Page 94 - ShowSight - April 2020
P. 94

                I think we’re mostly ready to go on, but the fairgrounds could make the decision to stay closed, and we have no alternative date or site. So, we wait.
These are strange times. We don’t know how our economy will come out of this, or how long it will take. I feel an obligation to keep as many of my staff employed as pos- sible, but right now it is to their advantage to go on unemployment and cash-in on the additional benefits provided in the federal stimulus package. We closed for a week, and everyone pitched in to do a deep clean, and now I have only enough work for fewer than half of them. This is the real heartbreak for small business owners—it’s not going out of business that’s so traumatic, though it is. It’s having to tell people who have been loyal employees for decades that I can no longer afford to pay them. That hurts the most. We have little cash, and uncertain investments. In past recessions and slow-downs we were willing to invest our own personal cash in the business to keep the doors open. But this time we can’t. Our retirement years depend on what we’ve saved in investments, and the stock market is not stable. My sis- ter, a bankruptcy lawyer in California and Nevada is already seeing a tidal wave of business on the horizon. I may be one of her first Covid-19 clients before this is over.
And let’s not forget that at one level, our dog shows are an addiction. We get rewarded just enough to keep pulling the handle on that proverbial slot machine. A major here, a specialty win there, and we’re packing up every weekend to chase those ribbons. We hug our spouses, kids and grandkids, and come back home after a long weekend exhausted, but feeling like we did something important. All we did was feed our addiction. There were more of us unhappy with the weekend’s results than those who were happy. We congratulated the winners, and vowed to make it differ- ent the next time. We’ll train more, groom better, hide more faults, learn more color- ing tricks, breed a better dog, call a judge, call a friend who knows somebody, pray the competition’s dogs show terribly, wish for a judge change—and show up to take our chances. The dice will roll, and maybe the person pointing will point to us. It’s a wheel of fortune. Sometimes we win, and often we lose. It often feels arbitrary. Wins have to keep getting bigger to satisfy the addiction. When we started, a blue ribbon in a class of two felt great, and we were happy. Then we wanted a purple ribbon, and that win felt great. The blue and white ribbon or a ribbon
from a larger entry felt even better. Then we wanted the purple and gold ribbon. Those presented a new challenge. We could breed good dogs to get the purple ribbons, but the purple and gold required a reputation, so we worked on that. We bred good dogs and we started to pay attention to who we had to know to get more of those ribbons. One is never enough. Once the desire is turned on, the rest is all about getting more and bet- ter at what we do. And that includes telling ourselves every step of the way that we are righteous. We joined dog clubs and angled for ways to hire judges so we could institute a mental quid pro quo. Unlevel the playing field. Our face could be recognized more than someone elses’. And we began to real- ize that our faces are often more meaningful in the ring than the quality of dogs we have at the end of our leash. And we continue to go because we have convinced ourselves that it’s important. But is it?
I love breeding dogs. It’s how I got mixed up with all of this 43 years ago. I love learning about my breeds, canine anatomy, health and behavioral issues, grooming and training techniques. I am the daughter of a college professor, and lifelong learning is as much a passion as breeding dogs. For a long time, this marriage of passions served me well. My dogs got better and healthier as I became more educated. But the nagging suggestion of an addiction to dog shows also lingered in my sub-conscious. When my husband went into a 12-step program for alcohol addiction, I silently wondered if they had a program for dog-show exhibi- tors. I wasn’t satisfied with breeding better, healthier dogs, I had to win ribbons to feel really good. I needed the public validation that I was doing something right. Dog shows often fed that need for validation. And I loved the network of people I met through showing dogs. Even as the shows themselves shifted from an expert’s honest evaluation of livestock to popularity con- tests, I continued to rationalize my atten- dance. I could be popular. And I could still win ribbons, and I could still breed and sell dogs. And things would still be fine at home when I left. And my daughter was now starting to join me in my travels, and life was good again. I thought.
Then Covid-19 happened, and my addiction had to take a break. My business and employees needed my attention. My family’s health took center stage. I learned I could become paralyzed with anxiety. Then Joe McGinnis died, and my light at the end of the tunnel went out. I became reflective
about the whole business of purebred dogs and what our place in this society is, and is going to be in the future. We were already hanging on by a thread, even as I was seeing that thread gain a little more substance in the past couple of years. I began wonder- ing if there really could be a market for purpose-bred dogs when the “rescues” and “designer breeds” had increased so dramati- cally in the past ten years. Goldendoodles are so popular now, that people believe they should be paying more for this high- demand mixed breed, than for a carefully bred purebred dog. It’s now become chic to own a rescue, so that’s what the wealthy are buying. There is no broad-based sympathy for what we do, and relatively few people think it’s important for us to continue. We’re like the tobacco farmers when smok- ing was exposed as a bad habit. Our crazy world just got crazier. And now all of us are figuring out what other fun things we could do with our weekends. Our addiction is los- ing some grip.
In my opening I suggested none of us has a functioning crystal ball. On the one hand I want to carry forward the undying optimism for our sport that Joe McGin- nis embodied. He was working hard on his component of our world until he died. And I truly believe that if anything can save our dogs it will be his vision for the meet-the- breeds conventions that will pop up across the country. We were on-track, and begin- ning to see a revitalization of passion for our purebred dogs. But even Joe did not see the devastating effects of a pandemic. He could not see the failing businesses, loss of income, and shift in priorities of people faced with the possibility of getting a disease without a treatment. Sometimes I think we’ve built a huge infrastructure to support something that no longer has a significant market. Sustainability isn’t just a word for dogs, it applies to business models, too.
We’ve all adjusted to this temporary normal, but we still don’t know what the new normal is going to look like when this virus subsides. Only time will give us an answer. If ever there was a time for serious reflection and self-analysis, this is it. Who do we want to be? What do we believe is important? How shall we market that to the wider public? Can we regain and maintain integrity with a smaller sport? Who will we choose as our vision-guides? We’re seeing firsthand what addressing a coming crisis without a plan can look like. If this AKC world of dogs is going to survive the next five years, planning needs to begin now.

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