Monday, December 21, 2009

Donald McCaig on Pedigrees and Paranoia Politics

Donald McCaig

Donald McCaig is a working sheep dog man from Highland County, Virginia, a noted author of such New York Times best sellers as Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men and Nops Trials, and a true believer in working dogs who has fought tooth and nail to preserve Border Collies as a working breed.

In an earlier post on this blog, I gave a long review of Dog Wars, which detailed the battles he and others fought against the American Kennel Club on behalf of the Border Collie.

Donald has recently sent me two missives (gotta love email!) which he has posted on a Border Collie list-serv, and both are so good, I thought I would post them here.


Letter One

Dear Trainers,

Forgive me if I don't answer Dan's jibes. God rest ye Merry Gentlemen. Although the BBC tried to reach me during the show's making - probably because of the Dog Wars - we never did connect and I had not seen the show until last night. A friend watching with me was so distressed he had to go home.

I was in the UK a month or so after the show aired and before the show's full consequences had become apparent. The shock and dismay of ordinary Brits was palpable. Now I see why.

Before its airing here, when I spoke with Patrick Burns (aka Terrierman) about the show, I told him I had read breeding books in the Kennel Club library, from the 1930's, that knew perfectly well the dangers of incestuous breeding (though none objected to the worse practice of breeding to a (highly mutable and exaggerated) conformation standard.

"Patrick," I said, "We've known about this for years."

"Yes," he said, "But for the first time ordinary citizens can SEE it."

The KC, and in this country the AKC have, for years depended on an undeserved high reputation. Until the 90's, in this country at least, they were able to quell and/or marginalize dissent. I experienced first hand some of their attempts (which were more articulate than Dan's but boasted similar content). Until a few brave souls - Mark Derr was the first in this country - started exposing the Kennel Clubs, ordinary doggy folk like you and me were afraid of them. People whispered, "The AKC can put you out of dogs."

Well, the climate has changed and the Internet has nourished dissent.

I have some concerns about this expose.

The Dog Fancy Mythos: The Kennel Clubs have produced a web of lies within which most decent, intelligent intensively-doggy people have spent their lives. Many on this list literally grew up inside the Kennel Clubs, have shown in conformation (some still do) and the structure of their doggy lives has been set by the KC's bizarre zoology, submission to ignorant authority and acceptance of dubious quasi-religious beliefs. It is unsurprising many don't rebel - indeed, it is surprising when some do.

The glue that is holding the Dog Fancy together is no longer the claim that pedigreed dogs are somehow better, that AKC breeders are dog experts, that dog show judges are actually judging SOMETHING important. The glue is no longer respect for the AKC.

It is PETA. Without a wildly exaggerated but very real terror of the power, influence and malevolence of Animal Rights adherents, the Dog Fancy would implode tomorrow.

And if it did? If the KC and AKC were to become the remnant organizations they deserve to be? It's easy to picture a future when a few gray haired folk get together to reminisce about the good old days when they could cut off dogs' ears and tails because, by God they WANTED to. A future when dog showers are reduced to the status of today's dog fighters.

Can it happen? In 1956 when I started smoking we called cigarettes "cancer sticks". We kids recited the doggerel: "Pell-Mell, Pell Mell/ the only thing worse than the taste is the smell/ Surely they'll kill you but they won't say when . . ."

So, like Dog Fanciers we knew that our habits were built on lies but we had the tobacco companies resolutely, powerfully and litigaciously feeding us guff: "Eight out of ten doctors agree: smoke Camels" and that lie buttressed us enough to keep on puffing.

Dog Fanciers, those who like Dan disagree with me, are intelligent, dog savvy, dog-dedicated individuals. And they lean on the same sort of reassurance-mantras we smokers needed.

Until 1964 and the surgeon general's report. It took decades and determined litigation for the tobacco company's guff to collapse and when it did, the effects were unpredictable and powerful. Small tobacco farmers once could make a middle class living, magazines depended on cigarette advertising and smokers? They were and are treated like sick pariahs. Next time you're in the Atlanta airport, inspect the "Smoking Areas". Would you walk your dog through that?

