Feb 18, 2010

The Politics of Show Judging

While I know it's nothing new, that the ridiculously unfair judging in show competitions has always happened, from little small-scale local poultry shows right up to the daddy of them all: the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, for some reason this week, I am more bothered by it than usual. Maybe I'm getting older and more pissy, or maybe it's because at this year's Westminster Show, the Old Boy mentality was far more front and center than it usually is, even for Westminster, where you can almost always pick the winning dog by its "story" before the broadcasted portion of the judging even begins.

Go to any local poultry show more than once and you will see the same old men winning time after time. Yes, their birds are nearly perfect, but you'll also see that they and the official judges know one another and have for years. Are the up and comers' birds any less well bred? Not usually, but as they aren't members of that super special inner circle, finding themselves with a blue ribbon and a trophy in their hands at the end of the day is rather unlikely. Same with Westminster. Ever notice that the dog who is retiring at the end of this show after a long and storied career in the ring usually wins Best in Show? Or how about the dog who was bred by some old and well-respected man or woman who had been breeding champion (insert breed name here) for centuries and has recently died? That dog will surely win the top honor that year, too. And so it was with this year's "story."

The dog generating all the buzz this year was Sadie the Scottish Terrier who had won the first two legs of the Triple Crown of dogdom and everyone was wondering, "Would she win Westminster too? Could it finally happen? No dog has ever done this before!" And if that weren't enough for anyone to have safely placed a bet on her winning, the judge who judged Best in Show at this year's event had judged- guess who?- just last September, awarding her Best in Show at another prestigious dog show. Hmm. If you ask me, this dog had been hand picked to win before her plane ever touched down in New York and it's not right.

When my mother was a newlywed, she bred persian cats for show and she won a few championships herself in the Midwestern cat fancier world of the 1950s, but all that changed when she was unfortunate enough (or fortunate enough, depending on how you choose to look at this) to witness a very large bit of underhanded judging for one particularly important show. At a fellow breeder's home a few evenings before the Big Day, the judge for Best in Show arrived at her home and was shown into the room where the cats were being kept to see one particular white persian. Not knowing that my mother was a fellow breeder/handler, the judge leaned into the woman conspiratorially and with a wink said, "You know this is completely against the rules but between you and I, don't you worry because you've already won your breed group and Best in Show." And with that, he left and my mother, horrified by the collusion and utterly despondent, never showed her cats again.

I've heard this story a few times in my life (it predates my birth by some years), but I think of it whenever there is too much talk of one particular dog at Westminster and then that dog invariably wins. It seems to be a regular occurrence and with each passing year, I grow less enthused about watching Westminster. It used to be a must-see event for me, but now I figure why bother? After all, the dog the media is yakking about in the week or two leading up to it is the one who's going to win, so why waste my time? A done deal is a done deal and that's just the way it is, sad fact or not.

Photo courtesy of Reuters.

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