At Wit's End

October 3, 2010


Queen Victoria had it made!  While balancing the demands of Skye ownership and ruling a country was no easy task, she had the financial and human resources necessary to ensure the well-being of both her kennel and career.  Such supports allowed her to breed multiple litters each year, win countless shows, and hold court to publicize her successes. Though any one of these activities could have served as a full-time job, Victoria’s ability to outsource allowed her much enjoyment inside and a full life outside the ring, all while protecting her back from grooming strain.

Unfortunately, most of us are not so lucky.  While there are still a few aristocratic folks able to participate in the dog game as if royalty, most of us have to make sacrifices, boot-strap, and just hope that we can “keep the wheels on the bus.”  I, for one, cannot count the number of times that I’ve fallen asleep while grooming a dog at one a.m. in my basement, flaked on an entry deadline, or chosen to forego a chance at those elusive majors because I just could not afford it.

Trying to balance the demands of building a career and breeding program has, at times, left me at wits’ end. Esteemed breeders often reflect that success has only been built through time (often forty or fifty years), and the ensuing mistakes and opportunities.  As I start adding years to my present age of thirty-five, I feel panicked that I do not have many left to crank up my dog show activities if three decades are required to “make it!”  


Similarly, now is the time that I am supposed to be laying the foundation for a successful career.  As my department chair frequently reminds me, “Tenure-track is not a forty-hour per week proposition.” With graduate school debt, financial responsibilities, and hopes for a family, sacrifice in this part of my life does not seem optional.  Indeed, without financial resources, I would not be able to feed my pack, clothe my vets, and subsidize the college tuition of my mid-day dog walker.  And, all of this is without mentioning the demands of building a solid relationship with my partner, the occasional dinner with friends, or sleep! 


Something has to give.  Perhaps one of the reasons that many breeds are becoming increasingly rare is that potential breeders and show exhibitors are also an endangered species.  I am one of those crazy people willing to attempt the sacrifices, but coat care, dog sitters, and competing financial demands often push me near the breaking point. On those days when a meeting runs late or traffic is jammed—and the dogs are pushed near the end of their bladders-- my guilt makes me wonder, “If I can’t even do right by them, why am I doing it at all?”

If the sport is to endure, we must find ways to make it easier for folks “to hang on,” particularly for breeds, like Skyes, which are rare, grooming-intensive, or have some other natural barrier to entry.  In my next column, I’ll share creative ways that some have found to navigate these challenges. 

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