AKC HISTORY - AND FUTURE
AKC Dog Shows have changed from a Gentleman's Sport to Everyman's pastime to a profitable, political playground for The Elite.
Jan 2015 Update | TheDogPress Club News
Barbara J. Andrews, Editor-in-Chief
The American Kennel Club was founded in 1884 by a small group of wealthy men to compare and improve breeding stock. In order to do so, they had to keep track of wins and pedigrees. That led to formation of the AKC, conceived as a "club of clubs" to formalize budding competitions across the country. It was a great and noble beginning.
Prior to WW II, the sport of breeding and exhibiting dogs was defined by the comfortable rich with time on their hands. As Americans prospered, more families could afford to keep dogs as pets rather than for utilitarian reasons. By the fifties, AKC shows had become a gathering ground where common folk could socialize and show off their pets.
By the sixties, dogs were still judged on using ability but gradually, purpose-bred dogs were little more than a historical footnote as esthetic beauty became paramount. This came as a result of women moving from the whelping room into the show ring. As women's rights became fashionable, they were no longer content with nurturing pups and then turning them over to the men to exhibit. Women began to take dogs all the way to top honors. Stylized grooming techniques and showmanship caught on. Dog Shows had not only arrived, they became a family sport. Celebrities became associated with purebred dogs and the dog fancy was "in."
During the seventies, Americans became urbanized. We worked shorted hours and had more disposable income. Gone were the days of 300-dog entries where an owner handled dog could win the Group. A bale of hay in a NC tobacco barn turned into a throne when Lina Basquett (ref #2) sat down beside me. Gesturing with her long cigarette, she said "Look at them BJ! There's the OE and Woody, Jimmy and the Shepherd, Carlos and Dino! What are they doing here in this God-forsaken place?" I risked the observation that they were here for the same reason she was here. She flared her nostrils and replied, "But dear, I will win the Group so they are just wasting their time!" She did, and we stayed to cheer Lina on to win Best In Show.
Rare breeds were formalized by organizations such as ARBA, the American Rare Breeds Association. Roadside signs proclaiming "AKC Puppies For Sale" had yet to reek of commercialism. Puppy mills were gestating, about to be born as Vietnam vets received generous federal funding to begin raising dogs. Dog breeding also caught the attention of farmers strangled by agri-business monopolies. Suddenly, dogs and everything connected with dogs became a bountiful money crop. An unimagined future was in the offing.
By the eighties, most breeds needed professional handlers. Entries were averaging over a thousand dogs. Billy Lyles had sued the AKC for refusing to renew his handler's license. The result was that AKC licensed handlers became history but the tide had turned and the professional handlers associations began to take control of the show ring. Politics had always existed but "arrangements" became a way of doing business and could be embarrassingly flagrant.
It was hard to sell a show puppy and let the buyer think they could do it themselves. Honest breeders advised serious exhibitors to get a handler because it would take a decade of education and networking before they could win as owner-handlers.
The United Kennel Club (UKC) was unchallenged in hunt and field events and the American Kennel Club was the king of Conformation. Peripheral registries had yet to be defined, much less considered alternatives.
Enter the Nineties. Hand-recorded registrations became a part of AKC history. Records computerization came just in time for an explosion of shows and registrations. Whereas in the past most exhibitors were breeders, an increasing number of buyers only wanted to show and expenses became a write-off for the wealthy. Flying dogs became the new norm for top contenders.
Looking to the future, AKC began to see possibilities of expansion, not-for-profit not withstanding... What was once free or considered part of a show or American Kennel Club service was now for sale. Everything from parking spaces to points verification now came with a price tag.
The Millennium came and went with blinding speed. In a February column, AKC judge Sari Teitjen astutely noted "AKC support of and commercial alliances with the commercial pet industry... has led to an erosion in confidence..." and a "declining interest in AKC registration..." Even Wayne Cavanaugh, AKC Communications VP, was critical of AKC's failure to define its positions and the value of registrations as its primary product. Indeed, AKC's obligation to the purebred dog became blurred by the new commercialism.
TheDogPress.com was launched in 2002 and for the first time in history, the Ivory Tower was held accountable. Previously whispered secrets became public knowledge.
As the internet grew, the dog fancy learned more about canine health and genetics. Designer Dogs hit the market but the NetPlaces Network countered careless breeding by promoting the well-bred purebred. As the first dog-site, TheDogPlace.org launched the canine health section (ref #1). It countered the animal rights rhetoric that "shelter mutts are healthier" by stressing that a well bred purebred dog will be healthier because it was created by breeders who understand genetics. The animal rights groups were forced to change tactics. Fortunately, "saving helpless animals" works well for shelter animals while not slurring purebreds.
The AKC Canine Health Foundation joined the PR campaign to promote the value of purebred dogs. The stagnant OFA (Orthopedic Foundation For Animals) under new leadership, furthered the concept of health and genetic testing. The public began to understand the importance of genetic quality created by a purebred dog breeder who loves dogs more than money.
The 21st century dog must not become a crop; a product hawked by an AKC that has forgotten its avowed Mission. The purebred dog of the future must be marketed by breeders who truly understand its value.
For most Americans "A boy and his dog" is a part of American history. It is so, not because of AKC or any other registry. The family dog was a precious part of childhood for both city and farm kids, and whether purebred or mongrel, it was a DOG, not a product. A dog was your best friend and should remain so until there is no more life on earth.
The next decade for the American Kennel Club will become its future. Our parents took for granted what we now must fight to preserve. Some of us entered professions which sustain a lifelong love of dogs. As handlers, trainers, veterinarians, breeders, writers, we either accept the mass production and marketing of the purebred dog or choose another profession. We can not profess to love dogs and what they mean to us - and accept that dogs mean only $$$$$ to others. Would you sell out your best friend for a business deal? Well? Would you betray your heritage for another "endorsement" fee? Would you?
AKC Board Elections are upon us again. How will your Delegate vote? Do you have a commitment from the candidates to put the American Kennel Club's 1884 Mission first, before profit, production - and some new version of PAWS?
Does your dog club hold its Delegate accountable to the wishes of the majority of members?
Are we too little too late? Do you still believe in the AKC's glorious history and will you step up to protect the future of the purebred dog?
revised and reprinted from ShowSight Magazine 2005, re-published Jan 2015