F Around and Find Out
Can we bring back consequences?
I miss consequences.
Growing up, I don’t recall ever having any doubt that there would be consequences to breaking rules. If I messed up, my parents made sure that accountability and repercussions were swift and sure.
When I became a lawyer, I swore an oath, and annually, during required continuing legal education, I heard detailed accounts of lawyers who had breached that oath and were met by the Bar with loss of license and, worse in my book, public shame.
When I went to work for AKC as the head of Compliance, I had no firsthand experience with the AKC’s disciplinary system, and didn’t know anyone who had been disciplined. The closest encounter I had had with AKC discipline previously had been a letter proposing to disallow a win for one of my dogs in Bred-by because the name on the entry differed from the name of the breeder on his registration. In both cases, me. The reason for the discrepancy? Name change due to divorce. Needless to say, I was mortified at the necessity of AKC’s having to reach out to me, and worse, the necessity of my having to explain my personal circumstances to them.
So, upon going to work there, and becoming immersed in AKC misconduct, and the assorted and sordid details of those situations for which the AKC exercised discipline, I had my eyes opened. I learned there were many ways to cheat, and many rationalizations for cheating in our dog game. I was reminded that, despite their having a nice dog, which I naively believed conferred “nice person status” on them, sketchy people do sketchy things, regardless of the forum. But mostly I learned that AKC’s disciplinary process is hugely misunderstood, and when you have a system that participants don’t understand, it creates a situation where the threat of discipline has virtually zero deterrent effect.
Last week in Dog News, the Question of the Week was “What offenses warrant a suspension and which offenses warrant a fine from the American Kennel Club?”
Each of the answers from those who took the time to respond was thoughtful and well reasoned. Most cited actions based on fraud, deceit and cheating as warranting a suspension. After all, they opined, how can you have a registry and a sport rooted in integrity in the absence of honesty and fairness?
But what struck me about each response was the underlying perception that the disciplinary system at its core is handled disparately depending on the offender, and in most cases, under the shroud of silence and secrecy that perpetuates distrust. So how can you have an effective disciplinary system in the absence of transparency and even-handedness?
And how can you deter bad behavior when certain perpetrators believe that their status or standing in the sport will enable them to escape consequences?
And lastly, how do we appeal to and attract a new generation of participants who already perceive this dog show game is gamed, and are turned off by that, when, in fact, we have enabled the gaming of the game by certain people considered too big to fail?
I read all the time social media comments lamenting bad behavior at shows. And to my horror, I also read that people don’t report that behavior. They don’t submit a complaint. And while no one can predict the outcome of the disciplinary process, without a complaint that process never gets initiated.
Despite its reputation to the contrary, dog shows are arguably one of the most egalitarian of sports. As people often point out, it’s one of those rare sports where amateurs and hobbyists compete alongside the pros. It’s where, in theory, your homebred has the same chance walking into that ring as the product of a breeding program that carries a registered kennel name. And it’s where the disciplinary process can be initiated by anyone with a simple, written complaint at a show, based on an allegation of conduct prejudicial to the sport.
But it’s in that arena, and not on the rubber mats, that our sport arguably becomes its most elitist. If discipline is meted out based on someone’s name, reputation, involvement and time in the sport, whose dogs they handled or where they have judged, the process is worthless. If there’s the perception of inequity and bias in the system that is intended to ensure integrity and fairness, that system, and the sport it’s designed to protect, cannot survive. And if we, as stewards of the sport, can’t be bothered to report violations and engage in the process intended to hold people accountable, then we get the disciplinary system — and the sport — of our making.