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More Politics

     After the furore in 2005, when the Kennel Club suggested opening the Breed Register to dogs such as mine, I felt that I wanted nothing more to do with breed clubs. All I wanted was to forget about the politics of the dog world and just get on with the Brambledale project in peace.

      I declined all invitations to judge, because I felt that I could not give awards to dogs that did not fulfil at least the basic requirements of the standard - and the prospect of the reaction if I withheld large numbers of cards was not pleasant.   

     But I became increasingly aware that the negative attitude of a vociferous minority was not representative of Beardie exhibitors as a whole, several of whom suggested that I should judge in order that the less glamorous ( and more correct) dogs could have a chance................

     So when I next received an invitation - from the Southern Counties Bearded Collie Club - to be included in the members' ballot to elect judges for their 2012 Championship Show, I allowed my name to go forward. 

       Since my views on the current show scene were widely known, I did not expect to get many - if any - votes, so the news that I had topped the poll and been duly elected to judge bitches at the show came as a big surprise.

       After much careful thought, I sent the following open letter to the committee, together with a covering note suggesting that it should be published in the club magazine and readers' views invited.


Open letter to officers and committee members of the Southern Counties Bearded Collie Club

Maes yr Haul   20th February 2010

    Dear Friends,
          As you may be aware, the Southern Counties Bearded Collie Club has very kindly invited me to judge bitches at its 2012 championship show – an invitation which I am happy to accept on the following conditions:
1) That all grooming implements be banned from the ring. I have Kennel Club approval for this, as long as the club agrees and exhibitors are notified in the schedule.
2) That I will be free to withhold awards from any dogs that fail to meet the basic requirements of the Breed Standard, such as being a “Steady, intelligent working dog........alert, lively self-confident and active” and having the “bright, enquiring expression [which] is a distinctive feature.” 
            Note : Of course, judges are always entitled (and, indeed, officially urged ) to withhold prizes from dogs which lack merit, but since this is, in practice, so rarely done, I imagine that it would be extremely unpopular with exhibitors. I therefore wish to make clear my intention so that the committee may withdraw the invitation if it wishes to do so.
          This letter is followed by some background information for those who may not be aware that I have campaigned for decades against the ‘glamorization’ of what was once an unspoiled working breed. Having failed to halt the trend, I eventually abandoned both the show world and the Kennel Club closed-register system and turned to the unspoiled Working Beardies to reinforce my Brambledale line. I have not accepted any invitations to judge in recent years – in fact my last engagement was at the SCBCC championship show in 2003 – and I feel that a return to the ring would only be justified by decisive action to draw attention to the breed situation.
I have always believed that the pen is mightier than the sword but since, in this case, my pen seems to have failed, perhaps it is time to take up the sword.
                               Yours very sincerely,
                                        Lynne Sharpe

Background information:
      My concern about Beardie type in general and coat in particular, goes back a long way – almost as far as my association with the breed itself – and even in the sixties I shared Mrs Willison’s worry that the show ring was encouraging the breeding of bigger coats and heavier dogs.
     Over the years, I have written many articles on Beardie type, the Standard and the effect of the show ring on the breed. Most were published in either the Beardie Times, the Bearded News, or both. Some of these – and more - can be read on my website,  where there are two sections devoted to the subject , under the headings                    ‘True Beardie Type’ and ’More on Type’.
       In addition to publishing some of my articles, the SCBCC has also invited me to speak at Judges’ Training Days and Education Days on a number of occasions and I have voiced the same concerns at every opportunity. At the club's Judges' Training Day In July 1983, for example, I was invited to speak on the interpretation of the Breed Standard. I can't find a copy of my talk, but here is a paragraph from a report of it (written by club secretary, Dru Whitfield) which appeared in the Beardie Times the following year:
              "Lynne took 'Characteristics and General Appearance’ as her first two points of discussion and drew to our attention that whilst many of the breed characteristics such as expression, temperament etc., are emphasised in these sections, there is no mention at all of coat as being an important feature of the breed, except to say that plenty of daylight should show under the body. The Beardie should not be considered to be a ‘coated’ breed and she feels that too much importance is given to breeding for glamorous coats, in order to win in the showring.
Later on, when discussing the section on eyes, Lynne again pointed out the sentence which says that the eyebrows should be “arched up and forward but not so long as to obscure the eyes”, and said that it should not be necessary for exhibitors to have to spend ages combing the hair away from the eyes in order for the judge to be able to see the desired expression. Also, under the ‘General Appearance’ section, Lynne made clear her interpretation of the word ‘lean’, saying that far too many Beardies being shown today are overweight.
At this point, Lynne urged trainees to judge to the Standard and not to the current fashion, though pointing out that it would not be all that easy to find many to fit the Standard. She suggested that trainees should consider the Standard, imagining that they had not seen any of today’s winning dogs, so that their minds would be free from pre-conceived ideas of what the typical Beardie should look like.”

        In 1996 I wrote an article entitled ‘Shaggy Dogs’, which was published in the SCBCC magazine in 1997. (on website)

      At an SCBCC ‘Education Day’ in 1998, I again asked my audience to close their eyes and visualise their ideal Beardie – and then to consider whether the mental image was based on the Standard or on the current top show winners.
    I pointed out that the Breed Standard makes perfectly clear that a long, flowing coat is entirely wrong, adding that I believe that it should be regarded as a major fault. I went on to explain that an over-coated dog can neither "show plenty of daylight under the body" nor the "bright enquiring expression [which] is a distinctive feature of the breed." I asked how many modern show winners have "..eyebrows arched up and forward but not so long as to obscure the eyes" – or conform to the Standard's detailed description of the "typical beard" with hair "just to cover the lips" ? 
          I criticised the dogs whose eyes are only seen at all because of the handler's constant brushing back of the flowing hair - not at all what the Standard requires – and suggested that brushes and combs should be banned from the showring.
      On that occasion, my comments were greeted with real hostility from some of the audience, who insisted that the modern show Beardie was a great improvement on its working ancestors.
       After so many decades of arguing my case in vain, I decided that my only option was to ‘go it alone’ in my determination to preserve the type of Beardie that I had always loved.

            My objection to excessive coat is not merely aesthetic – I am also deeply concerned by the suffering that it can cause. The show coat is totally impractical, not only for a working dog but for the pet as well. The rescue pages of the club magazine bear witness to this; most recently with a picture of Max on page 29 of the Autumn 2009 issue.

      For the well-groomed show dog, coat care not only takes up time that would be better spent having fun, exercise and freedom but may also result in restrictions on these doggie pleasures in order to avoid damage to the coat. At its worst, the show coat is as restrictive – and offensive – as a burka. The difference is that the burka-wearer can at least take off her imprisoning garment when she gets home. The only relief for the unfortunate Beardie is to clip off his burden – and no one who has done this can fail to notice the delight of the shorn Beardie


                                The Committee's Response     

   My suggestion that the above letter be published in the club magazine so that members could express their views, was refused and the committee sent me a single-sentence letter to say that it was withdrawing my invitation to judge. When I wrote again to say that, although the decision had now been made, I thought it only fair to the members who had voted for me that the correspondence should be published, I was told that the matter was now closed.

          I have no desire to engage in any further dispute over this and my only reason for posting the above is that I feel that the club members have a right to know the circumstances in which their decision has been overruled by the committee.

                                                       Lynne Sharpe

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