Chairman’s speech at WKC dinner

Ronnie Irving“I’ve been responding to the toast to the KC at this dinner for several years now – in fact since long before I became chairman of the Kennel Club, and it doesn’t get any easier - even if you know in advance who’s going to propose the toast you never know - when the word ‘toast’ is used - which of the two meanings of the word toast, the person proposing it will think is appropriate. whether it’ll be the definition of toast that means “to drink magnanimously to the health of the KC” or the other meaning of toast – which is “to heat something up to the point of setting it alight”! thankfully this time pam went in for the former approach!

Last year when i stood up here to speak I warned of two things that i then described as ‘major challenges’ for our world of dogs: firstly the effect of the credit crunch on dog shows and 2nd - what was at that stage a ‘forthcoming’ tv show - which we had just learned was to be called Pedigree Dogs Exposed.

‘I’ll come back to the issue of the effect of the economic climate on the world of dogs later, but on the subject of the tv show - I outlined here last year – all the efforts that we at the KC had been making to describe to the programme makers - all of the work that the KC and serious dog breeders had done – and were doing - on canine health, health screening and dna testing for inherited conditions, changes to breed standards to eliminate problem features and exaggerations, judge training and new health rules, the Young Kennel Club and its activities (and while on the subject of the YKC – thanks again to the WKC for this year again hosting the ykc activities weekend), also the kennel club accredited breeders scheme and the ‘Fit For Function : Fit For Life’ campaign, and i also said – and i quote from my notes, “finally we have been at pains to remind the bbc of the requirements in its charter to be rigorously impartial and balanced in its reporting”, i went on to say “despite all this we still fear that, when broadcast, this programme may omit a good deal of the positive information we supplied with the result that it will be damaging to the reputation of pedigree dogs, dog breeders and the kennel club”

How right that prediction was - but little did I know just how biased the programme would be - and little did i anticipate the full extent of its effect. i did however say that the Kennel Club was ready for the challenge but i warned that - those i called the ‘purists’ in some breeds - would have to get a move on because – quote “if they won’t sort things out voluntarily the Kennel Club is going to have to step in with both feet or others will.” actually I singled out peke clubs for special mention – plus ca change – plus c’est la meme chose - or as the us baseball player Yogi Berra once said - rather more elegantly, “i have that feeling of déjà vu - all over again”
happily most, though not all, breeds have stepped up to the plate and have agreed with the breed standard changes that the KC health and welfare strategy group and the breed standards committee have proposed – and some have gone even further and suggested more dramatic changes.

Only a handful of breeds are still in dispute with us and the general committee will decide in two weeks time just how these are to be dealt with. of course when the ‘tsunami’ of the programme struck - we had to deal with a number of issues, but we had to put to the back of our minds the old misquoted adage that ‘if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, the chances are that you haven’t recognised the seriousness of the situation.’ i believe we did keep our heads and did recognise the seriousness of the situation firstly we had to calm public opinion and we had – in the first phase of our fight-back - to accept – as we always had accepted - that there were some valid critical points on some breeds - amidst the mostly hysterical over-reactions of a few of our critics.

We had to persuade those external allies who are important to us - such as the veterinary bodies, the saner canine charities and the sensible politicians and defra - that we were largely doing what was necessary. talking of politicians - and as a slight aside - we’re delighted to have welsh assembly member Kirsty Williams with us this evening. kirsty is the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and is member for brecon and radnorshire. she has been a great supporter of the KC in the assembly, and has raised there, various issues in which we believe – kirsty has played an integral part in some important campaigns and has been a great crusader for animal welfare in the assembly.

Wales has some very specific problems in relation to puppy farming and the KC, as the secretariat of the uk puppy farming study group is at the forefront of moves to try to end this complex, damaging and utterly callous business. i very much hope that kirsty and her colleagues will continue to assist us to raise this - and other issues - both in the assembly and with the public - over the coming months: welcome Kirsty.

Anyway turning back to our fightback - we realised that in that first phase we were bound to alienate some dog breeders, particularly those in breeds where the problems were greatest. where we are now, in the second phase, is concentrating on going out positively and persuading the general public and others that it is in fact dog showing and serious committed breeders and breed clubs that hold the answer to those problems that do exist.

In the face of the bbc and Pedigree withdrawing their support for crufts we had to make sure that firstly Discover Dogs in london in november, and then crufts in march, were both the success that most people would, i hope, agree, they did indeed, turn out to be. that was important. then we had to replace the lost sponsorship for crufts and ensure its televising for the future that we have now done, with the support of dfs and its dog loving chairman, Lord a result of that (though some of our critics don’t particularly like it) we’re proud that we’ve ensured that the good side of dog breeding and dog showing will be brought to the attention of the public. Also we’ve hopefully made sure that the Kennel Club will still be able to plough financial resources back into all aspects of dogs and dog breeding, that’s something that we and the serious breed clubs and breeders do, and certainly no-one else does - or looks likely to do.

