A World Without AKC?

Reprinted with permission 
by Jay Kitchner, as seen in "Best In Show Daily"

It’s time to start thinking about a world without the American Kennel Club. Unless the AKC matches the political machine in every state capital put there by the Humane Society of the United States, it’s only a matter of time until the great ship that is the AKC sinks below the waves.

It is not reasonable to continue to expect volunteers to do the heavy lifting of politics and legislation. It’s hard work, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. HSUS has paid, experienced, trained professionals in front of lawmakers every day. But the AKC seems to think volunteers can handle it.

I think the AKC in general is on life support, and they’re heading in a very dangerous direction. While they’ve been casting about for new revenue streams for years, the opposition has built a political machine in every state capital to advance their very organized and well-funded political movement for social change.

It’s a political agenda for social change that seeks a world without purebred dogs and eventually no dogs at all. If you think that’s an exaggeration, then you’re not paying attention to the very real and dangerous changes to dog ownership that are sweeping the nation. If you think this professional political agenda for social change could never happen, you’re mistaken. Twenty-five years ago not many of us truly believed gay marriage and legal marijuana would ever become a reality.

There are six people on staff of the AKC’s Government Relations Department in Raleigh. They are dedicated professionals who understand the challenges we face. I know them, and I’ve worked with them for almost a decade. They are fantastic people, and they are amazing at what they do. But there are only six of them.

There are many dedicated volunteers all across the country who work very hard in their AKC State Federations of dog clubs. Some of them are very effective. Some of them are not. They do the best they can as volunteers. It’s not reasonable to expect more from them when they have jobs, families, and dogs to care for outside of volunteering to fight a professional political battle.

Nothing illustrates this point better than the wave of anti-pet shop legislation currently sweeping the nation. Although I was not surprised, I was heartily disappointed that not one breeder, club or federation person had one word to say in Augusta about the ban on pet shops in Maine. NOT ONE.

United States federal law doesn’t care what kind of dog breeder you call yourself. If you have five females (and you ship a puppy just once) you’re a pet shop. Got that? How long do you think it will be until the “if you ship a puppy” clause is removed? How long do you think it will be until the number five is reduced to three?

The United States government does not care that you call yourself “responsible, ethical, only-do-it-to-better-the-breed, oh-my-god-I-would-never-sell-or-buy-a-puppy-at-a-pet-shop”.

All dog breeders have a right to breed dogs in the manner they choose to breed them. You don’t have to like what others do, but you have to allow them the right to do it. If they don’t have that right, then neither do you. Different is not bad. Substandard is bad. The only thing two dog breeders will ever agree on is that a third dog breeder is doing it wrong. The opposition knows this, and they very effectively use it to drive wedges between all sub-groups of dog breeders.

Dog breeders fight among themselves and scramble to condemn others while the opposition gains ground attacking all dog breeding. Dog breeders are doing the work of the opposition for them. Dog breeders are being played.

I was president of my all-breed club for many years. I served as an officer in my state’s AKC Federation. I served as legislative liaison to my national parent club. In all that time there were two comments that I heard from folks time and again. The first was the misguided belief that this political movement for social change doesn’t affect them. The second was the pitiful cry of “Why doesn’t AKC do something?”

I don’t understand how so many folks continue to stick their heads in the sand and refuse to believe that this political movement for social change does not affect them, but I do understand why the AKC “isn’t doing something”. Quite simply, it’s not their job, and it never has been.

The nineteenth century founders of the AKC could never have imagined that a professional political movement would seek to abolish purebred dog ownership in the twenty-first century. The nineteenth century founders of the AKC created a volunteer structure that served us well for over a century, but it’s our biggest weakness in this fight against a professional political movement.

To its credit, the AKC does have some pieces of a political machine in place that mirror the opposition: the AKC has a political action committee, and they have professional lobbyists in Washington, DC. While the Humane Society of the United States’ pays full-time professionals in all 50 state capitals, its current goal is to get volunteers in each of the nation’s 435 congressional districts.

The AKC already has club members in all 435 congressional districts across the nation. But the AKC does not have paid professionals in all 50 state capitals. This is our biggest weakness because the political battle is being waged at the state and local levels.

I’ve been fighting this battle as a volunteer for almost a decade. I’ve seen first-hand how the opposition does not want us at the table in our state capitals and municipal councils. The opposition wants to create their version of public policy in a vacuum, and we’re letting them do it by pitting part-time volunteers against full-time professionals.

It’s part of the legislative process for amendments to legislation to be proposed at the last minute. It’s part of the process for important meetings to be scheduled with very little notice. It’s not reasonable for the AKC to continue to expect volunteers to drop everything in their busy lives at a moment’s notice to be part of the legislative process. Nobody has time for that when it’s not their job. It seems like an easy solution on the surface, but I fully understand that it would require a major change in the structure of the venerable American Kennel Club. It simply may not be feasible. If it’s not, then we should begin to think about a world in our lifetimes without the American Kennel Club.

About the author: Jay Kitchner is a lifelong fancier of sporting breeds. He had his first Gordon setter when he was a young child. Jay has handled Gordon and English setters in AKC conformation and hunting events for 19 years. Jay served as president of the York County Kennel Club of Maine from 2005-2012 where he led the effort to create Maine’s largest dog show and served as show chair. Jay became a delegate to the Federation of Maine Dog Clubs in Augusta where he served on the Maine Legislature’s working group to define “kennel” in state law in 2008-2009. An advocate for preserving our rights to breed dogs and to hunt with them, Jay served as AKC Legislative Liaison for the Gordon Setter Club of America, The Tartan Gordon Setter Club of New England, and the Federation of Maine Dog Clubs, Inc. Jay now serves as the New England Regional Director for The Cavalry Group, a member-based organization offering legal protection to animal owners and animal-based enterprises.

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