Friday, November 19, 2010

Our System... Part 2

I shouldn't have called this series of posts 'Our System' really...  it is more a general article about the challenges that we face in Agility in South Africa.  Basically our agility community has heart, we have the desire to feature on the international stage, but there are just a few obstacles that we have to overcome first.  In the second part of this series, I will mention the potential problems we have with the dogs as such.

First of all we are back to the problem of the agility community being so small.  This time in regards to breeding.  Although the conformation side of the dog world in South Africa is larger than the disciplines, it is still smaller than most countries.  Needless to say this limits the sources of our dogs. The majority of Border Collies competing in South Africa derive from 5 different lines.  Shelties are 10 times worse, with only two lines being represented and only 6 Shelties competing in the whole country.
Not only this, but often breeds that are recognised as good, working and agility breeds in other countries, do not feature in South African agility.  This is definitely not only due to training,  a lot of working instinct has slowly but surely dissapeared from many breeds in South Africa.

The problem is that 'agility dogs' are in demand, in our small community it is not uncommon for one handler to have 4 competing dogs at any one time. There are quite a few good lines in South Africa, but with very little new blood coming in on a regular basis.  So the reality is, we have very very good dogs in South Africa, but they are very very limited.  This year at the World Champs, I overheard some people (Hungarian and Czech I think), while a South African (Carmen and Seis) was running and they made a comment that South Afirca has such fast border collies.  And this is very true, but if you want one of these 'fast Border Collies' you have the option of maybe one or two breeders, who only have a few litters (some not even annually).  And currently the only breed that really has dedicated 'working lines' is the border collie.  Small and medium breeds are very few and far between and hard to find, with mile long waiting lists.

One of the biggest problems is our isolation.  As I have mentioned before, South Africa is the only African country to have  a full Agility program.  There are some limited dog activities in both Namibia and Zimbabwe, but nothing much.  So that leaves roughly 9000km between us and the closest sources of new blood.  Being in the process of importing a dog myself and being in contact with 6 other South African agility handlers that have imported dogs in the last 12 months, I cannot begin to explain the effort and money it takes to achieve this.  I will list the problems just to give you a better idea:

1.  By law ALL livestock, regardless of size and weight, have to arrive in South Africa via manifest cargo.  This implies that all dogs, have to travel in the cargo hold of a plane and are off-loaded in the cargo hangers.  South Africa has no pet stations.  Personally I know that this is viable, as our dogs that travel back and forth to the AWC and EO have to travel this way.  We have been doing this for more than 10 years and never encountered a major problem.  But, especially for small dogs, this is a foreign concept to Europeans and Americans.
 2.  Finding a breeder and puppy.  I spent 11 months researching breeders and dogs, sending endless emails, making phone calls, asking advice from friends etc.  In my case I am importing a breed that I have never owned and is relatively rare in South Africa, so I had to rely on a lot of advice from friends overseas.  Once I had shortlisted the breeders I was interested in, I had to find a breeder that was willing to let their pup fly half way across the world, in the cargo hold of a plane, to a person they have never met.  I do not blame any of the breeders for turning me down, I have no doubt that I would be very cautious too.  I also wanted breeding rights on the pup (of course only if it turned out to be a good specimen), as I was spending a lot of money on the dog, I at least want the option of being able to promote the breed.  The breeder also had to do endless heaps of paperwork and trips to vets and phonecalls and and and on my behalf, as the process is quite involving.  In total, I contacted 83 breeders across the world, of which 9 ended up on my shortlist, I rejected some offers and a lot of breeders rejected my offer.  That is the way it works. After speaking with some of the breeders and receiving more information on their dogs, I realised that some dogs were not what I wanted.  Some breeders were only planning litters in 2 or 3 years time.  So after 11 months I finally found a puppy from one of my very top choices.
3.  The expenses are massive, especially with the exchange rate not being in our favour.  Few people in South African agility can afford this expense.
4.  As I have mentioned before, the paperwork, tests, processes and general beaurocracy is very time consuming, frustrating and painful.
5.  It is a very time-consuming process and you have to wait some amount of time for your puppy, where often people will just decide on getting a new dog and be able to arrange it within months, the process with importing is much more involved and thus not for the impatient.

If you consider all these problems, it is no wonder that there are so few imports for working purposes in South Africa.  In the past 12 months, 7 dogs have been imported for agility:  3 Border Collies; 1 Australian Cattle Dog; 1 PyrShep; 2 Shelties.  It will be an absolute minimum of 24 months before any of these dogs can be used to breed and then another two years before the progeny will be able to prove themselves.  This is provided that suitable matings can be found as there are very few of some of those breeds in the country.

Now of course we will always have brilliant local dogs competing, but those of us that aspire to make our mark on the international stage and those that want to promote diversity and growth in the sport, have to aim higher. 

Right now we have found our perfect agility puppy, the problems do not stop there.  South Africa is not a dog friendly country.  First of all the amount of good training schools and advisors are small and limited to major cities.  There are quite a few dog schools that still practise very 'old-school' ways of training, so for a beginner, the chances of starting off your agility career on the right foot is not 100%.

Dogs are barely allowed anywhere in South Africa.  Not on public transport, in malls, in some parks or for that matter any public venue.  Dog friendly accomodation is also rare, so travelling through the country to shows and such takes careful planning.

Compared to Europe and America, the range of pet products and especially pet food is very limited.  This is not a huge problem, as we do have good imported foods such as Eukaneuba and Hills, however their full ranges are not always available.  And because of the fact that these brands are imported, they are rather expensive.

The point is that dogs are not as much of an integral part of life in South Africa as they are in Europe and the States, if you are a 'doggy person' you really have to know the ins and outs and make an effort to involve your dogs in your life.

We in the dog world do very well in making our own lives doggy lives, but it is not as simple as elsewhere. 

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