As just one example, we continue to put money into the Kennel Club Charitable Trust and just a few months ago it agreed to put £1.2 m into the new Kennel Club Genetics Centre at the AHT for further research. of course some people, those whom i’d choose to call extremists, are going around saying that we have over-reacted and have done too much. Others think we haven’t gone nearly far enough. i’d venture to suggest that that’s probably a sign that we’ve got it about right.
we still have a great deal to do, however, and we won’t be deflected from those tasks. a number of external reports on dog breeding are yet to emerge and we don’t yet know just exactly what they’ll be proposing. but all i can assure dog breeders is that the Kennel Club will press on. we believe that we are doing the right things for dogs. we believe that dog breeding is as much an art as it is a science. we believe that helping and guiding responsible breeders is the way forward. we believe – unlike some - that show breeders are not the problem but instead actually hold the solution to the problems

Yes, we believe that science and rules are an important part of the solution, but we believe also that breeders, especially responsible and experienced breeders, should be helped by the science and the rules, but should not be controlled by them. in that vein we will continue to do what we believe is right for dogs and make no mistake, we shall continue to do it with vigour.
turning then to the other subject that i talked about last year, namely the impact of fuel prices on dog shows and the adverse economic climate in which we live. i mentioned then that shows with entries closing up to the end of april last year – when fuel prices suddenly escalated – were down only about 1%, while entries at shows after that had been down by between 6 % and 8%, by the end of last year the decline overall had levelled off at a fall of 5%.

This year in 2009 the first half of the year showed a fall of just over 3% but the last few entry figures just announced for shows are much more stable, with some only down by less than 1%, some flat and others such as the WKC actually up on last year. clearly the economic climate is affecting our activities just as it’s affecting other areas, but happily we’re not experiencing the kind of falls that some people are seeing.

However, we can’t be complacent and, to survive and prosper, we must - all of us - do everything we can to keep existing people in the dog showing hobby and to attract more new people.
the Kennel Club has carried out a survey of exhibitors to establish the five most important key factors for them when deciding whether or not to go to a show. first, as you would expect – with 85% listing the issue, is the judge - and show organisers should very much take note of that. next equal - with 71% citing both factors as important - are ‘good organisation’ and ‘good feel to the show’, overall cost of attending is next, with 58% naming it and ‘cost of entry’ is fifth with 48% itemising that aspect in their top 5.

So what lessons can be learned there?

Well, the message is that four out of the five headings that exhibitors think most important canbe controlled by the show committee: the judge, the organisation, the feel to the show and the cost of the entry. items such as closeness to the venue etc, are apparently of far less importance, so that helps address the business of retaining exhibitors.

But what can shows do to attract the public and so, hopefully, make dog showing generally more attractive to potential new exhibitors? well, crufts carries out a survey every year to establish what attracts its 150,000 visitors and this is an aspect of shows which is - in my view – largely ignored by many show organisers and shouldn’t be. of those who this year took part in the crufts visitor survey, when asked what their main reason for attending was , the answer “for a fun day out” was given by 68% of those taking part. a lesson to be learned there by the purists perhaps? when asked what areas of the show they visited, 80% listed the trade stands, 68% the Discover Dogs area, 62% the arena and only 53% the breed benching and ring areas. more lessons to be learned by some shows perhaps?

The respondents were also asked to list the top words or phrases that they associated with crufts the top five were - entertaining, fun, competitive, educational and friendly – again – any clues there for those dyed-in-the-wool committees who want dogs shows to be just for dyed- in-the-wool exhibitors like themselves? 91% rated their overall experience of crufts as either excellent or good with only 2% saying that the experience was either poor or very poor. (I bet you could name the ones that said that – I could!)

Now, the point I want to make from all of this is not that crufts is perfect, we know it isn’t but the point is instead that those of us who are involved in running dog shows should remember that they are not being run for the committee’s glorification, and that the long term future of their society and the dog showing game itself, will depend on the popularity of their show and other shows as well.

‘One of the stated strategic objectives of the KC is “to popularise canine events focusing on the retention of existing participants and the attraction of new participants”, it’s not by accident that crufts attracts more visitors than any other dog show, it is by dint of hard work and deliberate effort. more shows and more show committees need to remember this and think a bit more widely than they have in the past. exhibitors care about judges and show organisation, the public think about having an enjoyable, educative and fun day out.

If we want dog showing to survive and grow in the modern 21st century in which we live, then it’s our job as show organisers to recognise this, to think a bit more laterally – and a bit beyond just the purist task of getting the dogs judged and the ccs awarded. these days – unfortunately - we all have a more complicated task to perform than in days gone by.

In conclusion, last year i finished off my predictions of hard times to come by saying, and again i quote, “am i depressed by all of this? – no i’m not. we dog people go into what is undoubtedly going to be a period of difficulty, in good shape and we have a good story to tell. If we act sensibly and rationally, i’m sure that we’ll come out of it in due course, still very much in one piece and perhaps even better and more aptly placed to face the futurethan ever before.”

Even after the events of the last year i can see no reason to change that view. with the support of people like you and societies like the Welsh Kennel Club, with the backing of forward thinking breeders and breed clubs we, the Kennel Club, dog breeders and exhibitors can and will continue along the steady, but forward, path that we have adopted - and steer the world of dogs through the problems to a bright and hopefully slightly more settled future.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen.”

View the speakers clicking here


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