WHEN JUDGING RUNS OUT
E. "Katie" Gammill, Exhibition Editor, AKC Multi-Group Judge
Multi-Group Judge looks back on AKC judging approval system, changes during her long career, breeders, exhibitors, and the sport today.
Involved in breeding and showing horses and dogs, it was age, health, and lack of enthusiasm that convinced me to slow down. It’s a different sport and culture today than the one I initially fell in love with. I began to question the direction of dog shows. I grew weary of controversy and opinions of both exhibitors and judges. I
retired from a successful judging career and relished the freedom. My breeding program, exhibiting, mentoring and writing will take me into the future.
Although I no longer have a “dog in the fight”, the last 35 years of judging permits me to express an opinion as to the progression of this great sport. It was a privilege to be an American Kennel Club judge. Playing by the AKC rules and being aware I would give up family activities, I expected no special treatment or assistance and I knew the path wouldn’t be easy. Applicants didn’t demand change and held the American Kennel Club in high regard. That was then and this is now.
Bench shows dwindled. Past exhibitors, being “captive audiences” from 7:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. “picked the brains” of the great judges and breeders. This is how they paid their dues and the result was respected judges of my era. How many judges today can articulate placements or even examine a dog properly? With time, kennel visits slacked off and breed mentors offered diverse opinions of standard interpretations.
Today we have “people breeding dogs” but few dedicated, knowledgeable “dog breeders”. It’s the same with judges. Certificates and degrees do not insure merit, they are only keys to the door of opportunity. Once someone enters, there are expectations and moral responsibilities that go with the privilege. Closed book tests, a thing of the past, DID insure better judges. The old system graded numerous points and evaluated ability, knowledge, and character far better than the current “pass or fail”. The entire application system has been “watered down” for fear of offending someone.
The internet revealed that some judges received a stipend for their efforts, triggering a rush to Group status. Solicitation became the norm and demands by judge’s groups increased. Education became paramount and applicants ran to and fro, spending money many would never recover. AKC approval of clubs hiring provisional judges to fulfill club requirements moved applicants forward at a fast pace. However, the fact remains that in the old days, if one wasn’t considered qualified to judge a breed, they weren’t hired. This natural selection culled the wheat from the chaff and some judges fell by the wayside. That barrier, now removed, guarantees an unqualified judge can reach Group status and possibly do irreversible damage to a breed along the way.
Removing the point system from the standards resulted in removing a judge’s ability to prioritize. Standardized wording added confusion and new terms surfaced, some almost ridiculous in their conception. One must respect those breed clubs refusing to conform to language changes. Those old livestock breeders knew their stuff regarding disqualifications and descriptions. They attempted to keep breeders (and judges) from drowning in stupidity.
If dogs today were a necessity to put food on the table or control livestock stock, we would see soundness of both mind and body. Culling would become a necessity and unorthodox offspring would no longer be considered “special”.
A “spoon fed” education does not insure lasting success in any venue. Amassing wisdom requires time and effort, and adversity makes one stronger. Not everyone is cut out to be a judge. Quick fixes may appear effective at the time, but success may be short lived.
Goals should be guarded wisely and instant gratification does not mean long term success. To insure our great sport moves forward into the future, both parties must meet on equal ground and be willing to listen. New ideas evolve and AKC must be willing to discuss the problems. In my experience, the last 35 years has failed to convince many people that “change” actually produces better judges. On the same token, changing a breed standard for clarification usually confuses the reader, thus causing a negative reaction. Trying to please everyone does not guarantee success, but it does open a door to failure. Those pushing change have some big boots to fill worn by the old guard. Are they up to the challenge?
Exhibitors saw the deterioration of judges’ abilities and demanded education. The American Kennel Club stepped up and worked with breed clubs regarding pictorial standards. Education opportunities were established. Many breeders provided dogs at institutes with little compensation. Despite the money, time and investment, the question is: “Has this improved system produced better judges?
Kennel hopping became a thing of the past and after-show potluck suppers dwindled. The camaraderie was gone.” Show and go” exhibitors surfaced. “Networking” had a negative affect on the sport of dogs. One’s first application was one breed, then two for two and so on. IF participation, loyalty, dedication, and superior ability was evident, some applicants received more breeds and deservingly so. Those interested in judging kept records of litters and exhibiting. They took advantage of every opportunity and invested time and money. The AKC Reps were NOT “user friendly.” Their ringside presence held a certain amount of “fear factor”. It was PASS OR FAIL” with the stroke of a pen.
So what triggers one to become a judge? Some handlers naturally become judges. Others might want to “fix the sport”. Having an “eye”, my friends encouraged and supported me throughout my journey. Perhaps I took the sport too seriously. The standards were templates “burned” into my brain and I continually tried to find the dog that fit the template. Being affiliated with a variety of horse breeds, I understood what distinguished one breed from another and how important soundness was. Being a country person around stock, I also understood the importance of a dog being bred for a specific purpose. Learning was once a slow process of breeding, grooming, training, showing, study, hard work, and heartbreak.
My experience with the American Kennel Club was one of respect, pride, and admiration. My generation accepted challenges and improvements were evident. Today’s exhibitors have changed. The entire culture is different. However, new ideas, wisdom, experience, and tolerance must be respected for the good of the sport if it is to move forward. Our enemies are Animal Rights Groups lobbyists, and government. Our right to breed or own a pet is being challenged. We must protect this freedom and it can NOT be achieved if the house is divided.
Emeritus sounds good. One should retire with respect: a job well done. Family, faith and friends take priority. I’m proud to have represented the American Kennel Club for over 35 years. Success followed me as a breeder, a mentor, writer and I am gifted with many friends and experiences. Love of dogs completed our family. As I write, my bitch is whelping. I still feel the excitement. Hopefully those moving forward will feel the thrill of breeding or finding that next big winner. Reaching goals is important.
Retiring was a tough call. I hold the sport in high esteem. I wish success to the American Kennel Club in their future endeavors. The world would be incomplete without pure bred dogs. I respect and support the AKC as a world leader of the sport and thank them for the opportunities offered me. My journey is one of completeness.
retirement (Emeritus), I am proud to have been a part of such a great sport. As one who followed the rules and expected no special treatment, the American Kennel Club holds a special place in my heart.
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