As you know, I despise the Kennel Clubs. But when citizens have been fed guff for a hundred sixty years and the guff is revealed as not merely eccentric silly guff (c.f. poodle show cuts), but guff that has caused pain to real dogs and real dog owners, they like to pick up the pitchforks (See tobacco).

I'm not afraid of PETA or the animal rights movement. For the most part I think they are a distraction and the Dog Fancy's final, desperate demonization - "Yeah the AKC's no good but who else have we got to fight PETA".

And I'm not afraid "they're coming to take our dogs". If Mao couldn't sever that ancient connection, PETA certainly can't.

I am afraid of the fallout when the guff is exposed and derided and angry citizens pick up those pitchforks. I'm afraid that careful obedience, agility, sled dog and yes, sheepdog breeders, will be lumped in with the conformation breeders. I'm afraid our more dog savvy passions will be seen as "just like dog shows".

It won't do us much good but we'll know who's to blame.

Letter Two

Dear Fellow Sheepdoggers,

Twenty years ago the entire Border Collie community fought against AKC "recognition" (Aka "stalking"). Like many sheepdoggers I was unfamiliar with the Dog Fancy - the real humans whose dog activities occur entirely within the structures and belief systems of the Kennel Club (UK) and it's American (and slightly worse clone) the AKC.

Under the "know your enemy" theory I studied these organizations and their origins and belief structures. I got to know AKC dissidents and had access to then unavailable AKC board minutes and AKC correspondence with breed clubs.

It puzzled me. How could otherwise rational human beings believe such crap?

Every time they were criticized, the AKC sent a letter to their important members. (Ordinary owners of AKC reg dogs were ignored).

These letters answered criticism with three arguments:

The Wizard of Oz argument: "We are the dog experts. Who knows dogs - or what's good for them - better than anyone."

The Charlie Brown argument: "We just register dogs on little pieces of paper. We have no responsibility for them. Why is everybody always picking on me?"

(You can see both arguments offered in "Pedigreed Dogs Exposed").

A third argument is a native American product. I've never heard it in Britain. For brevity I'll call it the "Niemöller argument" Ms. Joy has been kind enough to reprint it in full.

While the AKC registers lots of dogs, the vast majority of American dogs aren't registered, and most Americans are mildly contemptuous of dog shows (which are, at its core, what the AKC is about). Americans watch Westminster and giggle at it. I don't known if I've ever seen a major newspaper account of that show which wasn't accompanied by a photo of a ridiculous dog - esp a French poodle in show coat. I've never seen an account w/o a pun headline.

That mockery hurts a Dog Fancier's feelings. Here they are: the Dog Experts that everybody is picking on and they they have the only correct and refined canines. So okay, the AKC treats them like petulant children. The AKC doesn't let them have a say in anything.

But the AKC, like every other tyrant in history, will protect them and their dogs.

Against who?

Well, er . . . against anybody. How about Ingrid Newkirk. How about the HSUS. And anybody who criticizes anything the Dog Fancy does - whatever it does, is Ms Newkirk's dupe - a doggy pinko.

Because they're coming to take our dogs.



"But what about the 60 million American dogs and their owners."

"Them too. After they've got all the "refined" dogs."

"Oh. And why do you think this is true?"

"Don't you see - it's just like dominoes. First they come for the socialists . . ."

"I've never heard of that breed."

"No, it's like Nazi Germany. 'First they came for the socialists.'"

"But this isn't Nazi Germany. Dogs aren't socialists."

"Never-you-mind: they're coming for our dogs!"

The Niemoller argument (which is a pretty good argument for the ACLU) has become: "If you think the American Kennel Club is autocratic and unresponsive; if you think that show ring breeding has, over time caused immense pain to dogs and dog owners, if indeed, you think the AKC may, at one time, have made a mistake - just one - then you are among those conspiring to take away our show dogs, our working dogs, our fiest dogs, our sled dogs, our police dogs, our sleep-on-the-bed pet dogs, even the old fart dog I saw lounging in the offices of the US House Ag committee.

