I became an AKC delegate for the Shenandoah Valley Kennel Club around five years ago. Before I went to my first meeting I thought the delegate body was a very large group of very old snobs…you know, those meanies you see being rude to other show exhibitors and snapping at spectators while griping about the judging, the show site, the host club, the food, the vendors, the parking, the entry fees…you get the picture.
Boy, did I have that wrong. My first meeting was in Long Beach and while there were a few of those show meanies, most were welcoming, friendly, and helpful. Committee meetings were interesting, and while the delegates’ meeting itself was more formal and, well, dull, I wasn’t sorry I had accepted the job. It was interesting, though a little disheartening, to see how AKC operated from the inside back in 2008.
Why disheartening? I had been deeply involved in legislation and the animal rights war for more than ten years, but at my first meeting I heard hardly a mention of the problem. There was a legislative caucus: It met at 7:30 in the morning. At that hour only a few dozen very smart and committed people showed up, many of whom I was delighted to find I already knew through email. But five years ago the AKC seemed as clueless about the AR threat as it had been when I’d first become aware of the agenda of the humaniacs.
Five years is not a long time. However…
I just got back from the delegates’ meeting in Newark and what a difference! The address by Chairman of the Board Kalter (which I hope every one of you will read) was entirely about the threat from the animal rights machine. In nearly every committee meeting, animal rights issues were mentioned at least peripherally, whether discussing the image we present to the public or the advisability of sharing breeders’ addresses in various venues.
The government relations department at AKC is now staffed with extremely smart professionals who understand the threat to the dog fancy. Last year they tracked more than 1500 pieces of proposed legislation, offering advice and help to state federations, clubs, and individuals.
Last year’s AKC legislative workshop was one of the best I have attended and I hope it will be repeated.
The awareness of the animal rights movement is not all that has changed. Long Beach has hated dog breeders for decades but five years ago the AKC was still going there regularly and leaving behind million of dollars. Not any more.
At that first meeting in Long Beach, much of the discussion was about whether to accept mixed breeds into the organization. It was really a toss-up whether the amendment would pass and emotions were high on both sides. Phrases like “tradition” and “mission statement” were heard wherever more than two people were gathered. When the amendment passed there was serious discontent…okay, a stink.
This past Tuesday we voted on whether to allow agility clubs to become full voting members of AKC. The addresses by delegates in favor were truly inspiring. They talked about inclusiveness, reaching out, involving more people in dog sports,and the dedication of the people involved in agility. When the vote was taken, fewer than a dozen delegates opposed it, and I am proud to say agility clubs can now apply for AKC membership.
We also voted to add the phrase “to advance canine health and well-being” to the very beginning of the AKC’s Charter and By-laws, Article III: Objects of the Club. Though this has been a major objective of all of us through the years, adding it to the objectives even before “to maintain and publish an official stud book” not only helps clarify what the AKC is about but speaks volumes about their ability and willingness to make changes.
Discussions in committees now often include putting the fun back into dog shows, welcoming the public to dog events, and involving more people in the sport. The traditional snobbery is evaporating.
It’s easy to criticize AKC. For years we looked to them for leadership and got none. But it’s important to acknowledge change when we see it. As someone once told us, “It’s a large, old organization and change comes very slowly.'” Well, change has come and the AKC deserves our support.
I’d still like to see the legislative caucus moved out of that 7:30 am time slot …