From the ShowSight Magazines Archives: May 2016 Issue. Click to subscribe.
In March 2013 the AKC officially changed its mission from maintaining a registry and regulating the purebred dog sport, to advancing canine health and well-being. I was a new delegate when that monumental shift occurred and I did not speak out at the meeting. I should have. I wrote about it in this magazine, but got no comments from exhibitors or judges. Nobody thought it was a big deal. I sensed then what the AKC was doing and now I know it’s true. The AKC is planning its future with or without us—does not matter to them.
I knew something was up when the AKC kept talking about making more money as though that was its prime mission. I kept thinking that perhaps they should just re-group, downsize and focus on their core mission—to promote purebred dogs, develop a good business plan to do that and move forward. That’s what my pet care business did when the economy took a downward turn and we survived. As it turns out, that is exactly what the AKC did. They did re-group, down-sized slightly, reframed their mission to downplay the emphasis on purebred dogs and now we are seeing their business plan. The AKC plans to exist whether or not there is a family of purebred dog breeders
to support it.
My generation of breeders is about to retire en masse. We are in our late 50s and older. We have developed bloodlines of which we are proud and we are looking for young breeders to take over our breeding programs. Nice idea—except there are few young people for most of us to turn our breeding programs over to. The AKC has spent a lot of resources developing Junior Handlers—people who make money off our dogs, but nothing to promote junior dog breeders—the next generation of quality purebred dog breeders. The AKC is well aware of this. But instead of developing a plan to support breeders and their bloodlines and develop new breeders, it simply changed its mission. The AKC essentially wrote us out of their future. That organization
will survive, but many of our breeding programs will not. They don’t need us anymore, so they (the board of directors) really don’t care if we go away. In fact, I have been told by one director, the AKC would not be losing so much money if it weren’t for their support of purebred dog events. Purebred dog events COST the AKC money.
Enter the new adventure the AKC board has taken on—for-profit urban Doggy Daycare Centers. You’ve all heard about these, right? I must admit that I had not heard about these either—until I saw a post on Bill Shelton’s Facebook Page—two weeks after the delegate meeting that I attended. What?! I was at that meeting, attended the committee meetings, talked to lots of other delegates—and somehow I missed the announcement that the AKC has formed a for-profit corporation to go into direct competition with some of its own constituents—like me! Why wasn’t this discussed among the delegates, at meetings? Why didn’t this appear on any agenda? What in the world are delegates for if not to offer input on important ideas? Why was this announced in the Wall Street Journal before the AKC Gazette? I usually pay close attention to AKC announcements, so how did I miss this one?
With the exception of the last question for which I don’t have an answer, I think the AKC pure-bred breeders, clubs and delegates deserve some answers better than the ones I got when I called two directors. I asked them why the AKC, a non-profit, was going into head-to-head competition with for-profit businesses, especially businesses run by what I thought was their primary constituent—pure bred dog breeders. I never support non-profits competing with for-profits. It just seems so un-American. Shouldn’t non-profits be supporting a philanthropic or charitable cause—not competing with for-profit, tax-paying companies?
I like the directors I called and I think they genuinely care about the future of the AKC. They are both purebred dog breeders. What I don’t think they realize is the direction they are taking us is going to lead to an AKC without purebred breeders. I don’t think its malice of forethought, I think it’s a classic case of future unintended consequences that are going to result from today’s less-than-well-thought-through actions. Both directors gave me the same “party line” when I asked about why the AKC, a non-profit organization, was starting a service that was going to compete head-to-head with for-profit companies. Bad enough we compete with Humane Societies and their free trainers, now the AKC is going to compete against us. Many of the AKC’s current constituents own precisely these same businesses. The AKC has much deeper pockets than most of us small business owners, so I doubt we will be on a level playing field at any time. Both directors told me the same story. The AKC has to survive and make money so it can spend more on the stuff the core constituents (purebred breeders) need. Right. And GM is going to maintain an entire infrastructure to support horse-and-buggy competitions when they can make gazillions more at building and selling cars. They are in the transportation industry, not the horse industry. AKC is now in the business of dog health and welfare, not preserving purebred dogs. I’ve been in these magical-thinking places. These good dog people are being led astray by people who have never been breeders and have no idea what the real issues facing breeders are. When I worked for a major politician I often found myself sucked into those black hole thoughts. I swallowed the pill and fell into the rabbit holes on more than one occasion.
Here’s the sad truth. The AKC isn’t entirely wrong—urban daycare centers do make money—a lot of it. And most AKC breeders survive in more rural areas where our businesses are not nearly as profitable as the urban day care centers. But we also rely on a client base that lives and/or works in these urban areas. I get a lot of boarding and grooming customers from Milwaukee even though my facility is 30 miles north of downtown. The AKC may say it’s not going into the boarding business, but I give them 6 months before they figure out that their clients are asking them to provide boarding services and they start “doing the math” like every other doggy day care has. It is only a matter of time before they are offering “sleep overs” just like all other daycare providers. I’ve seen it happen.
What happens when large for-profits realize they have a revenue drain? They get rid of it so they can become more profitable. How long does anyone think the AKC will be willing to hang onto the purebred registry and dog shows when they can make so much more money at urban daycare centers? It fits their new mission—they will be the dogs’ champion. They’ve been repositioning themselves for years and we let them. We accepted their change in mission and we accepted their formation of a for-profit to compete against us. We watched as our ranks of breeders fell and they did nothing to help. We thought it was okay when they said they needed more money because we thought the AKC had our backs. Turns out they were mostly interested in surviving and it didn’t really matter if purebred dogs came with them or not.
I feel betrayed. One intervention and rescue of one AKC purebred breeder isn’t enough. There are bloodlines out there that are facing extinction and the AKC is out making money by competing with the very people it pretends to support. Where are the programs designed to help breeders? Where are the loans and grants to help breeders? Where is our trade association-like commercial breeders have—to support AKC breeders? Where is the advertising and marketing of our product—the purebred dog?
The AKC should be promoting us, not competing against us. Compete against the shelters and rescues and even the pet stores, but not us. Become a superintendent and manage our shows if that makes money. Help us redefine our culture. Teach us that it’s okay to make money selling the dogs we breed. Remind us why we compete—to compare breeding stock. Educate us on how to breed healthier dogs. Promote us in schools and universities. Develop a program to identify and nurture junior breeders at a young age. Provide support for our local all-breed clubs, especially if they are struggling. Teach us how to cooperate with each other for the betterment of the sport and provide mediation services when we need them. Identify the breeders who need an intervention/rescue, then help us rehabilitate them without stripping them of their dignity. Become our advocates, supporters and our sponsors—not our competitors! Take the long view, not the fast fix. I expected better from the AKC.
I am disappointed.