Keeping the World of the Purebred Dog Pure
While I was walking my four-month old Elkhound puppy this morning, a state-of-the-art automobile passed by sporting a huge vanity license plate: MINILAB. A couple of unidentifiable dogs were barking in the back seat.
Ever since the American Kennel Club announced that youngsters will be able to compete in Junior Showmanship with mixed breeds starting soon, I have wondered exactly where the sport of purebred dogs is headed. Since Labradors rank at the top of the list as America’s most popular breed, are renegade commercial breeders developing a Minilab breed to market by the thousands? Does AKC have the registration of Labradoodles, Goldendoodles and even Chorkies (Chihuahua/Yorkie crosses) on their radar?
My very first dog was a mixed breed, loved, groomed and exhibited at community pet shows. Like many mixed breeds in our lives, this one was the beginning of my lifelong love affair with dogs. Truly, all of us love all dogs. And most of us love all kids. The fact is, dogs and kids go together. So what’s wrong with this picture?
Having spent 35 years in the classroom with 150 youngsters a day, I have a pretty good read on kids. Do the powers-that-be have any idea of the fragility of kids entering puberty – an age category that includes a lot of Juniors? Has any consideration been given to the fact that a pre-teen might be intimidated by another his or her age with a well-groomed, beautiful purebred? Do most involved with this decision realize that some kids this age are bullies? Is it possible AKC’s good intentions are somewhat misguided and could turn off some youngsters as well as turn on others? Has AKC considered working with 4-H clubs and school systems to achieve their defined goal of attracting American youth into our world of the dog? In other words, like many decisions made by the board over the years, is this project on course to succeed? Or to fail?
In the past my life included working with 4-H clubs to get youngsters involved with dogs. One of my best such experiences resulted in a 1970s-era youngster who bred and competed with sheep and later pursued purebred dogs and does so to this day. So I get the gist of this effort, but wonder how it will be enacted.
Could the event be a special attraction sponsored by 4-H or another organization in conjunction with an AKC show, yet separate from our usual Junior Showmanship competition? Many breeders are willing to place champion animals with interested youngsters who might want to move from the mixed-breed category to purebred competition. Has AKC considered developing a program working with breeders that would allow this eventual progression? Does AKC have a method in place to reach out to parents? Its ultimate goal should be: Keep the purebred dog pure.
Has AKC considered working with county fairs to promote such a program? County fairs offer many more interesting activities and animals to draw more kids and their families than the average dog show does. Once while judging an all-American “dog show” held with the Monterey County (CA) Fair, I was floored by the innovation of kids telling me what breeds of dogs they exhibited. A freckled-faced boy told me his Heinz Hound was the best because it had 57 great ancestors! These youngsters were truly enjoying their experience because they didn’t feel they were at the bottom of the food chain without a purebred. And indeed, in time, some of them DID get involved in purebred dogs. So there is an avenue here for such a program to succeed and encourage children to eventually come to our world of dogs. It’s sad that we don’t have the fun matches of yesteryear to provide valuable learning experiences for them.
Nonetheless, we should consider all aspects of this project. How does a judge of Juniors determine if an animal is being handled properly for its breed when the breed is undetermined? What are the criteria for judging a mixed breed? Consider that some breeds are not handled in the usual way. The Cairn standard states the dog must go on a loose lead. Although most standards do not address presentation, traditions surrounding presentation are adhered to. Judges and others who have spent their lives promoting their breed feel this U-turn on the part of the kennel club is incomprehensible, if not downright alarming.
From the golden-anniversary edition of “The Complete Dog Book,” published in 1979 by AKC (page 19): “The American Kennel Club, established September 17, 1884, is a non-profit organization devoted to the advancement of purebred dogs.”
Today fanciers are questioning if AKC is morphing into something other than their aforementioned designated mission statement. They ask themselves: Is this proud and long-held concept no longer valid? Does this mean that mixed breeds in Junior conformation-type showing today will evolve into mixed breeds in conformation show rings tomorrow? Will the end result be the destruction of revered gene pools and great bloodlines in the future? The work of hundreds of years of studying and labor by dedicated and serious breeders seems endangered.
This new twist seems diametrically opposite of our shared concept: preservation breeding. Some prominent judges are considering going to limited Junior Showmanship judging, which is just for specialty shows, where all the dogs are purebred. They wonder if their shared passion for purebred dogs is becoming too “old school” for those in charge. One can only speculate if AKC can design a separate special-attraction class that might work, especially if it were judged by already successful Juniors with purebred dogs. Never underestimate how much more respect kids at certain ages have for their peers than for adults.
And then there is the subject of non-profit. Anyone following AKC decisions in recent years knows that AKC is big business these days. Their menu of dog products follows the old adage “from soup to nuts.” Consider the various virtual activities offered in the age of the pandemic.
If my sources are correct, here is the situation regarding cancelled dog shows and exhibitors’ entry fees. If the show cancels prior to the closing date, that’s one thing: The club and superintendent accordingly deal with entry monies. If it cancels after the closing date, AKC collects its regular recording fee per dog from the cost of the entry, even though there’s no record to be processed since there was no show. Many clubs have opted to be more altruistic by refunding part of entry fees after paying printing costs and other pre-show expenses associated with staging dog shows. If all the entry fees are returned in total, AKC does not charge a fee. However, few kennel clubs are able to absorb the cost of the superintendent’s pre-show work in order to refund all entry fees. In a perfect world, AKC should seek the right balance between generating income and protecting the purebred dog.
AKC and all of us in the proverbial “world of dogs” continue to represent the sport positively in many ways. Our dog-show world still profiles gentleman dressed in coats and ties and ladies dressed accordingly. It is the era of beautiful St. John suits, even in the Junior rings. Personally this makes me very proud as all of us who travel, shop and go to church see those who have thrown all caution to the winds in dressing. It makes one wonder whatever happened to civility and good taste in the general population.
Yet misgivings about the direction of our guiding governors are true concerns among those in the trenches and at the grass-roots level in dogs. Have we lost our moral compass? Is the purebred dog no longer relevant to the world of dogs? Confusion about the dumbing down of our sport has been a problem in recent years.
The big question is: Can AKC figure out how to make it work for the good of the order? Meanwhile, please consider this a plea to keep purebred dogs and their world PURE.