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NEW AKC JUDGING APPROVALS FAVOR HANDLERS?
Part One of Two: Peter Gaeta, former field representative, was appointed AKC Director Of Judging Operations in mid-2005. Peter is a virtual encyclopedia of information on the judging approval system which formally began in 1982. He assembled records and prepared an actual history of the judging approval process for the AKC but he retains amazing recall on the subject.
Regarding the overall process, Peter points out "the approval of judges has been an ongoing process" since 2000. Indeed there have been significant changes, most of them positive and well thought out. He characterizes the process as a way to "help and encourage people to understand the breeds and move competent people forward."
Because many exhibitors and judges question the current system which went into event January 2006, we asked why the new policy seems to favor handler-applicants over breeders. Peter doesn’t agree that it favors any applicant group. He says the more stringent requirements are designed to "acknowledge the breadth and depth of experience" an applicant brings to the sport.
Mr. Gaeta was informative, stimulating, and most congenial. As most who read this would agree, that is not always the case when trying to get definitive answers from the AKC. This department head knows his stuff and has 20/20 insight into the sport with forty years as a breeder, club officer and professional handler. More to the point, he has agreed to respond to specific questions which may help reassure participants regarding the current approval system. We agree that is a fair way to examine a new process which seems to discriminate against breeders who concentrated on breeding but were happy to let others exhibit.
Reading from the Gazette, most people assume the amended policy for “approving up to a Group on the first application” meant applying for one’s first Group. Mr. Gaeta explained the new policy applies only to a Group in which one was not already approved for each breed. This is just one mistake I made in reading the published criteria. I’m sure there are other sections which may also have been misinterpreted and we look forward to sharing Mr. Gaeta’s responses with potential applicants, breeders, and kennel clubs.
Mr. Gaeta said a person could work his or her way through an entire group, breed by breed, and become automatically approved to judge that Group. Okay, but if a person chose to finish a career or raise a family before pursuing a full-blown second career, they would still be a senior citizen before qualifying under the new system! So again, it would appear that the new process discriminates against breeders and favors handlers who have the advantage of earning a living while having acquired that 50 years experience.
This brings us to an interesting speculation conveyed by several kennel club board members. Having read the new requirements, they are concerned about a declining list of Group judges!
The fancy in general is concerned that there will “not be enough Group judges” as potential Group-level judges, particularly breeders, lack motivation and often, physical ability after the age of retirement. If a Group applicant “must document FIFTY years in the conformation aspect of breeding and exhibiting dogs,” one would assume the judge must be over 65 years of age according to the email and phone calls I have received.
And then there are the other requirements such as having “approval to judge and award Championship Points in at least two AKC recognized foreign registries.” Breeders seldom expect, seek, or receive overseas invitations. Assignments for Championship shows are rarely offered to breeder-judges of only a couple of breeds no matter how long or how deep that knowledge is.
We will explore some of the other criteria with Mr. Gaeta, feeling confident that if the new requirements in fact do favor handlers over breeder applicants, AKC will have another look at the policy. As he said, the approval criteria changes with the times (I think he said that) and it is an ongoing process.
Kennel Clubs planning for future judging panels certainly hope so. Exhibitors who look forward to an opinion from a new judge hope they will not be deprived of the opportunity to present their breed to people who have in-depth experience in preserving that breed. With no disrespect to Handlers who are paid to win, breed type can become secondary in many breeds. The quest is often for showmanship, pizzazz, and extremes of type to draw the judges’ eye.
We have a few truly great young judges but if you start a discussion on this subject, the consensus is the same. There are not enough really good judges to replace those great adjudicators who never filled out a convoluted "application" or attended a breed seminar. It seems doubtful that the All-Breed judges who are retiring can be expeditiously replaced under today's stipulations.
Additionally, the economic impact on clubs could be significant. If the number of Group judges declines, clubs must hire more judges to cover the breeds. Finding a Group judge available for the club date would become increasingly difficult and expensive. There may be many more negative ramifications for our sport than tangible positive benefits to the fancy.
Part Two, an exclusive interview with Mr. Peter Gaeta, Director of AKC Judging Operations
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