Kennel Club – Reform takes the snail’s route

This article was written in 1996 and was published in the 1997 Our Dogs Annual.  To be fair matters, have moved on and I have inserted comments in the article between brackets to make this clear. But the recent discussions and proposals being put forward by the Canine Alliance bring much of what I wrote at that time into a new perspective given that 16 years have passed.  All my thoughts on these matters are in Speakers’ Corner in the next (April20th 2012) edition of Our Dogs

David Cavill

KENNEL CLUB REFORM – snail’s pace!

Readers of Our Dogs will  recall the huge reaction to the Our Dogs/Dog World Questionnaire of 1995 which clearly showed the demand for urgent reform of The Kennel Club. (In 1996 a survey of the views of exhibitors was carried out jointly between Our Dogs and Dog World and the results showed that there was a high level of dissatisfaction with the mechanisms in place for election to membership of the Kennel Club and for the general ‘private club’ approach to the administration of world of dogs.) Much has since been written but virtually nothing has been actually done.

Despite the work of the Ronnie Irving sub-committee set up to make recommendations for reform, it is becoming increasingly clear that this has been a vehicle for slowing progress rather than increasing it. The two suggestions which have been wrung from our governing body are a change to the way in which Kennel Club Liaison Councils are organised (delayed for at least two years on recommendation at the last Annual General Meeting) and a recommendation that Associate Members could be elected to sit on Kennel Club sub-committees. Big deal.

Readers will know that the Kennel Club consists of a maximum of 750 (Since increased to 1,500) members of whom about 150 (now about 350) attend Annual General Meetings to elect a General Committee. The General Committee then elects a Chairman (who, constitutionally, is automatically also Chairman of the club) and appoints various sub-committees and councils. There is already open election to Liaison Councils (so the first reform noted above will achieve very little) and as the rules require that sub-committee members must be ‘approved’ by the General Committee the fact that Associate Members may stand has little relevance. It is likely that the status quo will be preserved.

So far, so little. On the above evidence, there can be no doubt that the public relations assault asserting that that ‘things are really changing’ on the ears of anyone who will listen, despite probably being genuinely believed by those detailed to relay it, is pretty meaningless.

Ronnie Irving, like many members of the General Committee, is an honourable man and, I believe, genuinely wants the serious matters raised by the Our Dogs/Dog World Questionnaire to he addressed. The problem is not the individual committee members. They all certainly give the impression that they recognise that change must come. No: the problem is inertia. Perhaps I might he permitted to sort out the wood from the trees for those involved appear to be prevented from doing so.

The General Committee has the responsibility of organising the affairs of the world of dogs. As has been regularly highlighted in the canine press, the Kennel Club has a great deal of which it should he proud but at the end of the 20th century while the interest of so many are controlled by so few and when the ‘few’, despite their individual qualities and undoubted commitment, are seen so often to be out of touch with the ordinary participant, then reform becomes imperative. In fact, on the principle that there should be no taxation without representation and no regulation without consultation I believe that the Kennel Club has a moral duty to broaden its base of government.
It is possible, even likely, that those in power at present will remain in power under any new constitution. But whoever they are, at least they will know that they have the support of those interested enough to he involved rather than just those who are members of a club which, statistically, represents at most .25%. of those involved in the world of dogs.

The idea that a working party be set up to examine the issues and report back to the members was a good one, for the whole matter required extensive discussion and any recommendations must be acceptable to the current membership. However, although revolution is not required a rapid evolution certainly is.
My view is that some limited representation is necessary to ensure that only those with a genuine, long term interest are enfranchised. This is not a new idea. The late Stafford Somerfield, writing in 1984 just after he had proposed a motion calling for increased democracy, said “I suggested 10 years service with a breed club was sufficient qualification for membership. What was needed were more young people, but experienced, and with knowledge of all aspects of the dog sport. It was time to drop the ‘us and them’ image. The elite and the downstairs.”

Despite the admission of ladies to the club in 1979, a change the KC was forced to accept as the result of imminent court action, there was little support for the motion and Stafford withdrew it. Twelve years later (and a further 15 since this article was written) nothing – well, very little other than the next paragraph, has changed!

An immediate task is to reform the appalling and iniquitous election system which has seen many people who are well known and deeply involved in the world of dogs turned down for membership (this process is now almost automatic so progress has certainly been made here). I have nothing against election via a proposer and seconder but the procedure must be transparent, open to appeal and clearly fair. Greater participation via the Associates and the Liaison Councils is, it is true, a step forward, albeit a small one, but no-one is going to be fooled into thinking that consultation is a substitute for democracy! I would also suggest that Associates who have been on the register for (say) five years should have an automatic right of membership should they so wish.

At the same time I believe that there is a good case for a ‘town’ or ‘country’ membership. Those who wished to make use of the Kennel Club’s ‘club’ facilities in Clarges Street could do so automatically on payment of an increased subscription. The Kennel Club is only open f or lunch at present so, comparing rates with other London clubs, perhaps £300 would he appropriate. The ‘country’ subscription would cover administrative costs of membership, the Kennel Gazette, Breed Records Supplements and the Stud Book (£50?). Otherwise, I would envisage a structure very like the one operating at present. There is nothing wrong with it except that any suggestion that it is ‘democratic’ is patent nonsense.

Wider enfranchisement is one issue but there is another which has been highlighted over the last few months. I am amazed that not a single word has been heard about what is, in effect, a potentially much more serious matter. The Kennel Club is not a Trust, a Charity, a Company Limited by Guarantee, a Limited Company or a Public Company.  Even QUANGOs have a legal status but the Kennel Club has none. The club is similar to a partnership (or Lloyds prior to Equitas) and this means that members have unlimited liability (there have been changes hers and incorporation is currently being discussed)
Until these issues are addressed, tinkering at the margins is a waste of time.

Nobody is suggesting that the changes outlined above would greatly improve the organisation of the Kennel Club but it would mean that a running sore would be attended to, that the ‘them and us’ feeling that is rife within the world of dogs at present would be avoided, that the Kennel Club would genuinely represent the world of dogs in discussions with government and other agencies and that our status abroad – currently at a very low ebb – with kennel clubs throughout the world (no change there, then), would be greatly enhanced.

Will the Kennel Club membership have the courage to grasp the nettle? They may be too out of touch to realise that this move is an opportunity not a challenge. But if they do not have the courage to move forward at a controlled pace matters may be taken out of their hands for there is a determined movement towards an alternative kennel club which would rapidly move towards membership of the FCI.

Some will say such an organisation has no chance of success but whether it succeeded or not is irrelevant for there is nothing which would he more damaging to the world of dogs as we know it in the UK.

Accepting a proposal for greater participation is certainly a risk – but rejecting it could be a greater one.

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