Showing dogs is fun but dog shows are not a family sport, not if you want to win big. It's a $90 million a year business that dog breeders happily support.
by Barbara J. Andrews, part of the AKC History Series of 1990
AKC dog shows are big-business where having the best dog can be secondary to winning ribbons, supporting favored judges and AKC's money-makers, from pedigree research to companion animal recovery.
Learning how to stack a dog is simple compared to learning how to play the game. Dog shows used to be about having the best dog and sorting out one's future breeding stock. As the economy improved after the war, it became a family sport that anyone could enjoy with their friends, family and of course, their most promising dogs.
A look at AKC History in displays below reveals the American Kennel Club was always about quality dogs and moneyed people. It moved from what was once a pedigree registry and venue for breeders to exhibit their stock, to a very closed society of well-to-do bankers and Wall Street brokers, to a family sport open to everyone, and thence to, well, in 1990, I’m not sure.
Dog shows started to move out of cow pastures and into civic centers in the seventies. To an increasingly small number of participants who were around in the eighties when things began to really change, much of what transpired was welcome growth. Instead of running to borrow a lead from a fellow competitor, by the nineties, we had dozens of sales booths from which to purchase supplies. And in the new millennium, we have mobile super-stores.
When dog show venues began to accept commercial sponsors, most of us said “good” and we vied a bit more eagerly for cash prizes and bags of dog food. We loved the hospitality and free coffee, then the parties and dances provided by the dog food companies, and if a few of us noticed that many of the clubs were not quite as “hospitable” well, so what?
Some exhibitors began to be a little annoyed when the kennel clubs seemed more intent on selling vendor space and keeping us and our dogs and crates away from ringside, i.e. “clearing the aisle” for the extra-cash customers known as spectators. When free parking for exhibitors (you know, the main attraction) became a thing of the past and we began to be gouged for $20 a night with no hookups, well, we accepted that kind of mistreatment because we love the sport!
How many remember when AKC acquiesced to journalistic demands to provide a legal means for breeders wishing to sell pets with no papers? (You might remember that AKC reserved – and used – the right to issue papers to an owner even though the breeder had sold the dog as a “pet with no papers".) This writer pointed out that the cat associations had long provided a space on the “blue slip” for the breeder to mark the kitten as pet, ineligible for progeny registration.
True to its changing nature, AKC came back with the money-making deal wherein the breeder was required to register the pet puppy, then transfer it to the buyer who it was hoped, would also register the puppy.
When my next column questioned the efficiency of that policy and exposed the clever double fees ruse to double AKC's registration revenue it was promptly changed back to a one-time registration charge and ultimately to the Limited Registration box. Sometimes, letting the cat out of the bag makes the mouse go away. I have no illusions that will work this time.
Most such attempts to line the AKC treasure chest met with a blasé “who cares?” response from the dog fancy. At one point, we were told raising registration fees is a good thing because impacts the puppy mills! Even though AKC is a non-profit business enterprise, we’re constantly told fees must go up because it needs the money.
Drafting a rule that required microchipping because AKC was going into the microchip business finally opened eyes! When the press brought the relationship to the attention of the fancy, there was more than a little muttering about conflict of interest. So, we were given back the right to tattoo or otherwise identify our dogs as a means to comply with AKC record-keeping requirements.
When a certain company offered AKC a very simple low-cost package with which to offer DNA services to the fancy, it was rejected. Was AKC able to make a more lucrative deal with its current service? Who knows? The good thing is that we finally got DNA testing. UKC had it long before AKC. It might appear to some thoughtful people that the United Kennel Club was more interested in DNA as a genetic tool than as a source of revenue.
When our fees are constantly increasing and AKC says "we need the money" do we ever say "cut the salaries!"? No, most of today's dog breeders weren't around when AKC board members hardly took any salary and staff was small and actually worked. Now the AKC President makes as much as the President of the U.S. (1) and I ask you, does that make sense?
Traditionally, the fancy has accepted just about everything AKC has done and most of it has been great. As long as we could still go to shows, win ribbons and visit with friends, we didn’t want to hear much about the Aussie and other breeds being “stolen” from their own registries. Supporters of Rare Breeds welcomed the AKC Foundation Stock Service but ARBA, the Am. Rare Breeds Associaton wasn’t too happy about the news. (side note: the once-great breed pioneer quickly became history.)
When AKC began to discreetly “partner” with other very-much-for-profit companies, those who might have questioned such arrangements were pacified by the relatively small donations AKC made to certain charities, including the AKC Museum and the newly formed AKC Health Foundation, both of which are sure to generate tons of $$$ tax free donations.
When vendors paid exorbitant sums for booth space at the Garden, only to discover right next to them was the AKC booth busily selling the same jewelry, purses, and other goodies, who complained? Just the vendors.
So, who will worry about what the newest AKC “Enterprise” will mean to the sport? The Delegates weren’t pleased to learn about it by reading it in TheDogPress.com. The Delegate Body should have at least been appraised of the plan if not consulted. Why is it so hush-hush? There are only a few reasons for corporate secrets.
A.) To scoop the competition. (What competition? Me? You?)
B.) To conceal something that people are expected to buck up about until it is a fait accompli. (Why would the fancy object if in fact, it is good for the sport?)
or C.) To protect corporate plans from being jeopardized. (By Whom?) There must be some reason that something so monumental was kept secret.
The AKC has the right to set up a for-profit branch. A lot of huge entities do that and as a $90 MILLION per year enterprise that pays no taxes, AKC is a pretty hefty empire. The fact that it controls so many people, from judges to exhibitors to breeders and that so many other dog-related businesses feel like they have to walk the AKC line or lose revenue, well, it is admittedly just a little intimidating. If a business were to find itself in outright competition with AKC, that could be very difficult. Sort of like judges campaigning a dog. Or being occupationally ineligible to judge. You know, that impropriety thing…
If anyone had told the founding fathers of dogdom a century ago that their little registry would be a multi-million dollar enterprise today, they would never have believed it.
Will setting up an auxiliary for-profit company be good for the sport? The answer remains to be seen but if Fortune 500 companies buying out small competitors and then merging into mega-conglomerates is good for the country, then we can confidently say the answer is “yes.”
If AKC is going into the website business (it has) and the marketing of products (it has) and if certain services which were formerly free to dog owners are now only available through 900 numbers or credit cards, then when will it start selling its own brand of dog food?
reprinted courtesy of SHOWSIGHT MAGAZINE 1990
Related Articles: 100 Years Of AKC by AKC Historian Louis Fallon
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