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Knowing When To Stop

From the archives of The Canine Chronicle, March, 2010


By Gay Dunlap

Within the judging community, knowing when to stop is for the most part related to either health or age. One’s inherent ability to pass judgment, given the subjective nature of the process, is seldom an issue unless, that is, a judge’s procedure is called into question and subsequently found to be flawed. At the same time, chronologically speaking, age alone cannot be considered a determining factor since our cognitive powers differ, person to person, with some able to adjudicate well up into their 90s while others begin to “lose it” in their 70s. The problem arises, no matter age or condition, when we fail to acknowledge our limitations. Along this same vein, although some judges when deciding to no longer accept assignments, seem reluctant to request emeritus status. Could it be that these judges are letting ego get in the way of looking at the big picture? When show giving clubs submit their lists of available judges for membership vote, those judges still listed as available end up taking votes away from those that actually are available, thereby creating hollow votes. I am certain this is neither intentional nor done with malice…just thoughtless. And in tenaciously holding on to the past in this manner these judges are, without realizing it, failing to completely acknowledge limitations.

This failure to acknowledge limitations, not knowing when to stop, happens time and time again, across the board, in all walks of life. It is part of the human condition. But that does not necessarily excuse it.

I recently received a call from the chairman of my national breed club’s nominating committee and asked about my willingness to serve on the board of directors. Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I have spent forty-some-odd years in service to this club and that my dedication to the breed is legendary. My record, in my own mind at any rate, is somewhat tainted by the fact that several years ago I agreed to serve as the club’s AKC delegate and soon found that, for any number of personal reasons, the commitment was more than I had bargained for. Finally acknowledging this failure to recognize my limitations, I resigned after one year. Lesson learned. Therefore, using this experience as a personal barometer, and after discussing the situation with one of our current board members, I determined that I had enough on my plate and probably could not do the job to my own satisfaction, let alone that of my fellow club members. Certainly this was not a life-or-death determination. It was a matter of knowing when to stop…when to say “No.”  Anytime someone tenaciously holds onto a job, failing to admit that they are losing their grip, that failing health is negatively affecting their work, you can bet that ego has taken over. In the Course in Miracles the ego manifests as the devil. No one realizes how smart the ego is, the course reminds us; it even created the devil so that we could hold another being accountable.

How touched we all were recently upon hearing the story of Pat Summitt, head coach of an extremely successful college basketball team, the Tennessee Lady Vols. Summitt resigned at the age of 59 shortly after learning that she suffered from early on-set dementia. Obviously she knew when to stop.  She stated, “I’ve loved being head coach at Tennessee for 38 years, but I recognize that the time has come to move into the future and to step into a new role.” Summitt will now become head coach emeritus.

Returning to our own little world, we find this aversion to admitting limitations alive and well within the ranks of our hobby breeders as well. And sadly, it often results in behavior that could well be considered downright criminal. It isn’t always the “backyard” breeders or the “puppy-millers” that function in a shameful fashion. It isn’t always a case of ego rearing its ugly head but rather a combination of this and the need for money that often drives a breeder to, at best, make poor decisions or, worse, behave in an unscrupulous manner. Consider the breeder who, facing a situation of foreclosure, for the second time, on a second home, bred two bitches, resulting in the whelping of 16 puppies.  At $2000 a pup, I am certain the breeder must have no doubt been forecasting the end of her financial doldrums. When the pups were about 4 weeks old, while the breeder and her significant other were out having dinner, another bitch jumped into the whelping box and killed all but one of an entire litter. The surviving puppy later died because of an undetected and consequently untreated puncture wound. The “accident” was not the first of this kind. The same thing happened to this breeder several years back. But the worst was yet to come. Parvo struck and the breeder, unable to afford to take the pups to a veterinarian, misdiagnosed the ailing pups and treated them for coccidiosis. These poor babies died, one after the other before a friend came to the rescue and dragged her to a vet. Only four puppies survived the final devastating tragedy.

So here we have a situation that quickly spiraled out of control, a breeder in denial, making poor decisions based upon financial insecurity. In this instance, the price for failing to recognize ones limitations, not knowing when to stop, was inexcusable, unconscionable pain and suffering. Sadly, the breeder is already planning to breed again, oblivious to the fact that no self-respecting stud dog owner in his right mind would consider allowing this to happen.

However, our breeder is in good company. John Edwards, our illustrious former presidential candidate, who will probably go to jail for not knowing when to stop, has been quoted as saying, “I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong.” Denial is not a river in Egypt, as the saying goes.  Our breeder informed one of the stud dog owners that it was “just Mother Nature’s way…survival of the fittest” that the dominant bitch jumped into the whelping box and killed the puppies. Really? Perhaps some of us need to be reminded that, in nature, females of most species, especially carnivores, go off on their own, away from all possibility of danger to birth and raise their offspring.

As for those of us on the outside looking in, can we allow ourselves to feel compassion for the breeder that found herself in this dreadful abyss?  Of course, but in so doing we must also be careful not to let this compassion place us in a role of enabler.

When we can no longer do justice to our dogs or properly care for a litter, it is time to stop breeding. When we can no longer brush, comb, and bathe our dogs or can no longer afford to take them to a grooming shop it is time to sit up and take note. There are obvious decisions to be made.

If we all could simply understand and acknowledge that our innermost spirit being knows our limitations, knows when we must stop, the world would be a better place. In this instance, the price for failing to recognize ones limitations, not knowing when to stop, was inexcusable, unconscionable pain and suffering. For example, our higher power, spirit being, or whatever one chooses to call it, knows that trying to breed quality dogs on a shoestring does not work. It has never been nor will it ever be anything more than a money-sucking hobby fraught with potential disappointment, frustration and disaster. So long as we understand this and can accept financial loss and emotional heartbreak in the process, we may also be treated to the incredible joy it provides.

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  • August 2020