Navigating the Political Waters — It’s a Dog-Eat-Dog World
As the debates and ads and general mud-slinging rev up to a full-on roar within the realm of actual politics, it’s gotten me to thinking about the politics of the dog world.
There are the big-picture politics, like the conflict between animal rights vs. animal welfare. There are the politics of the dog fancy as a whole — professional handlers vs. breed/owner/handlers, judging based on the wrong end of the leash, etc. There are the local politics of small, all-breed clubs, where increasingly small groups of people are tasked with a huge amount of work as memberships wain and there is pressure to combine with other clubs to create long weekend clusters of shows.
And then there are the politics at the breed level. It is at once completely understandable and entirely perplexing how a group of people who all love the same breed of dog can be so diametrically opposed to one another. Understandable, because with love comes passion, and with passion comes a very strong and definitive set of parameters for what is “right” and what is “wrong.” Perplexing, because we are ultimately — ALL of us — the ones who will be the champions for the breed that we have all given our hearts, souls, livelihoods to.
When we first arrive on the show scene with a new breed, almost everyone is welcoming and seemingly helpful. The more clueless you are, the more friendly and helpful fellow exhibitors can be. Sometimes, though, that “help” can include dire warnings about this person or that. Before long, all of the whispers in your ear can culminate in a feeling that perhaps it is best to just trust no one.
That’s a mistake. There is one person you should always trust unequivocally — yourself.
Trust your learning process: Know that, when you start, you won’t know as much as the other people. Listen to them. All of them. Listen to what they say — and what they don’t. Watch how they conduct themselves, in the ring, at ringside, in the grooming area, in their breeding program. Who do they talk to, and not talk to? Who do they co-breed with? Believe me, sometimes you feel as though you need a score card to rival a Vegas bookie’s to keep track of who is on the ins and outs with whom. But the best thing you can do when you’re starting out is to keep your ears wide open, and your mouth closed.
Trust your judgment: It’s a fact, people like to talk about other people. For good, for ill, with varying degrees of judgment attached — we all do it. Dog people are no different. That tendency is only intensified by the shared passion for the breed. But as Dr. Phil is so fond of spouting, “there are 3 sides to every story: this one’s, that one’s, and the truth.” So listen to all of these people as they talk about one another, but make up your own mind. We’ve all been blessed with the ability to think critically. Do it.
Trust your gut: Sometimes your judgment and your critical thinking lead you to one conclusion, but deep down, your gut disagrees. Listen to it. If there is some seemingly baseless reason that you feel someone or something is off, chances are it isn’t baseless. Proceed with caution.
Finally, trust that the picture only becomes more complicated the longer you’re in the breed and the more you learn along the way. There are very few things in life that are simple and clear-cut. The dog world is not one of them. There will be people you like; people you hang out with in the grooming area, go to dinner with, share hotel rooms with, talk on the phone with, spend a two-hour IM session with. There will be people you don’t like. It happens. Then there will be people whose opinions you respect and whose showing/breeding philosophies are in line with your own. The kicker? The people in the third group may not be in the first, and vice versa.
And that’s okay. No, actually, that’s better than okay. If the people you like and hang out with have different philosophies, then what you have is a continually diverse and dynamic flow of discussion amongst a group of people who like each other, care about one another, and share a passion. You’ll be challenged to constantly check what you believe against other ways of thinking. Sometimes you’ll find that what you thought was “right” wasn’t; sometimes the discussion will solidify your beliefs. Either way, it will teach you to listen to one another and yes, sometimes, agree to disagree. Because the truth is that there isn’t any hard and fast “right” or “wrong.” (Unless someone is actually harming an animal. But if that’s the case, then you’re probably not friends anyway.)
So hang out together, and like one another, and talk and discuss and argue. Keep the information and discussion flowing. Give the respect and consideration to others that you would appreciate for yourself — even to those people whom you don’t necessarily like. Play nice, and don’t fight.
It really can be that simple.