Who judges the judges?
I was the judge for Shih Tzus at Leeds. I delayed until the last moment in submitting a critique (which was printed in OD 3/9/21) because there were three issues which, for me, had health implications for the breed going forward, and as I am reflective in nature, I wanted time to decide how I might express them.
However, as in my previous profession which had involved me dealing with matters of detention and incarceration, I have over the years realised that there are some things which one cannot wrap up prettily, and it is best to present subject matter in simple, plain terms. Hence, I submitted the critique noting that I felt there were issues with head size, toplines and muzzle length.
Unbeknown to me, although I thought it may not be well received, this has caused some rumblings in the Shih Tzu fraternity, in particular a Facebook group. This is a private group with 600+ members. A âwell-wisherâ decided to forward me a screenshot of a discussion thread that related to my critique. What I read in this thread shocked me and made for very far from pleasant reading.
If we learned nothing else from the programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed, we should at least realise that trying to shoehorn an average sized brain into a small skull has the potential to cause very significant health problems. According to the contributors, my comments about small skulls were seen as fault judging, even a fixation, and I failed to balance individual critiques with positive comments. What they seem to avoid addressing is the requirement for a judge, as per my contract and notes in the front of the Judging book under the heading Health & Welfare of Dogs âJudges should penalise any features or exaggerations which they consider would be detrimental to the soundness, health and well-being of the dogâ.
Even if the contributors felt small heads are no threat to health, they avoided the issue the Breed Standard actually calls for âHead Broadâ whereas in the preamble I had said felt some were more âappleâ in shape than broad. As for fault judging, I wonder if they had read the critique in full, because in the individual critiques I had listed numerous assets rather than faults and again in the Breed Standard, the second from last section, a requirement that I should âconsider a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degreeâ. The responses were âhe always fault judgesâ and âitâs worrying he says these faults affect the health of the dogs.â
With regards to a topline which rises from the wither to the tail, and there is an error in my preamble because it read âWithers to shouldersâ and not the former, (odd no one questioned that) they do not take into account that where there is a requirement âback levelâ under the body section of the BS. As one who suffers from a spinal injury, I know that a misaligned spine causes pain, puts stress on pelvis and hip joints and I have no doubt it is much the same in dogs.
With regards to short muzzles, I was appalled to read that one contributor stated âa short nose on a Shih Tzu is not a health problemâ. I think I am right in assuming they use ânoseâ, as opposed to muzzle because later on they referred to a long nose. If a dog has a short muzzle with pinched nostrils and is blowing bubbles from it, and panting from performing movement of a triangle and an up and down once, then it is very much a problem.
There were additional comments about âthe length of time (or lack of it) the dog was on the tableâ. Taking into account the KC guidance of two and a half minutes per dog, which includes movement when I look at my timing as there was no breed scheduled to follow me in the ring, I ran beyond the allotted time for those present. With the Puppies and Juniors in particular, given that some were only at their first or second show, I was mindful that they had not had the benefit of the usual ringcraft and gave them more time than the more experienced dogs. Why is that in any way considered wrong?
I was aware from the start of judging that the entire process was being live streamed, presumably the company involved had sought permission from the organisers to do so? This in itself gave my self-appointed assessors more room for comment.
I now refer to comments made in the preamble of Miss Ann Ingramâs critique of her judging of Shih Tzus at Blackpool the week after mine. I have spoken to Miss Ingram and it transpires that she too was sent screenshots of comments made within the same FB group with regard to her judging and like mine, some comments were based following viewing the streamed version of her judging. Fortunately, she was sent her screen shots before submitting her critique and was able to voice her comments, so she took the opportunity to make her views known. The point she clearly makes is the potential effect such comments can have upon a first time or inexperienced judge.
It may occur to some that the contributors to this group are those with little or no experience of dog shows, and it is in blessed ignorance that the comments were made. Not so, one has awarded CCs once, another has awarded CCs 11 times, one has officiated 16 times and another 10 some of them have awarded CCs many many times. These are people who should at least have respect for their peers and know how to conduct themselves appropriately.
Miss Ingram took the opportunity to remind these people of Kennel Club Code of Conduct when it comes to Social Media Activity. What they seem to forget is that even if they go back and delete comments, their names have been saved.
I can only compare with what I have seen before in institutional settings and in my personal opinion it amounts to a coercive, manipulative, subversive form of bullying. For anyone new to the breed who joins this group may possibly see it as a norm of acceptable behaviour, or if someone is about to embark on their first judging appointment they could potentially be intimidated by this kind of behaviour and have their decisions influenced by the fear of also being the subject of a kangaroo court when the accused is not given opportunity to defend themselves. I am not convinced that everyone in this group is of the same mind, and one wonders how many form the silent majority who are uncomfortable to see the character assassination and impugning of integrity on their screens, and in the hope that Miss Ingram and I would speak up on their behalf, sent us the relevant screen shots.
I hope other judges who have been on the receiving end of similar behaviour will now speak out and we can move forward to a point whereby if there is a complaint about a judgeâs performance, it is referred via a breed club to the KC and a proper balanced hearing is afforded to them.
The future of Newbury Showground
Rumours were flying around at Richmond about the future of Newbury Showground and the way the forthcoming meeting of the agricultural society might impact upon Southern Counties.
We have known for some time that, like so many other agricultural societies, Newbury has been in some financial difficulty. However, we have no reason to think that any change is likely in the immediate future and the Newbury committee have made it clear that their first priority is to retain the site for the community.
In the meantime, Southern Counties championship show is formally booked in at Newbury for 3rd, 4th and 5th June in 2022 but exhibitors can be assured that whatever happens the committee has long had a âPlan Bâ in place.
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