You Can’t Handle the Truth

By Jessica Freni

Stock Photos

No one can, or should, disagree that the primary responsibility for breed preservation lies on the shoulders of breeders. Breeders are stewards of their breed and tasked with ensuring it endures as it has in the past and preserves into the future generations.

However, breeders should not stand alone in the pyramid of responsibility and duty to breed preservation. Judges should also be students of breed standards and always at the forefront of their decisions evaluation of not the best show dog, but of breeding stock. In this way judging undeniably also influence breed preservation.

What about professional handlers? Do they not also have a duty to protecting and preserving breeds as well? Handlers must be knowledgeable in all the breeds they exhibit for grooming and presentation, but does their obligation end at the ring gate?

When a dog goes beyond simply lacking merit or lesser breed type, to actually posing a real threat to preservation of breed standards does the handler not have an ethically responsibility to decline exhibiting such animals? For example, should a handler knowingly promote dogs that are from unapologetic fad color breeding programs or who will be used to further such (DQ color French bulldogs, “silver” Labradors, etc)? What about legitimizing dogs deliberately, drastically deviating from breed standards described as “micro”, “teacup “, “giant” whose breeding actually do real harm to breed preservation? Should handlers decline dogs known to be used in breeding that deviates from the goal of preservation- ex. a poodle belonging to a “doodle” breeding program?

What obligation do professional handlers have to the breeds they represent and their community of preservation breeders? When the breeder fails to recognize, whether willfully or from ignorance, the damage their dog impacts upon the breed, who then should have a moral and ethical responsibility to the breed?

I recently spoke to breeders, handlers and exhibitors of French bulldogs. They expressed fatigue and frustration in combating the hypertypes and demand for disqualified, even introduced colors like merle, to their breed. It is an ongoing battle for public education and the welfare of their breed. These respected members of the community were disappointed and upset at the prospect of a breeder described “miniature French bulldog” being taken on as a handling client and show prospect. Unanimous sentiment was that a handler had a responsibility to decline exhibiting dogs that would not only reflect poorly on the breed, but in fact do real tangible harm (i.e. legitimizing hypertypes or legitimizing programs purposefully with the aim of breeding against standards).

Breed preservation should be a community effort- breeders, judges and handlers- working towards the same goals. Is there a duty of professional handlers to breed preservation in the clientele they do, or do not, represent in the ring? To act as a secondary safety net, when the breeder cannot or will not?