If you criticize the Dog Fancy, you are anti-dog.

Don McCaig shows a very sophisticated understanding of how the AKC and its parroting lackeys work on canine list-servs and bulletin boards.

"Niemoller arguments" are actually "slippery slope" arguments.

McCaig correctly notes that these arguments are often used by the ACLU to manipulate the left into saluting every extreme rights claim.

It should also be said that they are used by those on the far right trying to rationalize the more extreme claims made by the National Rifle Association.

The problem with the "slippery slope" argument is that it denies the rationality of people and ignores the fact that we carve steps into slippery slopes every day.

Legalization of booze has not meant the legalization of heroin.

Legalized abortion has not led to legalized infanticide.

Legalized guns for self-defense and sport has not meant a push to carry loaded bazookas through airports.

Regulation of cars and swimming pools has not led to a police state.

Of course, everyone knows this.

We all use stairs every day. No one is falling, uncontrolled, out the window or down the mountain.

And yet, contrived crisis is manufactured at every turn.

Paranoia politics is a staple of the American political system.

What's that all about?

The simple answer is that it's about social manipulation.

One way to gain or retain political power, even in the face of obvious immorality, is to suggest a massive "evil" lurks just outside the campfire's light.

And so Joe McCarthy clanged the alarm of communism, and George Bush said weapons of mass destruction were just over the hill.

No one thought to notice that Russia could not even make soft toilet paper.

No one bothered to point out that Al Queda's choice of weapons was box cutters, and that their leadership lived in caves and mud huts without running water or electricity. We are not fighting Lex Luthor!
And so it is with PETA.

This organization has no lobbying presence in Washington, D.C. and is little more than a press release factory.

Like a Hollywood western town, it's one board thick with nothing but the desert behind it.

But you would never know that to listen to the American Kennel Club or some of the professional hysterics in the online world.

Consider this: Don and I both live in Virginia, where PETA is headquartered, and yet in this state we shoot more than 230,000 deer a year, as well as over 1,500 black bear. My name and address is in the phone book, and Don is not too hard to find either. Harassed by PETA? Ha! They are cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown. I have no fear of them, and neither does any dairy man, deer hunter, sheep man, or butcher.

Here in Virginia, we trap red fox, gray fox, and bobcat, have two turkey seasons, and we blast away at duck and geese with abandon.

We have a cash bounty on coyotes, and the state Constitution guarantees a right to hunt and fish.

Dogs? The state dog of Virginia is the fox hound!

PETA? Real power? Not so much.

In fact, the only power PETA has is the power that the American Kennel Club and various fringe hook-and-bullet writers have given it.

What's that all about?

Simple: by fomenting a fake fear of the "Animal Rights lobby," the American Kennel Club and some right-wing hunters seek to turn attention away from genuinely immoral activities.

This is "Wag the Dog" politics, where a contrived crisis is used to take our attention off of real immorality, such as breeding deformed, defective and diseased dogs or winking at "canned hunts" where former petting zoo animals are shot as they step out of a cage and into a 50-acre fenced enclosure.

The bottom line is that the folks who pull the "Animal Rights" fire alarm at every turn are giving us all an IQ test.

If we fall for it, then we have failed.

And who have we failed?

Not just ourselves. We have also failed the dogs.

One of Don's dogs plays in the recent snow..


Gina Spadafori said...

I love him.

I know he'll eventually peek in here, so ...

Mr. McCaig: I still remember shaking your hand in NYC many years ago. Your talent, intelligence and dedication inspired me then, and inspires me now.

(So much younger then, so much smarter now)

sfox said...

