We all know by now that the majority of dogs that find their way into shelters are NOT purebred animals. Still fewer originate with breeders involved in dog sports or working pursuits. The majority of serious breeders understand and accept their responsibility to ensure that their puppies end up in a situation that is responsible and to the dog’s best advantage.
Fact is, it’s easier to get an entry level security clearance than it is to adopt a dog from one of the rescues operated by the parent clubs. So if you are reading this, chances are you’ve already accepted your responsibility for the stewardship of your chosen breed or breeds. Unfortunately, the same isn’t true of prospective buyers who may have nothing more than a cute photo or video to guide them to a forever friend.
Among the breeds I’ve been privileged to own is the Jagdterrier. A little research will quickly show that this fairly attractive smaller terrier-type dog is a perfect a$$hat with more stamina and endurance than the Energizer Bunny and a hard-wired desire to kill anything with a pulse. It’s no surprise that a ridiculously high number of this breed is surrendered to shelters after a month or two with an unsuspecting owner.
The same is true of most every breed that is acquired by an individual or family that cannot or will not handle the costs and responsibilities of ownership of that particular breed. Even the most well-intentioned breeders can have a puppy that slips through the cracks. As breeders, we know the score, but it’s part of our obligation to place our puppies where they will thrive. That’s not always easy.
Meet the Breeds (MTB) is a relatively new event sponsored by the American Kennel Club (AKC). The premise is that people will come in off the street (and pay substantial bucks in the process) to see, touch, and fraternize with 200 some odd breeds of dog recruited from among the parent clubs that comprise AKC itself. Like a bumble bee, it’s an idea that just shouldn’t fly. And just like the bumble bee it not only flies high, but accomplishes its original purpose and much, much more.
Meet the Breeds was conceived in 2009 and the first event was held that year at the cavernous Javits Center in Midtown Manhattan. It turned out to be a magnet event that brought folks not just from New York City and the tri-state area but the occasional visitor and exhibitors from across the country.
The rewards were instantaneous for visitors and exhibitors alike. Costs were high and staging was difficult. It was tough to convince already overburdened breeders and owners to take two days (or more) off and travel to the mega city that I call home to face a madding crowd of curious, mostly non-doggy people. Since then, Meet the Breeds has made stops in San Diego and Dallas and the event has been fine-tuned to make it less of a burden on the clubs.
Let’s be honest. We all like talking about our dogs. In fact, some of us aren’t capable of discussing anything else. Whether we are eloquent and effusive or crotchety and sarcastic (ahem) we all have a certain amount of knowledge about living with our breed that we can and should share with prospective owners.
The range of “exhibitors” we’ve observed at Meet the Breeds ranges from breeders with encyclopedic knowledge (Jan Ritchie Gladstone, Donna DeFalcis, Vickie Kubic, Lori Pelletier, Sharon Sakson, and so many more) to those owners with a brand new puppy who were encouraged by their breeders to share their young dog with the public. Most of the breeds were represented each day by five dogs, each with a handler. In reality, even the newbie owners had a valuable perspective to pass along.
Throughout the two days (seven hours each day) of the 2023 New York Meet the Breeds, I didn’t hear any of the “exhibitors” (as the folks with the dogs are called) exaggerating or over-selling their respective breeds. Not a used car salesman in the bunch. For the most part we got an honest and open discussion of the pros and cons of ownership. You just don’t get that in many other places.
Sure, there’s the same repeated questions: “What’s her name?” “How old is he?” “Does it shed?” “Does it require a lot of exercise?” A few “exhibitors” set up Instagram accounts for the dogs on exhibit which was a creative way to handle the mundane. But for all of that, there were more than a few inquiring minds that asked enough insightful questions to assure that they would eventually find a dog well suited to their lifestyle and abilities.
Most of the dogs took to the crowds, the noise, and the constant petting very well indeed. Even those breeds that are generally regarded as “aloof,” “reserved with strangers,” and some of the other euphemisms we use for the breeds that may not play well with others seemed to enjoy this up-close, warm and fuzzy experience. The public got a wagging tail and the dogs got socialization that can’t possibly be equaled. We may have created some responsible puppy owners, but we darned sure created some bomb-proof dogs of our own. For its part, AKC did an excellent job of teaching everyone who attended the proper way to approach and interact with the dogs they would meet. I didn’t hear of a single untoward incident.
Most of the dogs took to the crowds, the noise, and the constant petting very well indeed. Even those breeds that are generally regarded as “aloof,” “reserved with strangers,” and some of the other euphemisms we use for the breeds that may not play well with others seemed to enjoy this up-close, warm and fuzzy experience.
Now if I’m painting a rosy picture here, there are certainly downers to be considered. In no uncertain terms this is an obligation to our dogs that is to be fulfilled by the parent clubs and by breeders and owners where there is no parent club. I don’t consider it the opportunity of a lifetime, but there are plenty of folks who do. Besides the privilege of schlepping your dogs and your stuff, there’s finding a parking spot and perhaps overnight accommodations.
The event opens to the public at 9:00AM and closes (promptly) at 4:00PM. Checking one’s watch for time left on duty begins about 9:30PM. It’s a long day on your feet and although you get a good lunch and your expenses reimbursed by AKC, you’re still too tired to go out on the town. Just look at it as the dues you pay for the privilege of owning, working, and breeding your dogs. (There’s that “stewardship of the breed” thing again.)
For obvious reasons the promotion or sale of dogs and/or puppies is prohibited at Meet the Breeds. So, apparently, is any specific advertising for a particular breeder or kennel. But know for sure that connections are made between (now) informed buyers and breeders with a waiting list that will result in the future sale of quality pups to homes that are ready for them and know what it takes to raise and maintain the breed. It’s puppy sales done right on the highest ethical plane possible.
Meet the Breeds is billed by the AKC as a “fun and family friendly event.” It may seem that way, but look a little deeper and you’ll see that it is a means of satisfying our obligations as breeders to protect and serve our breeds. Buyers who know exactly what they are getting into with ownership of that breed will keep more dogs out of shelters and rescues. The exhibitors develop contacts that will lead to future puppy sales. Judges get to meet and go over some of the newer breeds in FSS and Miscellaneous. And if the “madding crowd” was a bit much for you, there was even a concession serving shots and cocktails.
So, when duty calls, as it always does, attending Meet the Breeds with your dogs is one way of making a difference in responsible dog ownership on the largest scale imaginable.