Tuesday, June 3, 2014

An Open Letter to the American Boxer Club Board of Directors

Dear ABC Directors,

For many of us, the 2014 ABC Specialty and Futurity gave rise to wildly mixed emotions:  a) excitement – because the depth of quality in some classes made for tough decisions as breeders and owners sat on the edge of their seats waiting for the judge to point to #’s 1-2-3-4; b) elation  -  because all three judges did a great job and a win or class placement at the ABC National always makes all the effort and expense of getting to the show seem worthwhile; c) frustration – because sometimes, board decisions seem to be lacking in common sense and any thought about how the decision will affect ABC  members; and d) dread – because allowing the club to become involved in an acrimonious personal dispute that resulted in the expulsion of three longtime ABC members cast a pall over the whole show and will almost surely result in an ugly, expensive, unwinnable lawsuit.

Unfortunately, there’s no longer any point in debating the last issue – we can only sit back and wait for the other shoe to drop. On the other hand, since the board is meeting regularly now via conference call rather than just twice a year, there’s plenty of time and opportunity for the directors to address the other issues before the next ABC rolls around.  

Follow the money: President Barry Wyerman announced early in the membership meeting on Wednesday evening that the club had lost $27,000 last year and is slated to lose money again this year. How much money no one knows, but club finances are apparently so shaky that the board decided to hold off on donations to the ABCF, Boxer Rescue and other organizations to which the club usually contributes until after the Regional board meeting, “when we will have a better picture of our finances.“ The president also announced that the ABC has “gone digital” to try to stem the tide of cash that was needed for printing and mailing the Bulletin, the ABC Membership Directory and the judges’ & directors’ bios and other info that always accompanied the ballots. Welcome to the 21st Century, ABC!  Perhaps it’s time to think about creating a budget, too?

What do the members want, anyway? In another attempt to make up for the huge financial losses of the last two years, the president announced that the “bistro” tables that are set up in two tiers on one long side of the ring (4 chairs at each table) – the best seats in the house by far – will now cost $300 each, and the front row seats on the opposite side of the ring will be sold next year for $50 apiece for the week. I think most ABC goers realize that the poor economy means reduced income for the club and recognize that the board, regardless of how we got here, must attempt to offset those losses. And I think everyone understands that there aren’t enough bistro tables and front row seats to go around. But considering that the seating in the ballroom at the Wyndham is inadequate and that the ABC will be there through 2016, the board must find a way to allocate the tables fairly – an annual lottery or drawing? – that will give everyone who wants one of those tables an equal chance of getting one. Same with the front row seats: set a limit and don’t allow one person to buy up 5-10 seats with the idea of distributing them among his friends when he arrives late Monday afternoon just in time for the Top 20. People were very angry this year when they were told that a select group of people had been given first refusal of the bistro tables…and people will be angry next year if the folks who bought the tables this year are given the option of renewing their “subscription” for 2015, while the rest of us languish who-knows-how-far-down on a waiting list. I think $300 a table is a bit excessive, so there may not be as many takers as tables after all; but at least try to be fair…

Here comes the judge! Or maybe not. Aside from the scarcity of good seats, the issue that gave rise to the most complaints from just about everyone I talked to, including the many breeder judges in attendance, was the utterly outrageous judges’ selection criteria that the board approved for the ABC shows.  Boxer judge Terry Berrios wrote an excellent article on these criteria for The Working Dog Digest, pointing out how downright unworkable most of them are. I still can’t believe that the board actually read the following, never mind approved it:

  • The prospective judge must have been an AKC regular judge for 5 years prior to his or her nomination. As Terry pointed out, that means that it will probably be 6 or 7 years at the least before a new Boxer judge – no matter how competent and popular – can be nominated to judge the National or Regional. That is, if he or she never judged the Futurity (please see the next criterion).
  • The nominee must NOT have judged the Futurity, Regional BOB and ABC National BOB within the 10 years prior to his or her nomination for any assignment. Since most breeders have largely curtailed their breeding activities by the time they apply for a judging license and handlers can’t apply for a license while they’re still handling, most new judges are in their 50’s before they've fulfilled their provisional assignments. Case in point: This year’s Futurity judge, who IMO did a wonderful job, will be enjoying her “golden years” before she can be nominated to judge the 2024 Regional, even if she applies for a judging license today. If she does a really great job at the 2024 Regional, she will be in her 70’s before she can judge the ABC National in 2034!
  • “Once nominated, the nominee must not have posted comments on social media or other public venue.” What does that mean? That the nominee must not post a comment on FB about his nephew’s graduation? About a cute puppy pic? About his/her own dog’s BISS? That the SB-L and Showboxer Forum are off limits? What about the various obedience and agility lists?

To ensure that the nominee will abide by these criteria (and the several other criteria I didn’t mention), the nominator must supply a statement signed by the nominee that he or she meets the above criteria; and if the winning candidate fails to meet any of the criteria before the assignment, he will forfeit the assignment. Is there any part of those requirements that isn't insulting and demeaning to a qualified, experienced judge…or isn't a duplication of the AKC’s Rules, Policies and Guidelines for Conformation Dog Show Judges? Why not just hand a copy of that AKC pamphlet to everyone who’s elected to judge at the ABC and give those judges a written test before they’re permitted to enter the ring?

On May 29, ABC secretary Sandy Orr sent a post to the ABC Members Only email list, the SB-L and the SB-Forum, reminding ABC voters that the deadline for nominations for the 2015 Regional was May 31. At that time, she had three nominations in hand. When nominations closed, she had five. Only five nominees for the 2015 Regional. One wonders how many of the five will be approved to run, after being scrutinized by the ABC Judges Selection Committee (JSC)? And whether the candidate who’s elected to judge the 2015 Regional will manage to stay away from Facebook, Twitter and all other social media between now and the fall or winter of 2015?

Several members complained about these judging criteria at the May 7 membership meeting this year. President Barry Wyerman promised to address these concerns with the JSC chairman and “report back.” But this argument about judges’ selection criteria has been going on since the Regional membership meeting in 2012!!! ABC members don’t need another report, we need some hands-on decision making by the board! About a realistic budget; about a fair allocation of scarce resources, like the seats with a clear view of the ring; and ASAP, about the absurd criteria by which the members are expected to nominate and elect judges for the ABC Futurity, Specialty & Regional.

Virginia Zurflieh
Scarborough Boxers since 1973      

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