Judging – Further thoughts on the appointment of judges

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in. – Isaac Asimov

I have just returned from the World Show – it was fabulous. There were world Shows before 1998 but although I am sure Our Dogs will have reported upon them I do not remember any making an impact. That all changed when Finland hosted the show that year. Our Dogs, Angela and I were all there and it was a wake up call for members of the FCI. It was slick, very well organised, had an amazing entry and the finals each day were jaw dropping in their professionalism. Crufts apart, it was the best dog show ever staged on behalf of the FCI and set standards frequently aimed for by other kennel clubs but, it has to be said, seldom achieved. As expected, Helsinki this year, once again demonstrated precisely how it should be done. The detail was set out last week in our feature article so I will not repeat the plaudits here but in a fascinating four days there was much to be enjoyed and much was discussed, speculated upon and rumoured.

What was neither speculation or rumour was the number of members of the I Judge Dogs community who were present in Helsinki. Some were judging but many had gone simply to broaden their understanding of some of the many breeds which are now coming into the UK as a result of the KC/FCI agreement signed three years ago. It was gratifying that they all said they were delighted with iJD. There is now no doubt that this group is creating a new and successful career path for judges and providing a unique resource for secretaries and show managements.

Closed minds

That said, I had a discussion with a well known and highly respected canine journalist who, I was amazed to find, was very dismissive of the whole concept of iJD. ‘Just advertising’, he said but , in my view, he had clearly not given the idea any real thought. The problem with a closed mind is that it is, by definition, unable to consider alternatives to the embedded and often atrophied established structure. The world changes however much we would like it to remain the same.

I spent some time trying to convince him that our community was a ‘good thing’. I do not know whether I succeeded but when there those with his authority have such a negative (and, dare I say, ‘outdated’) view I realise we still have an uphill struggle. I have since sent him two A4 pages of reasons why I believe his attitude is wrong!

His main problem was that he thinks it unethical if judges do not wait until they are asked to judge. But that very attitude has led to exactly the ‘black’ appointments system which has developed as the world of dogs has grown. True it has retreated a little in the last five years but it is still very much larger than it was fifty years ago: that growth led to the what I have called the ‘nudge, nudge/wink wink’ approach, to the swaps, the favouritism, the requests on Facebook for judges, the increasing number of direct applications to societies and the various cabals which seem to me to be almost endemic. I asked my colleague if this was preferable. Of course, he said it was not – but had no suggestions as to how it might be improved or replaced.

He also objected to the fee! Personally I do not feel £15 a year is unreasonable: no-one could consider it extortionate and bandwidth and maintenance has to be paid for (and this is 75% of that that applied when the site was first launched by Debbie Flemming ten years ago). And I did not want to accept advertising which could have been alternative way for the costs to be covered. Money must come from somewhere : the Kennel Club database of judges passed for tickets may appear to be ‘free’ but, of course it is paid for through KC fees – free it ain’t.

I remember, too, when I first came into dogs and well until the 1980s judges would take out advertisements in the classified section of the canine press under the heading ‘Judges Cards’. Statements such as ‘B….. C ….. for a sound opinion’ followed by an address and telephone number were common and not looked at askance.

Gauges of success

The success and ‘reach’ of a web site is measured by how high it is placed by search engines. Put in ‘dogs’ and Our Dogs is on the first page, put in ‘animal care’ and the Animal Care College is third on the list. These levels of exposure only occur if the site is well used so the success of iJD, as it has come to be known is demonstrated in that if you search the Internet for a someone in dogs who is listed – iJD comes up on the first page.

Another element of our discussion was that judging lists should be the basis on which appointments ought to be offered. I have no problem with that as a concept but: judging lists are quickly out of date and supply very little information other than the level, a name, address and phone number which, if a show secretary is looking for a judge to officiate for several terrier breeds, for instances, is of little help. Also, while many clubs are excellent in reviewing their lists, far too many fall short in distribution and administration. No-one expects secretaries to circulated their club’s lists these days (do they?) but some clubs do not even have a web site and some that do, do not post their judges list. I think this is incredibly short sighted. (iJD, incidentally, will post the link – for free – to any judges list available on the web and about 60 are currently available.)

The great thing about the site is that members of the iJD community have no need to grub around suggesting to those in a position to offer appointments that they would ‘be available’. Neither do they have to approach anyone to judge with implied suggestions that the ‘favour’ would be returned. Their expertise is clearly and accurately set out for all to see. As I said in an article some months ago – what’s not to like?

Finally, what of those who support the site with their subscriptions? They fall into a number of categories. There are those who are already established and have no need to be members in that they are already well known. On the other hand, although they are established they have no way of telling secretaries in an ethical way what further breeds in which they are interested. But what is more important, membership makes a statement that they would like to be appointed on their merit, their knowledge, their experience and their expertise rather than ‘who they know’.

Then there are those who have done some judging but do not want to get on to the ‘ nudge, nudge/wink, wink merry-go-round. iJD allows their name to be available without any strings being attached. If societies feel they are ready for an appointment they can be invited. Some societies complete their panel of two shows a years in one evening with the committee sitting round a table with their laptops or tablets – and they tell me the result is record entries. One of the reasons for this is that exhibitors, when they are faced with a judge they do not know, can go to the iJD website and see their CV. If they feel confident in their experience they can enter when, once, they might not have taken the risk.

Finally there are those who are beginning their career and see iJD as the modern, acceptable way to tell others they feel they would like to judge. If you have an ambition to be a lawyer, a teacher or a nurse and you have amassed suitable qualifications, no-one questions the fact that you can apply for a job: you are not expected to wait to be asked. Why should judging be any different?

It is true that in the world of dogs iJD is not the way things were once done – but virtually nothing is in the 21st Century!

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