By Way of Explanation

Normally by this time of year I am on serious countdown for the Specialty, which has traditionally been my most favorite week of the year. Not this year. Big change, right?

After the last Specialty, I waited and waited for the excitement to come back. It didn't.

I decided not to do the newsletter this year -- still nothing.

Strangely, I am already excited about the 2019 Specialty but this one? Meh.

Last year's Specialty was a rough one. The weather was awful. The Newsletter was especially hard and discouraging. The usual Cheater cheated yet again. People were crabby in unusually high numbers. I groomed dogs in a small lake -- with electrical cords everywhere. The hotel was tough. To be frank -- it was a soul-sucking, hard-on-the-heart, discouraging experience.

For a person that tends to walk through life with optimism -- that is saying a lot.

This is not about blame -- rather, it is just about my experience, my perceptions, and my reaction to the collective experience of the 2017 Specialty.

That is why I left early.

A Specialty committee *must* create an atmosphere of invitation and customer service (for lack of a better word). Everything should be optimal because people spend thousands of dollars and so much time to attend. There has to be a solid, well-functioning team with members who have expertise in their jobs, work well together, and maintain a commitment to both service and excellence. 

People say, "everyone is a volunteer" as if that is some kind of excuse to do a crappy job in roles that impact SO many other people; it isn't.

And so I am skipping the 2018 Specialty. It means I won't be showing Claire in her only chance to be in Futurity -- sad. I won't see my east coast peeps -- more sad. 

But I suspect I will also miss a lot of what was hard about last year, and that is good because my heart and soul need a bit more of a break. 

I know we will be well-represented at the 2018 Specialty and I will be following from afar.

And I am already planning for 2019.



by Deb on Thu, 02/01/2018 - 07:12

You are not alone. I have always loved going to the Specialty before, but I found 2017’s to be really disheartening. In fact, I was so discouraged, I have considered dropping out of both my regional and the national clubs. I experienced some similar things, and the cliques were too much.

I had someone go off on me just for asking politely if I could sit in a ringside chair they had been using because they left their junk everywhere to “reserve” the seat. As you know, no one was supposed to just hold seats for more than the length of a quick bathroom break. I saw this behavior aimed at others as well.

I’m avoiding the Specialty this year and probably next. I’ll reassess for 2020.

by Kay on Thu, 02/01/2018 - 08:00

I've attended a good number of Specialties over the years (first one in 1986) and I'd have to say last year's event was one of my least favorite for similar reasons. The only redeeming part was the chance to see old friends again and cheering on my Arizona club members. I returned home ill and it took me several weeks to recover from the whole experience. The Colorado Specialties have collectively been my favorite because of the people involved in the organization and the superior facilities. I'd like to go to Minnesota in 2019 because the site is very near where my family used to vacation many years ago but the distance may be too much.

by Bobbie on Thu, 02/01/2018 - 11:31

I’ve been 2 two National specialties. I am what many refer to as a “pet person “.
I have enjoyed attending Berner U classes, all the vendor booths and
Watching beautiful Berners in conformation, agility and rally. The one thing that bothered
Me was the lack of welcoming pet people. I found this in my local club too. Pet people from my experience are treated like they know nothing about the breed or how to take care of dogs in general. It’s like a two class system.

I wish there was something done to embrace pet people, make them feel welcome and that
They truly belong at specialties especially the national specialties. After all, we love Berners just
As much as breeders and those participating in conformation and performances
Events. Isn’t loving Berners the most important thing?

by Pat on Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:21

I missed 2017, first since 1988. I had another dog event I attended instead. I’m going to miss you Mary-Ann, and I hope you enjoy a year off as much as I enjoyed mine. And how many years have I seen you early mornings copying and folding newsletters? You deserve a huge thank you and a break!! As for pet people, I’m working on getting the Newbie buttons again, so I’ll hope to have those available once more!

by Mary-Ann on Fri, 02/02/2018 - 05:08

I will miss seeing you! And I am glad those buttons are back!

by CA Heidi on Thu, 02/01/2018 - 13:43

I have only been to one Specialty -- Del Mar. There was so much to like -- meeting people (especially MA, Pat Long, and Leslie J!!!) and being surrounded by Berners. I thought it would be the experience of coming to be enfolded in a group of people that understood more than anyone how broken my heart was after losing Harley. It wasn't like that. People I thought I 'liked,' so much online were aloof and even cold in person. My breeder basically scolded me for grieving Harley -- cancer is everywhere in this breed! -- (as if I didn't know that) and basically shunned me for the rest of the time. It appeared that my sadness was an accusation in some way, though I could not have intended that any less. People at events were not friendly. If we got there early enough to get good seats, we were regarded coldly and as interlopers. When we cheerfully said we were 'just' pet people, we were often excluded from that point on in the conversation. It felt a bit like realizing that you had shown up for the wrong class in college after being there for an hour.