Yeah, me too. Mr. McCaig, I read your book a few years ago and it really helped me appreciate the herding competition that my husband and I happened on at a country fair near Ullswater in the early 1990s. I'd never seen border collies before and watched them with amazement, both as they worked and as they waited.

Jonzie said...

So good! thanks for reposting them. I feel the urge to subtitle the BBC documentary in Italian, it was never broadcast over here.

Miki said...

Thank you, Mr. McCaig - and, of course, Patrick. This was the perfect antidote to the hysterical drivel that has appeared on an international canine genetics list on which I lurk. Interestingly, the best comments came from the international posters who each rejected the American anti-PETA/anti-HSUS/anti-"AR-ista black-helicoptor paranoia for what it is - the worst possible (mostly right wing) reactionary politics.

Lisa Paddock said...

You know, some of the fancier apologists are urging their followers to emulate the NRA by embracing the least among us, known puppy millers. I view this as a clear sign of desperation and hope it is a death rattle.

Prairie K9 said...

Good stuff, as always. Ought to be required reading. Thanks Donald, and Patrick.

Christopher Lee said...

I'll pass over the general subject of the AKC and dogs. It's vastly
complicated and not now critical. Let's focus instead on the animal
rights movement, PETA, and paranoia, where the views expressed by Mr.
McCaig and approved by Terrierman are both surprising and seriously

PETA is within the animal rights movement, is not THE movement. PETA's
JOB within the movement is precisely that of "Hollywood Western Town
... one board thick." Specifically, PETA:

1. Creates issues and establishes them in the public mind, and,

2. Stakes out the UNreasonable position on those issues so that other
organizations -- most often HSUS -- can take a 'reasonable' approach
to what the movement considers resolution.

But for PETA how many Americans would ever have questioned the
commercial breeding of dogs or the sale of pet dogs in stores?
However, the general view of these activities is now disgust to the
point of hatred and HSUS has passed laws banning the commercial
breeding of dogs at more than the smallest (part time business) scale
in about eight states. Any number of localities have either banned
store sales of dogs or allowed such stores to be harassed until they
went out of business.

Whence came the passionate hatred many Americans feel toward dog
BREEDERS? Our national ignorance of animals (our animal bible is
'Bambi,' our weekly church is Animal Planet, and our most respected
spiritual leader on the subject is Oprah Winfrey) was fertile soil
for PETA's promotion of dog breeding as killing shelter dogs, one for
one. Most Americans BELIEVE that, gentlemen.

Do you really doubt that 90% of our countrymen would vote for laws to
stop the ongoing cruelty they believe both of you display toward
animals? Mr. McCaig abuses his Border Collies to get them to chase
sheep around the landscape with who knows what terrible consequences
-- sheep that he shouldn't have at all, since their fate is cruel
exploitation for meat and wool. And as for Terrierman, how DARE he
force those dogs to kill nice animals who simply want to quietly enjoy
their homes under the ground? Terrierman's activity is already illegal
in some parts of the country and Mr. McCaig's turn is coming as HSUS
ramps up its attack on traditional farming and farming practices,

The 'slippery slope' discussion is also a straw man. OF COURSE we're
not going to ban breeding of dogs, farming of sheep, or any of that.
What we absolutely will do on the current road is so encumber normal
and necessary animal husbandry with laws and regulations (that will be
supported by 90% of our countrymen) that thoughtful, rational and
law-abiding people won't do it. There will be high-cost (because
highly regulated) bastions, there will be a thriving black market, and
we'll offshore the rest.

PBurns said...


When you post to this blog leaving long pro-PETA rants, you might want to remember to strip off whatever other name you are using.

When in doubt, read the notes about how "all zombies, trolls, time wasters, and anonymous cowards will be shot."


e said...

Although I am not a fan of her training methods...I sure wish Vicki Hearne was still around....

Although she may be glad to not have to experience the dizzying rhetoric of the current dog wars.

In any case....her essay, "What's Wrong with Animal Rights" is the most potent argument I know, but oddly, the most zealous anti AR people I know will not read it....