IN THE sweltering heat of the Spadesbourne Hall at the District Council Office, Bromsgrove last week the chairman of the Kennel Club, members of the committee and senior staff met the public
This was the first of the series of roadshows designed to promote a new understanding between the Kennel Club and exhibitors.
One of the follow-up actions by the Kennel Club as a direct result of discussions of the Canine Events Conference is the staging of a series of Regional Question Times around the country, to enable canine enthusiasts to meet committee members and professional staff of the KC to discuss issues of the day; the first of these took place at Spadesbourne Hall at the District Council Office, Bromsgrove last Wednesday evening.
Despite being the eve of the first day of South Wales general championship show, more than 80 people travelled from across the country (some of them from the caravan site at the Usk showground) to quiz the panel of senior representatives of the Club, which was chaired by the KC Chairman Ronnie Irving. The other five panellists were: Peter Mann, Crufts Chairman; Rosemary Smart, KC Chief Executive; Caroline Kisko, KC Secretary: Kathryn Symns, KC Assistant Secretary; and Phil Buckley, the KCs External Affairs Manager.
Unfortunately, Bill Hardaway, KC Vice-Chairman, who was advertised as one of the panel, was unable to attend.
The Question Time got underway a few minutes after the scheduled 7.15pm start with an introduction from Ronnie, who outlined the aims of the evening to present what the Kennel Club is all about in 2003, as well as taking our questions - which he "hoped would be as informal as possible", and this it proved to be. He invited those who had not already done so to write down their questions, which would not only allow anonymity for those who desired it, but would also give the panel a rough idea of what they would be dealing with.
Before handing the microphone to Caroline for her presentation, he thanked Stourbridge & DCS, who assisted with the organisation of the event, and in particular Robert Greaves.
In her talk, Caroline said how "enthusiastic the Kennel Club is towards dogs and dog issues the love of dogs and everything about them", and that although there were some serious issues concerning dogs, it should still be fun to own them.
She took us through the objectives outlined in the Annual Report for 2002/2003, which has a new glossy look as part of the KCs steps to raise its profile with the Government, vets, animal charities etc.
The three keys objectives in order to raise the relevance of the Kennel Club in the eyes of the public at large, dog owners and those who take part in canine events so as to be better able to promote in every way the general improvement of dogs, are:
a) Ensuring that the KC is the first port of call on all canine matters (for all media outlets such as TV, press and radio, politicians and civil servants etc);
b) Popularising canine events focusing on the retention of existing customers and the attraction of new; and
c) Achieving a widening of the KC membership base.
Caroline spoke about some of the initiatives that have been undertaken in areas such as: health and welfare; the breed standards; the KC Health Foundation Fund; the health survey (to identify and help control inherited diseases); representation by the KC on the BVA eye panel; the re-launch of the registration services and documentation; service levels; Petlog and Petlog Plus; and the KCs Healthcare Plan. A new scheme to help find missing animals will, she said, be launched in the autumn.
Kathryn Symns then talked about the initiatives begun as a direct result of discussions of the Canine Events Conference, ie Companion Dog Shows, Dog Days Out, and the new KC Stand and Regional Question Time.
She confirmed that the first Premier Open Show had been granted, to Camberley & DCS for 2004, and that several other applications had been received. The judges training programme was progressing well, she said; for instance there will soon be a seminar for ring stewards and for elements specific to Working Trials, Obedience and Agility (such as course building).
As External Affairs Manager, Phil Buckley reminded us of the ongoing educational activities of the Club, such as Discover Dogs, which plays a key part; the re-launching of the KC Junior Organisation as the Young Kennel Club (YKC), which has seen major increases in membership; and the Good Citizen Dog Scheme (GCDS), the largest scheme of its kind in the UK which involves more than 1,000 clubs and has 50% local council support, and now boasts more than 60,000 Good Citizens.
Kennel Club involvement in legislative matters continues to broaden, he said, and membership of various committees gives the KC the opportunity to develop and influence forthcoming legislation and political issues, including the Animal Welfare Bill, the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, the Hunting with Dogs Bill and the London Local Authorities Bill.
He confirmed that the KC continues to support the Westminster Dog of the Year competition, which helps to keep the importance of the dog in the minds of both politicians and the media; and he highlighted the launch of UKDOG at Crufts in March, in conjunction with PRO Dogs, which aims to provide guidance and support to encourage dog owners to form regional groups with a view to defending their rights as responsible owners.
Phil wrapped up his presentation by giving some statistics about Crufts, in his words the ultimate PR opportunity, before handing the microphone back to Caroline for a brief insight into the KCs finances. The total income for 2002, including Crufts net surplus, was, she said, £8.2 million, the majority of which comes from registrations and healthcare activities (£7.31 million); on the expenditure side, registrations and healthcare accounted for £4.39 million, governance of canine affairs £1.8 million, education £1.34 million, external affairs £0.52 million, and health, welfare and charity £0.30 million. She confirmed that "the vast majority of income goes back into the dog".
With the insight into the Kennel Club today at an end, it was decided to answer a few questions before the break, despite the continuing heat and humidity. Back in charge of the microphone, Ronnie said that Crufts had attracted a lot of questions, and so we started with these. They included questions such as "how are judges selected", "why do some judges do a breed more than once" etc, and these were all answered by the Crufts Chairman, Peter Mann.
Other questions covered issues such as puppy farming, the Welsh Assembly initiative, funds for breed rescues, CC allocation, whether or not a champions class should be considered, the introduction of the upper age limit for judges wishing to take on new breeds (75 years), KC interference with breed standards, seminars for new secretaries, the assessment and evaluation of judges, the feasibility of regional show centres, KC rules and regulations, judges lists, lack of assessors, premier open shows, and KC registration endorsements; there were also a couple of agility-specific questions. Despite requesting general questions some were very specific, and Ronnie confirmed that these would be dealt with individually, either in person after the event or in writing.
With many of the questions being show-related, Kathryn Symns excellent, in-depth knowledge of show regulations and the Year Book came to the fore, and she did a sterling job of explaining reasons for decisions or rules in a calm, competent manner.
The evening was scheduled to finish at about 9.30pm but with many questions still unanswered it was agreed to continue until about 10pm, but alas time still ran out; however Ronnie promised that some of the questions raised would be answered via the Kennel Gazette.
As Ronnie said in conclusion, "there are sometimes more questions than answers"; " the questions raised provided food for thought for the future, and it was good to receive views directly, all of which we shall now thoroughly consider".
Rosemary Smart said: " .We were pleased to have the opportunity to explain exactly what the KC is doing for dogs, and the event provided us with the chance to explain to the audience why some decisions, which may have initially been perceived as controversial, had been made."
This toe-in-the-water exercise will no doubt have confirmed that dog folk are not only concerned about the future of dogdom, but that any future Regional Question Times will be well supported and that they are keen to meet and question policy makers and influence future KC policies.
If you were unable to attend this one, dates for future Roadshows will be advertised shortly. Hopefully more time will be allocated so that the majority of issues can be dealt with on the day.
The Kennel Club is planning two more roadshows for the Autumn - the north-east in October and in the south in November, dates to be confirmed