BUT. I did meet some people I knew online, and those hugs were worth it. Meeting MA and her pack was as wonderful as I had imagined. Getting a hug from Pat Long, after so many helpful and instructive communications was a gift. I saw carting and agility for the first time, and could not have cheered louder. How wonderful to see these exquisite dogs working! I can easily see how one could become very involved in these sports. My husband met MA's kind DH, and they did -- and do -- get on wonderfully. That's no small thing.

And yet. I had to admit that I left feeling . . . bereft? I definitely was not, nor likely ever will be, one of the cool kids. I am not a big event person, and so I realized that perhaps smaller things would work better for me. Thus, instead of spending money on a Specialty last year, my DH and I went for a blissful weekend in Montana to cuddle puppies. Money well spent. And, btw -- so interesting to see the whole puppy process without being a PPO. I have never before seen puppies where I wasn't trying to choose THE ONE and I realized later that situation is in it's own happy way very stressful.

So, what to do? I think I will likely attend a Specialty again, but it will probably be in conjunction with seeing a far flung friend, or something like that. As a whole, it's just not something I enjoy enough for all the stress that comes with it. Maybe if I do, I will volunteer at something. Having a job might make me feel more like I fit in, perhaps.


by Deb on Thu, 02/01/2018 - 15:03


You are not alone. There were people there I actually do know who couldn't be bothered to say hello. I posted to the Specialty page that I was looking for someone who might want to join me for dinner one evening and *literally* no one replied. Not even all those people who are more than happy to ask me for a favor.

I do think social media connections and comments and things made me believe people would actually speak with me when they could not be bothered to do so in person. I was wearing my name tag, so it's not like people didn't know who I am.

Who knows? Maybe I am super unpleasant and no one wants to hang with me, but I suspect that since I do have friends, that is not the case, and I chatted with friends there. My friends Lesley and Steve were even nice enough to invite me to hang out with them at the auction (and we had the amazing Kim there, too).

I, too, hate the "only a pet person" mentality. I consider all of my furry kids to be family/pets first and anything else second. I'm having fun doing performance stuff now that I learned to just tune out the nastiness and focus on my bond with my dogs (and keep my eyes on the bigger picture thanks to a Berner U presentation by MA in Denver several years ago).

I had suggested that future specialties have some way for newbies and oldies who hate the cliques to hang out together and get to know each other.

It feels a little like the #metoo movement.

by Mary-Ann on Fri, 02/02/2018 - 05:07

We have a reception for our foreign guests -- what about one for new Specialty attendees?

by Rosemary Mitche... on Fri, 02/02/2018 - 11:31

Heidi and other pet people,
Again, you are not alone. We too, are "not real dog people" in the minds of some in the Berner world. Personally, i think it is their loss! We have three and will be at the upcoming BMDCA Specialty. It will be our fourth and we would love to meet FB friends or any person who loves their Berners as much as we do! Our oldest boy is 10 and will be in the Senior parade, our girl will be 8 and in the Veterans parade and all will be in the Titleholders' parade. Our youngest boy (5) is called Thundermouth for a reason. If you see us before we see you, please come and say hello and let's have dinner!

by CA Heidi :-) on Wed, 02/07/2018 - 15:46

When I attend a Specialty (maybe 2019?) I will so HAPPILY take you up on your gracious invitation!!!



by Carolyn M on Thu, 02/01/2018 - 14:17

Mary Ann, I'm so bummed that you won't be at the Specialty. Man do I have some big shoes to fill working on the newsletter! This may have been a risky decision considering my mother is the hotel liaison, but it will be a nice distraction from that!

I have only attended one Specialty - Virginia. Rogue was not even a year old yet. I didn't even get to to stay in the Host hotel although I probably could have got a room there. I was pet person. And, I knew "of" people from going to shows and watching the Westminster feed. I knew Holly from FB and my breeder, Barbie. I think that was it. I was "adopted" by a great group of women when they knew I was there by myself. I went with the expectation that I probably wouldn't talk to people or anything. I really didn't know anyone in the breed at that time. I certainly didn't know what to expect. I had a great time!

