HOW TO JUDGE WITH A PHYSICAL CHALLENGE
by Pat Gilbert
Within the past few months a whole new world has opened up to me. I had an accident on board the K-9 College Cruise and my fibula was broken. I am in a wheelchair. Fortunately for me, it is only temporary.
That gave me thoughts about to how to deal with a physical disability and still do something you love. My article http://www.gilbertk9.com/AreYouChallenged.html about showing dogs as a physically challenged handler makes an excellent segue into this article about being a physically challenged judge.
A sense of humor and a good ring steward are essential. You also need a tough hide for those rude people who don’t get it.
We live in a world full of possibilities and challenges. The AKC and The American Disabilities Act permit handicapped judges. Get used to it. You are going to see more of us in more unusual situations. So start training now.
A few weekends ago I judged two days of an indoor/outdoor show in my wheelchair. I had to rethink my ring procedure and examination procedure. I believe my methods will work well for all challenged judges. Here is how I dealt with it.
I rented a wheelchair that is light and fast with sides that go up and back. The foot rests are removable. I stripped down my chair to the bare essentials for judging. It gave a less intimidating profile for the dogs. Having the side removed gave me the ability to bend and reach the floor from the side for a thorough examination of the smaller dogs. It is easier to reach to the side rather that over the front unless you have really long arms.
If you cannot bend well or are unable to move from the waist down, be careful about bending over and losing your balance. I also don’t recommend removing the foot rests if you have no sensation in your limbs. You may seriously damage a foot or leg. Silly me, I was using my good foot to help propel me around the show. I got my good foot stuck under my wheelchair several times.
I made a point of watching breeds I know well. They also were breeds that I wasn’t judging that weekend. Sitting as opposed to standing gives you a very different view of the dogs. I had to recalibrate my eyes to actually judge dogs from a sitting position. I found in the beginning I was more focused on rib cage and underline. They were eye level. After about 15 minutes of ringside judging I was able to take in the whole picture. It helped me a lot to move farther back from the dogs than I normally do.
I judged Junior Showmanship outdoors the first day. Kids are great to work with. They don’t have adult preconceptions. A wheelchair is not an issue with kids. My ring was almost dry and reasonably level. I did have to watch out because I was turning and moving in the same areas. My chair was making tracks in the soft soil. I found it was getting hard to move over the tracks. The solution was to move slightly differently every few dogs or so. When I was done with my assignment, I felt so good I popped a discrete wheelie.
I judged the Hound group indoors and found no problem with the level smooth concrete floors. I tried to stay away from the mats. Judging indoors is the absolute best for a wheelchair.
The next day I was outdoors to judge all the Hound breeds. My ring had grass roughly two inches deep. It rained the previous days so my ring was soggy underneath the morning dew. I have strong arms but still had trouble moving myself through the muck. It was as if I was rowing a boat backwards in rough waters for hours. It was very strenuous and later on I was quite sore. Pilates workout method has nothing over being in a wheelchair for an upper torso workout!
The key to a good judging experience in a wheelchair is to design your procedure so that you move around your ring and the dogs as little as possible. I already knew that position was a big consideration to doing the job well. Not killing myself in the process was important too. Position is of the utmost importance if you have a physical challenge. I positioned myself near the entrance as the entry came into the ring. My position allowed me to check off armbands efficiently. It also gave me quick access to my judge’s book and the breed standards. Do this anyway even if you are completely ambulatory. It saves wear and tear on your body.
I suggest lining up your dogs on the far side of the ring so you can get a complete outline view without having to move around a lot. Then move the class around and finally to you. One and a half times is ideal for good side gait viewing on the larger breeds. Halfway around is fine for the smaller breeds. Focus on one long area so you don't have to swivel.
Proper examination of the dogs was a bit of a challenge. I gave the handlers the option of coming to me or me going to them. Most of them came to me. I suggested they bring the dog around behind me and then stack in front of me. Passing behind me gave the dog the opportunity to see and sniff me up close before my actual examination. It works well for dogs that are unsure of a chair on wheels. I had very few dogs and handlers that objected to the choice. My biggest challenge was keeping dogs out of my lap with this procedure. I had to clean my glasses several times because I was constantly getting slurped. I loved it.
I used the table as usual and a ramp for Bassets and Whippets. What I did differently was position my chair with my legs partially under the table before the dog was put up on the table. That way I didn’t move around and upset the dogs.
I put the Whippets on the ramp. They are too tall for me to appreciate on a table from a sitting position. I learned that the previous day when I had to balance on one leg to properly examine my Whippet in the group.
Moving dogs was the usual simple down and back for me and around to the end. Triangles don’t work when you have to be almost stationary because it gives too many ways for people to run a crooked line.
Placement markers should be as close to the judges table as possible. You can easily mark your book and give out your placement ribbons.
It is not fair to expect your ring stewards to push you in adddition to all their other regular duties. I recommend you travel with someone who can push you if needed. If you are pushed into position, please have the pusher either leave the ring or stand well back afterwards. Two people with one standing and the other in a moving chair can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned exhibits. Imagine what it would do to puppies and novice dogs.
Talk to the show superintendent about your ring set up. If necessary, you can rearrange your ring to work better for you. This should be one of your considerations regardless of your physical limitations.
Be realistic about getting around outdoors. It requires a lot of physical stamina and strength to spend a full day getting around uneven ground. Add the weather elements to that and judging over several days and it becomes a serious challenge. If you can’t do the outdoor shows well, don’t give up your license. Choose to judge only indoor shows or those breeds that are almost always judged indoors. If you happen to be an obedience judge you will need strength because most of the time you will find yourself outdoors. Again choose to judge only indoor shows if you do not have the strength or stamina for outdoor shows.
When you are contacted by a club for an assignment you do not need to mention that you are challenged. They cannot take that into consideration when hiring you. It is against the law. You do owe the exhibitors the courtesy of doing your job properly. Look deeply within yourself to find the truth.
A physical challenge does not mean the end of a judging career. It simply means making adjustments.
Seriously consider renting a wheelchair if you have crutches, canes or other devices that can make you unsteady or off balance on your feet. A chair is a lot less dangerous and invasive around dogs. It will also help you get more easily through a day.
Finally, please remember that judging is a privilege and not a right. We owe it to our exhibitors to do a complete, thorough, knowledgeable and fair job of judging. We need to be honest about our capabilities. Once we have faced our challenges, we need to make adjustments as needed.
Enjoy your chosen profession and don’t forget what it is all about. It is about the dogs and unconditional love.