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Paying it Forward with Meet the Breeds

AKC President Dennis Sprung joins Bedlington Terrier Club of America President Laurie Friesen and the Bedlington exhibitors at Meet the Breeds in New York City. (Bill Reyna Photo)


Paying it Forward with Meet the Breeds

What’s not to like about getting up at zero dark thirty and wending your way into the cement canyons of New York City carrying a couple of dogs and more stuff than you’d need for any dog show? Love nature? Well, there is a cold, windy, driven rain to fill that need and an endless line of other masochists waiting to unload. There is the joy of setting all the stuff up and tidying up the dog that got all wet and muddy on the way in. At 9:00 AM the lights go up and the adoring public (more than 30,000 of them this year) makes its entry en masse. Meet the Breeds (MTB) is a family affair and you (and of course, your dogs) will get to meet and greet folks of every age and ethnicity imaginable, from babes in arms to oldsters in wheelchairs, bound together by a single thread: the love of and curiosity about your dog.

What you DON’T see at Meet the Breeds is a lot of on-site grooming, puppy advertising, or overt puppy sales. I’m not sure whether that’s because of rules or just plain common sense, but the absence of this stuff lends a certain amount of class, both to the event and the participants. Many of the dogs appear as you might meet them on the street, while others are cut for show but not overly primped. All of them show signs of extensive preparation and cleaning, but most just present a nice, even “typical dog” appeal that is perfect for the public.

For many of us, Meet the Breeds is a reluctant duty. Answering the same questions a gazillion times in that eight-hour period and trying to keep the dog safe and happy for what seems like many more than the allotted eight-hour days is unquestionably tiresome. Of course, the real work started days earlier with the preparation and printing of handout materials, cleaning and repair of the booth decorations and fixtures, and the basic grooming of the dogs themselves. All this repeated by the volunteers working with each of the 132 parent clubs (including FSS and Miscellaneous breeds) that were represented this year.

But the amount of work, expense, and preparation that we put in pales alongside the herculean effort by AKC staff and contractors. The total and unqualified support, financial and otherwise, that MTB receives from AKC is downright amazing. Each year, throughout the fifteen that it has been held the event, has been tweaked, polished, and improved, and the clear-thinking (hands-on) management is most evident. Each exhibitor is reimbursed by AKC for some, if not most, of their expenses and there is free coffee and a great free lunch available on the main floor. Nice tables separated from the crowd are provided, but most exhibitors grabbed their food and drink and returned to the fray to eat, drink, and answer questions at the same time. For that matter, many of the AKC staff did the same thing.

© Margaret Foxmoore

This is how MTB goes in New York and I can only imagine that it works the same in other cities. It’s expensive, complicated, and can be a king-sized pain in the butt for the exhibitors. The bottom line, though, is that it brings more of the public into beneficial and realistic contact with purebred dogs than any other form of outreach that we have. The televised dog shows can’t match it nor can all of the advertising in the world equal an opportunity to get warm and fuzzy with the breed or breeds of your choice. Moreover, with the clientele paying upwards of thirty bucks for an individual ticket, they really have a genuine interest in what you, as a breeder, have to say. The breed benefits, of course, but so do you, directly or indirectly.

Now I’m sure you’ve been reading along with the idea that you know all this good stuff. The truth of the matter is that I hate going to Meet the Breeds. The first hour of the first day is fine. You get to see a lot of your old friends in the other booths and the dogs are fresh and co-operative. After that, the noise level reaches a crescendo that gives me a headache, which is only exacerbated by the endless questions. On the whole, I’d rather be hunting, or even judging, all alone out there in the center of the ring. Still, I’ve been at MTB every year since its inception and I’ll continue to be there as long as I’m able (or they kick me out for misbehavior).

My neighbor, Al, is a pet owner. He has a spayed bitch, Beatrix, that he walks for a mile four times each day, has groomed regularly, and considers to be the consummate housepet. Al gets his dogs from breeders and recognizes quality, health, and good temperament. A few years ago, I was desperate for dogs for MTB and asked if he’d consider taking Beatrix. He somewhat reluctantly agreed and an “MTB groupie” was born. I asked him why and he explained that Beatrix loves to meet and greet and he’s happy to oblige her. This year she was out there doing her thing more than any of the rest of our dogs, never tired, never grouchy. Al answered all of the questions thrown his way and referred the tough ones to some of the breeders. Al and Beatrix are in the category of folks who like going and look forward to the opportunity every year. Their reward is in the expressions and thanks of those they meet.

Now, of the 201 recognized breeds (and some FSS and Miscellaneous), we had 132 booths. A lot of them, including ours, had a bunch of old familiar faces, and quite fortunately, some familiar dogs as well. What really impressed me, though, was the number of parent club Presidents who considered the event important enough to their breed and to their club to travel great distances (one at least from Los Angeles and several from the Midwest and sunny Florida) to attend. Many brought dogs, some brought years of expertise in their breed. The point is… they came! Not to be a judge or a delegate. Not to preside over a grand meeting or sightsee in our grand city, but to “pay their dues” for all the benefit that the sport has given them over the years. The same is true of a few of the folks I consider to be world-class breeders and authorities who came to share their experience for the benefit of the breed.

The look on the faces of the public, their surprise and the kind words that follow, make Meet the Breeds a unique experience for everyone. ‘Malin’ (pictured) is a five-year-old retired brood bitch newly arrived from Canada. (L. Friesen photo)

But conversely, we had 66 percent of our breeds not represented at all. Some of the absentee breeds were surprising given their popularity in the New York area and the obvious benefits of attending to the breed, breeders, and the public. Still others came on strong the first day and were totally AWOL on the second. An empty booth sends an awful message. While I’m sure there are good reasons for their absence, I can’t imagine any parent club, even the regionals, not wanting to scoop up this opportunity to advance their breed (and, of course, to create a market for their members).

There is nothing like teaching others as a learning experience for oneself. You don’t have to have decades of experience as a breeder to be an exhibitor at a MTB near you. Your knowledge of your dog, your daily experience, and the useful information that you already have are just what the public wants to hear. A day or two of your time is a sound investment for everyone and the payback is immense.

So, every January, we suck it up and prepare for MTB and two days of controlled chaos. In our case, we have the support of a genuinely concerned parent club (Bedlington Terrier Club of America), dedicated officers and directors, long-time, experienced breeders, and even pet owners who quite willingly show up year after year. All of them recognize Meet the Breeds as something that we do to give back, in a small way, all that our dogs have given us.

AKC President Dennis Sprung joins Bedlington Terrier Club of America President Laurie Friesen and the Bedlington exhibitors at Meet the Breeds in New York City. (Bill Reyna Photo)