Unfortunately yes, I do think that we do flock in groups. I feel really fortunate this year that my club is hosting so I will know a lot of people. I'm really looking forward to meeting a lot of people who I admire greatly from breeders, to show and pet people, people who are amazing at photography and art.

Are there cliques? - yes. When I first joined, I almost ran away as fast as my legs would carry me. That would have been a bad decision though. As long as I can have dogs, I hope I'm here to stay. Rise above the drama. I think there are a lot of things that make us all different, but at the end of the day the thing that binds us all together is the love for this breed and our dogs.

by Diane on Thu, 02/01/2018 - 16:16

Be the change you want to see- you will do AMAZING CAROLOYN MASSEY!

by Robin korotki on Thu, 02/01/2018 - 16:47

I go when I can because I ♥our bernese. Mary Ann, I will miss your team as you were the rocky Mt high to our sailors in Va. If anyone wants company, look me up ! I have no agenda, am a 4H leader, travel with my pseudomom and meet up with others who feel like me. Come over and have dinner with Francie and me and be sure to come to Maryland for 2020.

by Stacy on Thu, 02/01/2018 - 20:16

I think each person goes to the National for different reasons. I am sad that you are blaming the organizing committee for your unhappiness at the National. I know so many people worked their tail-end off putting on the best specialty they knew how! From ways and means, performance events in torrential downpour, vendors, grooming in pouring rain, trophies, auctions, banquets....the list goes on and on! I personally do very little in the way of volunteering but help when I can. I know that because I am not putting in blood, sweat and tears to make the show go, I have no room to complain. But for goodness sakes. If I have a bad specialty, and I have, I would never blame it on the show committee!
I will also put something out there in defense of those of us who meet people through fb...many people know what people look like because they are in their dog's photos on FB. If you don't post photos of you on your fb account I could easily walk by you and not know who you are (I have done it before). I apologize, I am not being rude, I just have no idea how to id people I have never seen or met in person. I have done it many times to people I talk to all the time on fb. Also, keep in mind, just because I post on FB does NOT make me comfortable in social situations. Most of my friends know I am happiest working my booty off in the grooming tent and then crashing in my room. Please don't assume I am blowing people off or being rude, I am exhausted! (I share because I know this is a common thing). I am always happy to chat with people but I will be honest, I am hard to pin down.
I personally don't think it is necessary to blame others for something you need to do for yourself. If you want something to change, you have just as much power to change it as anyone else. Like Pat and her newbie buttons, great idea! I am happy to answer any questions. Just my humble opinion.

by Mary-Ann on Fri, 02/02/2018 - 05:04

I appreciate that people can and do share opinions about experiences because it helps all of us know how to do and be better. It is okay that we have different experiences, and it is also okay if we share them. What is not okay is suggesting that respectfully expressed personal experiences that disagree with our own are somehow unacceptable -- they are not.

My original post was very clear -- it was not about blame.  The 2017 show committee, including me, did their best with some seriously uncooperative weather and a less than optimal site, in my opinon. My post was not intended to be a criticism of the committee at all.

That said, I do believe anyone who attends a Specialty -- not just people like me who work at them -- is absolutely entitled to respectfully express both kudos and complaints so that future teams can respond. If nobody says anything and just stops going -- how is that helping? Maybe we need a formal place for feedback to be submitted so that future teams can learn what worked and what didn't?

As for new people -- it has long been a complaint that new people do not feel welcomed. That is good information for all of us to have and remember. I suspect we are all part of the solution.


by Stacy on Fri, 02/02/2018 - 10:22

Hi Mary Ann,

The only reason I was compelled to respond is because your post was very obviously about blaming others for your decision. You might not think it is but when you say:
A Specialty committee *must* create an atmosphere of invitation and customer service (for lack of a better word). Everything should be optimal because people spend thousands of dollars and so much time to attend. There has to be a solid, well-functioning team with members who have expertise in their jobs, work well together, and maintain a commitment to both service and excellence.

People say, "everyone is a volunteer" as if that is some kind of excuse to do a crappy job in roles that impact SO many other people; it isn't.

