Beginnings of the AKC: Manufactured Pedigrees

The formation of the American Kennel Club.

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These concerns were minor compared to the growing industry in manufactured pedigrees. As demand grew, anything and everything was palmed off as a Lavarack or a Llewellin setter. Scandals regularly erupted over accusations that bloodlines of high-profile dogs were rife with fraud and error. Warring parties usually deferred to the Kennel Club to verify claims about lineage. This tedious process became less reliable as business picked up, and disgruntled owners began turning to the court of public opinion. Not only did most papers publish anonymous editorials, staff journalists utilized pen names to stir the pot.

Emperor Fred, a Lavarack-bred English Setter, was imported in 1881 and owned by E. A. Herzberg, a prominent breeder in Brooklyn. When the Setter’s pedigree was questioned, Mr. Herzberg replied to the anonymous writer, who called himself “A Breeder”: “Breeder persists in hiding behind a nom de plume. It seems Breeder should gratify the curious by giving his name, after 50 criticisms are published in Bell’s Life and Chicago Field. Breeder says that Emperor Fred has no known pedigree and promises to prove it. Unfortunately, readers must be satisfied with a promise.”  (American Field, Jan. 6, 1883)

Settling pedigree disputes via public debate also invited character assassination and rumor mongering to the discredit of the entire fancy. This soon encouraged another group to step into the void.

The New York-based newspaper, Forest and Stream, was founded in 1873. Like American Field, it covered hunting, fishing and wildlife conservation, but devoted gallons of ink to purebred dogs after Watson became editor. It also began publishing a stud book, the American Kennel Registry, in 1883, after waiting five years for NAKC’s second volume to materialize. Forest and Stream published pedigree information monthly, which was more convenient but may not have been any more accurate. “The first dog entered in both the NAKC and AKR stud books was the English Setter Adonis, listed with the same owner and birthdate but different parents.” (AKC Gazette) Unlike the NAKC, AKR had no interest in becoming a regulatory body, but it was not Watson’s nature to let editorial opportunities pass him by.

“To put the case fairly there are two publications for registering dogs, the AKC stud book and the American Kennel Registry, published by Forest and Stream. In consequence, that journal and the compiler of the American Kennel Registry have been unceasing in their abuse of AKC, the AKC secretary, and the AKC stud book. We do not propose to censure them for their opposition but we do object to the assumption of a disinterested motive for opposition.” (American Field, Jan. 7, 1888) Watson unquestionably played a starring role in countless controversies. He continuously raised prickly questions, sometimes anonymously, but also suggested the insightful solutions of a real insider before, during and after the formation of AKC.

AKC represented one more desperate effort to regulate the chaotic dog world, and it was the one that happened to succeed. After Westminster’s triumphant inaugural show in 1877, benched shows proliferated like rabbits. No workable system existed to address problems regarding standards, judging qualifications, championship requirements or ethics because American dog showing expanded in such an unusual, random manner. The situation rapidly approached critical mass. “There was no way to deal with fraud excepting through civil courts. The situation was made to order for a flourishing activity of pedigree mills, dishonest judging and general skullduggery.” (The Modern Dog Encyclopedia)

The NAKC published 11 show rules in 1879, some of which differed from rules published by Westminster in 1877. That really didn’t matter. “While the rules were both needed and well set forth, there was really no way to enforce them or to even require that show-giving clubs invoke their adoption.” (AKC Source Book)

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