatory masks, armband stations, and other innovations intended to safeguard the health and safety of all. And speaking of prevention, the time is surely now for show com- mittees to decide if they are prepared to promote purebred dogs in the 21st century. With spectators prohibited from attending shows for the foreseeable future, the question must be asked: “Are dog clubs and dog shows still capable of serving the public interest?” Well, the tech- nology to do so is already available. While the first show was under- way in Oklahoma, I was able to watch the Group judging from my home in New Jersey thanks to an exhibitor who kindly streamed the goings-on from a smart phone. The experience of watching the show “live” was reassuring for me as I’m sure it was for countless breeders, exhibitors and judges who were unable to attend. As the seven Group winners stepped into the BIS ring, I couldn’t help but feel hopeful for the future and proud of the dedication and determination expressed by so many in the sport. The experience seemed nothing short of miraculous. I wondered, “How amazing is it to be able to watch a dog show this way? Any person who enjoys dogs can watch from wher- ever they are!” I privately congratulated the day’s winner and looked forward to tuning in again over the next three days. Unfortunately, streaming from the subsequent shows never happened. Apparently, the action was prohibited as noted in the premium list. Though per- sonally disappointed, I couldn’t help but feel that an opportunity to connect fanciers had been missed at a time when the community needs to feel connected more than ever. In the future, will show com- mittees utilize current technologies to promote their clubs (and the sport of dogs in general) or will the status quo continue despite the need to preserve purebred dogs by any means necessary? “Live Stream Clusters” could help to redefine the sport for a technology-dependent audience, and they could help to save it in the process.

In the new millenium, changes affecting the sport of dogs were largely made in response to emerging technologies—and unprec- edented tragedies. The coordinated terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 put search and rescue dogs front and center in the American con- sciousness and, as the digital revolution shifted into high gear, the World Wide Web soon delivered dog show news and information to everyone’s smart phone. In 2005, breed judging at Westminster was telecast via streaming video for the first time. In August of that same year, live telecasts from the Gulf Coast spawned the craze for “rescue dogs” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Together with an increased demand for so-called designer dogs, “retail res- cue” operations put the purebred dog community on the defensive for the first time in modern memory. Unscrupulous “puppy bro- kers” were quick to utilize the Internet as a marketing tool, increas- ing demand for their mismatched mongrels. Unfortunately, most preservation breeders were late to grasp the notion that everyone (including the typical puppy buyer) was shopping online. During the 2010s, registrations and entries at most conforma- tion shows and obedience trials decreased, often dramatically. To counter the losses, the AKC developed a Grand Champion- ship title and welcomed “new” breeds and performance events at a remarkable rate. In a single decade, more than 30 breeds were recognized and a string of companion and performance events was introduced. As obedience entries declined, rally obedience found a receptive audience among new and seasoned exhibitors. Like- wise, events such as barn hunt, dock diving and scent work proved appealing to fanciers in search of new titles and experiences. Even Westminster, that most venerated of kennel clubs, embraced this new direction by introducing its Masters Obedience and Masters Agility Championships. Still in their infancy, these introductions signaled a sweeping change in a sport that embraces standards of performance every bit as much as standards of perfection. At the dawn of the current decade, purebred dog breeders and exhibitors looked to the future with cautious optimism. The 144th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was a resounding success, and the year 2020 seemed poised to become an exciting one for the sport of dogs. However, even the most optimistic fanci- er could not have predicted the events to come. When shows were cancelled in response to the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, the future of the sport—and its participants—never seemed more uncertain. Threats from the AR movement seemed a distant con- cern and the calamities of the previous century paled in compari- son to an unseen enemy. Yet, even in the throes of despair, the community of dog fanciers managed to stay connected. Commu- nication technologies offered teleconferencing, distance education and social interaction to thousands of exhibitors, many of whom were otherwise isolated from the world. (The AKC even extended its hand by offering Trick Dog, Rally, and Act 1 & 2 Agility titles to dogs evaluated through video.)


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