And so I am skipping the 2018 Specialty. It means I won't be showing Claire in her only chance to be in Futurity -- sad. I won't see my east coast peeps -- more sad.
Own your own emotions, don't blame them on others. If you had a bad specialty, own it. Please don't blame it on people who only tried and did their best to make their specific responsibilities shine the best they could, on top of trying to show and groom their own dogs. We are all in control of ourselves and our own emotions, "because someone else cheated" shouldn't have ruined your specialty, you chose to let it do whatever it did. Did you stop to think that maybe that entire drama changed others specialties and effected them?
Many people chose to have fun in the rain or at least chose to laugh about it. Be sad about Clare not showing in futurity, but that is because of your choice, not because volunteers do a crappy job in their roles.

You got my hackles up Mary Ann. No one on that committee does that role for a living so may not have a lot of experience. Yes, they are all volunteers and were doing it to make the specialty the best for everyone. Don't blame them. Its hard enough to get people to help, be part of the solution, not the problem. We all have to take responsibility for our own feelings and emotions.

by Mary-Ann on Fri, 02/02/2018 - 11:50

My post went from specific (my personal experience of 2017) to general (what it means to be a volunteer at any specialty or any other place). Perhaps that transition was not clear enough?

There is no question that we have control of our own feelings and emotions, which -- of course -- means you have chosen to take offense at my expression of my experience/thoughts ;)

It is also true that we all impact each all the time -- that is normal and expected. It is actually a problem if we are immune to other people  -- I would call it is a lack of empathy, which is characteristic of serious mental health issues.

I suspect it is best to have a balance -- yes, I can be affected by others AND yes, I am not leveled, devastated, or rendered nonfunctional by what others say and do -- even when they disagree with us or when we think we are being misunderstood. 


by Mary-Ann on Fri, 02/02/2018 - 12:01

Because I care about other people, I re-read my post based on your input.

What strikes me is this -- what does it mean when a first response is essentially "how dare you?!" and not, "shoot -- sounds like she had a rough experience" to both what I wrote and to the heartfelt comments shared above?

Interesting example of difference/diversity.


by Anonymous on Fri, 02/02/2018 - 13:53

It's obvious you had a rough experience and it is obvious you were blaming it on the people who put a lot of effort into making a specialty experience great. A lot of those people are my friends, so yes, I did get defensive. You have an established way to get your opinions out there but a lot of those people don't or don't see your blog. Making them a silent victim in your blog. Felt like I should stand up for them. That's all.

by Mary-Ann on Sat, 02/03/2018 - 06:56

Not blaming. 

The End.

by Marti on Thu, 02/01/2018 - 22:18

I may or may not attend 2018. It all depends on Lilloete and when she decides to come in season. I want to apologize if I came off as cold or unfriendly to anyone. Specialties are very hard when you have multiple dogs in multiple events. In addition to that I was more than a little worried about my DH who was recovering from a massive heart attack and actually wearing a portable defibrillator at the show. . . it wasn't my best specialty.

by Mary-Ann on Fri, 02/02/2018 - 05:07

We all get so busy at Specialties and it is hard to manage all the pieces! I think very few people intend to be unkind -- it is just a function of being super busy and stressed and etc. 

With a few notable exceptions, of course. It didn't help my Specialty when the Cheater told your Dear Husband, who had quite recently suffered a cardiac arrest, to "drop dead." What a complete and total bitch. Yep -- I just said that.

by Cheryl on Fri, 02/02/2018 - 20:52

We have been to many specialities and have always been glad we went. We love seeing people I have met online and continue to see them year after year. I can tell you we have run into a few of those "bad eggs' but we didnt let their poor attitudes diminish the fun we were having with others. We havent been to a specialty since Monterey, which was amazing. I dont like missing them as that means I dont get to see people I really like and care about. So I am kind of glad we didnt go last year. Sounds like we wouldnt have like much of what was going on. We have been fortunate to set at a table with Mary Ann and her DH once, maybe in Wisconsin, I really cant remember or maybe Gettsyburg Ugh, getting old sucks..I just know it must have been really bad for Mary Ann to feel the way she expressed. I have alot of respect for her and her family. We are both social workers but I make claim that I want to grow up to be the social worker that Mary Ann We are thinking about going in 2019. It is harder for us to go when they are on the east or west coast. Minnesota doesnt seem so bad for us coming from Oklahoma. But I did always enjoy when I would see someone name tag and jump up and saw we know each other on facebook and I have had others do that with me. Those are the people I really enjoy seeing. Do we enjoy everything at the speciality, well no but there is so much that we do enjoy that we have fun filled days. Just do the things you like to do and dont worry about the things you dont like to do. It really is that simple, isnt it?

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