The Kennel Club Roadshow reached its seventh location at Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire and, considering the number of dog people in the vicinity, the turn out was relatively small compared to the 200 that have been seen previously. Possibly it was the summer holidays that had affected the quantity there, or maybe word has already got round that the by-line on the admittance ticket of ‘Learn about the Kennel Club and have your say’ is something of an exaggeration.
Chairman, Ronnie Irving has a heritage in business and uses everything learnt in his past life to skillfully, and with aplomb, divert any question that is a tadge unsavoury, slightly difficult, interesting, doesn’t toe the party line or the Kennel Club doesn’t have an answer to. It makes for a rather dull, moderately boring evening only occasionally enlightened with moments of "did I really hear that?" but the query is never answered because the next subject is already moved onto.
The format, already well known, is that a presentation takes place whilst written questions submitted to the panel are researched via the red book etc. Questions can be sent previously but anything not written on the regulation piece of paper issued at the meeting must really stand out and give warning of a seriously prepared, want an answer, enquiry. It would be interesting to know, just out of curiosity, were, over the Roadshow history these questions have been answered. Have they been dealt with first, last or assigned to the "no time to answer publicly?" heap.
Walk the walk
The presentation, to demonstrate that the Kennel Club is a modern professional business, given by Caroline Kisko is educational as to how far the aged leviathan of the dog world has attempted to modernise in the past few years. The buzzwords of committees, external affairs, lobbying, charity, public relations, television, genetics, health, money all abound and the lady is a credit to what she has learnt on the job. Her style of presentation, speech and delivery would be very much at home on the parliamentary talk shows. Is such a comment damning with feint praise? No not really because these days you have to have the ability to walk the walk and talk the talk.
The best example of this is the dealing with, and the handling of, the BBC with regard to Crufts.
Everything about the Crufts television presentation had got lax. The dog people didn’t like it. Joe Public wasn’t impressed with it so the ultimate card was played. As the contract to renew approached talks with other television companies were entered into so the BBC were aware just how serious the Kennel Club were that the whole coverage had to improve. General consensus was that the 05 shows were so much better than the previous year and hopefully 2006 & 7 would be even better. The K.C. is keen to push the concept of dogs as a lifestyle but huge care has to be taken how the fancy is portrayed. To this end a team has been set up to give help, if so wished, to anybody asked to participate in media events.
One question that did come up, to sage nods from the bulk of the audience, was the possible manipulation of Crufts by the Animal Planet pre-event coverage of Coco. The dog fraternity mostly has faith in the integrity of its judges and the A.P. executives must have seen her win as icing on the cake but the general front room audience must have been very suspicious. Tens of thousands of dollars spent by the owners, her "own" television crew and then Best In Show. However unintentional possibly not the best public relations exercise to demonstrate that it is the dog that counts not the size of the bankroll.
The miles that Coco has travelled in her career would, at one time, been an American phenomenon only but now the Pets Passport is in place could UK dogs do the same? The question of the welfare of dogs being campaigned in Europe and beyond earned an uneasy response. If all the regulations are met everything should be fine and it has to be left to the sense of the owner but……
The Vulnerable Breeds idea has affected twenty-nine breeds. Many inches of newsprint and hours on the telephone have been spent by the owners of these breeds wondering where the 300 figure came from that now deems them in the VB bracket. Depending on where you sat in the audience it was God, the atmosphere or Mr Irving himself as, when asked that question, he raised his hand to the air and pointed around.
The KC felt they had to do something and the 300 made a good starting point. It has subsequently been realised though that some breeds would not be best served if numbers were up at the level. The implication was given that if a breed has always had lower numbers and is getting on quite happily so it should remain. Mr Irving had said, at the start of the meeting, that some things would possibly be covered further in the Kennel Gazette and hopefully this matter will get onto the agenda.
Two of the more contentious issues are Judges at Crufts and the Accredited Breeders Scheme and. Questions were given, questions were answered. It wasn’t enough. To have the Chairman of the Kennel Club say that when judges are selected for Crufts all Judging Lists are studied and all judging experience taken into account and then have a member of the audience ask why 25% of Crufts judges for their breed appear on no breed judging lists in the world and be fobbed off isn’t exactly user friendly. Basically Crufts is their show and they can choose who they want.
Neither is it user friendly to continually push, push, push the Accredited Breeders Scheme. It gives nothing to breeders other than a certificate. The wife of the Chairman not being a member ably illustrates this. Mr Irving informed the meeting of this fact, as to why quite a few were not sure.
The more the matter was spoken about the more bewildering it became. Only the written word is needed, people give feedback, it is a good idea, it is the way forward. Why? One person told of somebody accepted onto the scheme with Labradors with horrendously high hip scores that were bred from. Mr Irving gleefully pointed out that as an AB they couldn’t do that now. Of course they can! The AB adverts will get the punters in and when they maybe can’t afford the price of the pup they will be offered one of another litter, non KC registered, that is only a two-thirds of the price.
Surely to get the scheme to work there must be American Kennel Club style spot checks? When queried over this the comment was made that legally the KC couldn’t do it. If the scheme had been set up to include power of entry surely anybody signing up to it would be agreeing to let a KC person in?
Of course everybody should be encouraged but to listen to an enthusiastic mother ask if her daughter could become an accredited breeder before she breeds her first litter and have the KC reply in the affirmative is just another nail in its coffin of credibility for many.
Defending the unjustifiable is never an easy job and how far should it be done? A pet owner had encountered problems with her puppy and it had been returned to the breeder who, seemingly, had refunded no money. The family had contacted the KC who had been of no help whatsoever.
They were at the Roadshow to ask what they should do and what they had done wrong? Telling an obviously perturbed owner that it was really nothing to do with the KC and if she had gone to an accredited breeder…… It wouldn’t have taken thirty seconds to apologise for a bad experience in the pedigree world and suggest Trading Standards. The family left before the end of the event non-too impressed with the "help" they had been given.
The penultimate question of the evening was one of the more harder-hitters. It was side-stepped by Mr Irving with verve and flair. A query on the place of the seminar in progression up the judging lists became a "take over the breed club". The slight grins and nods running through the audience said that many would actually like to do that but it didn’t actually answer a genuine question.
The Roadshow came about because of the Clarges Street need to be seen to be doing something worthwhile. Actually doing anything though is so difficult they apparently focus on the lowest level that is easily dealt with. The irritation of some of the audience is palpable. The Kennel Club now wants to be all things to all men in the world of dogs. It is mind boggling to hear a KC representative basically say that Kennel Club registration adds nothing to the value of a dog and that the public should know they could get a mongrel from Battersea. It has obviously been decided by the Kennel Club that they should appear to represent the world of dogs as a whole rather than the "superior" pedigree. Inclusivity seems to be the mood of the moment but maybe the Kennel Club should take note of the real world. Grammar schools were got rid of because everybody would benefit by the same level of education. The big majority of people now acknowledge that educational standards have gone down and a big push is starting to get the Grammar back.
All through the evening it was repeatedly stressed that the main bulk of the Kennel Club money came from registrations and insurance. This money, in turn, benefited many other things but it is the pedigree world that funds the giant bulk of the coffers of Clarges Street. This pedigree world comes to the Roadshow because they want to ask direct questions and get direct replies. The gesture of bringing the masters to the masses is very much appreciated but maybe it is time to re-think the format. Corporate speak should be left in the boardrooms. The glory of the Kennel Club good works left in Clarges Street. Just talk about what people want to listen to, not what is thought they should hear!