Had a wonderful time at a small, specialty conformation show this weekend. Enjoyed reconnecting with my “tribe” of breeders, exchanging news, ribbing each other, bantering about our dogs, our hormonal states, our children and what wormer seemed to work best with that last litter of puppies. In the familiar bustle of preparation ( hurry up and wait!), the laughter and the borrowing of shears and spray bottles, it was easy to overlook the newcomers hovering by themselves ringside and tentatively wandering through our set up areas. Occasionally, some – braver than others – would come up and introduce themselves and ask about puppies or club information. Most watched quietly from the wings and finally wandered off back to the agility rings or their cars.
In retrospect, I realize we, both as a club and as individual breeders, missed an opportunity to connect with interested potential puppy buyers, those new to our breed and those just curious about the games breeders play. There they were – standing there – wide open to an invitation to join our “tribe” or at a minimum to feel less alienated from breeders as a group ( our image could surely use a face lift).
And we blew it – we let an opportunity to educate, inform and connect pass by.
An opportunity for the public to meet local, ethical, reputable breeders face to face.
An opportunity for the public to actually pet the breeding stock they might then choose to get their next puppy from.
It’s these kinds of opportunities that brokers and puppy mills don’t have. This is where our strength lies. This, our local presence, is what we need to capitalize on if we are going to try to help keep pet breeding out of disreputable hands. And dogs out of shelters.
So, given how busy we are at shows, how much we enjoy catching up with each other, how distracted by the competition and the camaraderie we are – is there a way we can do a better job of not leaving the public feeling like outsiders at our events?
I think there is and I think we can do it without compromising our focus on nail trimming, which class is in the ring next and ( most importantly!) where we are all meeting for dinner later. Here are a few ideas. I’m eager to hear any others. Constructive comments always welcome.
1 – Provide club packets, complete with current breeder directories at several pivotal places ( entry tables, near the ring steward and available for any breeder to hand out) throughout the show site. These should be attractive, friendly, inviting and not in “breeder speak”.
2 – Post light-hearted signs ringside informing the public that exhibitors really are friendly and NEVER bite, just that we are busy prepping and then also advising about our informational packets. Some clubs have tried handouts saying something like this, but the message often comes off like we are WAY too busy and IMPORTANT right now to talk to mere peons… It must be warmer. Newcomers must not misconstrue our lack of availability as snobbish or uninterested. I hear this complaint A LOT.
3 – We might all make more of an effort to walk up to newcomers and check in with them. Light conversation will likely easily reveal if they need help, direction or referrals. We might be able to briefly explain what’s going on in the ring and behind the scenes. Contact and connection with pleasant, real live, human breeders will help to keep them out of pet stores and off of internet puppy broker sites. Puppy owners love to know about their puppies’ “birth family”. It’s fun to have a breeder to send photos and updates to. Someone who cares, who can answer family related questions.
4 – This “Meet and Greet” needs to happen not just outside the conformation ring. The public is often drawn towards the performance events ( my husband says watching conformation is like watching paint dry!) and those of us active in these venues might also join in connecting with newcomers. Club packets should be liberally spread throughout the event.
5 – Breeders should have contact information on hand. I’ve always been reluctant to carry business cards and printed material on my kennel and upcoming litters because it smacked of commercialism to me. It felt dirty somehow to be actively promoting my kennel to buyers. It seemed to violate the unspoken taboo on “pets as goal” that reputable breeders have internalized. One day I have to change that. My phone number on the back of an old armband does not help to steer a potential buyer towards one of us. Professionalism is not mutually exclusive with ethics.
6 – Club culture could begin to include a more primary focus on establishing connections with the public. Club meetings might include, along with reports about up coming shows, strategizing for improved communication with potential puppy buyers and prospective, novice breeders. Club websites should be evaluated for accessibility and ease of use by the non-professional.
Let’s actively engage in helping the public understand the value of working with local breeders. Let’s not miss opportunities that underscore the pleasure and ease of working FACE TO FACE with ethical, professional breeders. I’ll begin work in the near future on a template for what the aforementioned packets might look like. Input eagerly accepted. Stay tuned!