Is the AKC missing out on a tremendous opportunity?

Covid–19 has created a great deal of social and economic disruption throughout most of the world. There has been a great loss of life and when looking to the media for any accurate news, what we get is fear and various forms of good and bad information. There is no doubt, however, that the virus has caused the elimination of most dog shows and trials here in the United States.

Many clubs and their volunteers have tried valiantly to find a way to put on their shows. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly evident that state and local governments have made the situation almost impossible for most clubs to hold their shows.

My question is a very simple one: Where has the AKC been in trying to solve this problem?

Just think about it, the AKC has provided us with their idea for best practices in holding events, but have they been there to assist the clubs in dealing with the current situations? After all, these are the events that also generate income for the AKC. With the disruption of these events, AKC has had to furlough numerous AKC employees. Guy Fisher in the Club Development Department has been working hard to try to assist clubs with as much info as possible. The problem is that the Club Development Department is not there to assist with government and facility assistance.

Everyone within the fancy knows that the “hold” on most events is due to guidelines and social distancing regulations put in place by the various government officials and facilities throughout our country. Also, it appears the future is still very much in doubt with an expected wave coming in the fall and winter months that could cause an indefinite delay in the “return to normal” scenario.

When watching all of the mass gatherings, protests and violence in our country, we must wonder why is it so difficult to hold a dog show?

The AKC website has a department listing for Government Relations. The primary mission of this department is focused on various forms of legislation.

Fighting for our rights as dog breeders, exhibitors, and owners is very important and we are fortunate that this department works hard to help with these issues as they arise.

In my opinion, the AKC is missing out on an opportunity to not only help its clubs and constituents but also to establish or enhance its existing relationships with various government officials throughout the country. I believe that now is the time for the AKC to expand this department and have it reach out to all state and local governments and facilities in those locations where events are held to help everyone work out safe and responsible ways for us to start up our shows again.

By utilizing information gathering from various areas into one contact group, the AKC could go a long way in assisting clubs to get back to shows and trials soon. With one central body with a background of working with the government by discussing issues, they would learn what does and does not work. They could best help these governments and facilities better understand what shows mean to their communities (not only economically, but also about responsible pet ownership, and their dog-loving constituents).

Having a central department would give clubs a well–informed information source to reach out to whenever they face various issues—now and in the future. Also, should a situation like this arise again, we would all be one step ahead.

It helps to remember that clubs are made up of volunteers, not salaried employees. In many cases, these individuals have no experience with these areas of concern. By having the Government Relations Department available to them it would save a great deal of time and money, with professionals available to assist them and help them avoid mistakes.

The local clubs are the backbone of our sport. Many clubs have spent many hours, dollars, and resources to return us to our sport.

Maybe it is time for the AKC to step up to the plate and help even more?

  • Walter Sommerfelt of Lenoir City, TN has been involved in the sport of purebred dogs since acquiring his first Old English Sheepdog in 1972. He is a former professional handler as well as a breeder, and exhibitor of breeds in all seven groups, most notably Vizslas, OES, Pointers, Bearded Collies and Weimaraners. Judging since 1985 he is approved for All Sporting, Working, and Herding breeds and groups, Junior Showmanship and Best in Show and has had the honor of judging on four different continents. Mr. Sommerfelt has judged many of the most prestigious shows in the United States including the herding group at the 2014 Westminster Dog Show in New York City where he has judged on three separate occasions. Mr. Sommerfelt was the founder and chairman for the St. Jude Showcase of Dogs from 1993 until 2009, a unique event showcasing the world of purebred dogs. This special event was the largest collection of various dog events in one location, featuring an AKC all Breed Dog Show, AKC Obedience and Rally Trials, AKC Agility trials, (prior to AKC adding agility NADAC trials ) One of the largest Fly ball tournaments in the U.S.A., Herding and go to ground demonstrations, A main stage featuring performances by Canines from Television and the Movies, Freestyle, Demos by drug and various therapy dogs, A full room of booths for meet the breeds, over 50 AKC judges seminars annually, Lure coursing, A fun Zone for Children, and other dog related fun activities for the general public and their dogs. Over the years the event not only raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the world-renowned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, but also raised awareness of the many activities for people with their dogs as well establishing a voice for dog people in the Memphis area with regard to legislation. Many aspects of today’s AKC Royal Canin show can be traced back to the St. Jude event. Along with Carol his wife of 36 years they have bred well over 90 AKC Champions including Group, Best in Show and Specialty Winners, dual Champions and multiple performance titled dogs. During the past 40 years Mr. Sommerfelt has been active in a number of dog clubs and is currently the President of the Tennessee Valley Kennel Club. He is recipient of the AKC outstanding Sportsmanship Award and is also a career agent and financial planning specialist with Nationwide Insurance. The Sommerfelts’ have two grown children, both former Junior Handlers and they are still active breeders and exhibitors of the Vizsla breed.

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