Beginnings of the AKC: Dueling Clubs

The formation of the American Kennel Club.


Volume I of The Stud Book of the National American Kennel Club was published in 1879 and documented 1,416 dogs in three categories: Imported Setters, Native Setters and Crossbred Setters.

At that point the big question shifted to organizing this doggy police force. Some favored the design that served as the model for the British Kennel Club and NAKC. Despite their democratic goals, each organization discovered that “no show-giving group was bound in any way to abide by its rules.” Critics of this arrangement favored an organization comprised of clubs, which would theoretically make enforcement easier. As far as Rowe was concerned, it was a non-issue.

“The experiment of a club composed of individuals has been tried and has failed. The National American Kennel Club was brought into life by us. We originated the idea, issued the call to those interested in kennel matters, got them together and the club was formed. [...] It might be said it was premature and came into existence before it was required. To a certain extent yes, on the other hand no. As a governing body on kennel matters there was not the scope for it that there is now. In February 1876, there had been but five comparatively small shows held and the largest yet, the Chicago show, was then being held. [...] But independent of everything else, the National American Kennel Club demonstrated that a club of individuals has not been a success [...] This would not be the case with an association of clubs.” (American Field, Sept. 6, 1884)

An announcement was placed in the Aug. 2, 1884 issue of American Field by J. M. Taylor and Elliot Smith (who would become AKC’s first and second presidents), the organizers of the planned meeting: “We hereby issue an invitation to all kennel clubs and show associations to send a delegate to represent them at Philadelphia the second day of the show.” The outlined agenda included, “Perfecting uniform standards and a set of rules, giving instructions to judges to prevent them from using the standard they desire or divide classes as they wish, placing restrictions on champion classes and requiring each association to keep and publish records of all winners.”

Coincidentally, after years of delay two groups met to address the situation at the Philadelphia Kennel Club show on Sept, 16 and 17, 1884. The first, headed by Watson, drew 75 supporters favoring an organization of individual members. Unfortunately, the meeting immediately veered off topic and nothing was accomplished. The following day at 10 a.m., Taylor’s group met to form the National Bench Show Association. “Mr. G. deForest Grant spoke at some length upon the question of organization, favoring a confederation of clubs with power to arbitrate field trial as well as bench show matters... Major Taylor replied that a club formed of bench show associations would work no harm to exhibitors and breeders who could have representation through these clubs, as the interests of exhibitors and associations were so closely allied that what was good for one was good for the other.” (Italics are the author’s; American Field, Sept. 27, 1884) As it turned out, the last idea triggered the firestorm.

Watson wrangled an invitation to the opposing meeting by offering to represent the Montreal Kennel Club by proxy. When the Montreal representatives unexpectedly showed up in Philadelphia, Watson insisted on representing them nonetheless. He wanted a foot in both camps, although he was perceived as “the prime mover of the opposition to a confederation of clubs.” (American Field, Sept. 27, 1884)

Within weeks Taylor’s group revised their name to American Kennel Club and formulated 34 rules, but they failed to outline any registration procedures or requirements. This oversight wasn’t terribly significant at first. For the first couple of years, AKC existed in form more than function. “Records indicate that the doors were not stormed by member-applicants. Of the 20 clubs admitted during the first 16 years, only five gave all-breed shows. The other fifteen were specialty clubs.” (The Modern Dog Encyclopedia) Specialty clubs had a definite interest in formatting standards and regulating judging; on the other hand, many all-breed clubs, along with exhibitors in general, resented AKC’s intrusion into their affairs.

As AKC made headway the need for a registry became inescapable. Without compulsory registrations issued by one organization, few if any of their rules were enforceable. The stud book problem was officially addressed at a meeting on June 6, 1886. “I sincerely hope that the American Kennel Club will find the time to take into consideration the advisability of establishing an official register [...] It would in great measure prevent fraudulent pedigrees.”

The board subsequently conferred with both NAKC and AKR “to see what arrangements could be made for the surrender of these publications’ records and good will to the American Kennel Club.” (AKC Gazette) Not surprisingly, Watson said no dice on behalf of AKR. “When the owners of the American Kennel Register declined to sell Dr. Rowe moved into the picture, and informed Mr. Vrendenburgh that he would let the American Kennel Club have his stud book. ‘All right, Vredy,’ he said, ‘since the AKR takes that stand, I’ll present my stud book to American Kennel Club.’ Historic words and ones that never should be forgotten by the American dog fancy. The American Kennel Club never would have grown and prospered if it had not been for Dr. Rowe’s generous gift.” (AKC Gazette) Rowe donated his stud book to AKC in 1887.

Forever the agitator, Watson continued his relentless criticism of AKC policies, methods and potential viability. “When Forest and Stream stated that the American Kennel Club stud book was virtually dead, the statement must have been actuated by the wish being father to the thought, and not by facts. It is certainly a very lively corpse. Volume IV closed December 31 with 693 entries. How is that for a dead book? But we must in the interest of truth go a little farther and submit a few cold facts. After reading them the reader will doubtless see the real reason for Forest and Stream’s abuse of the AKC. On Sept. 30, 1886, 4,126 dogs had been registered in the AKR and 4,982 in the AKC.” (American Field, March 19,1887)

Watson was impervious to Rowe’s journalistic censure. AKC attempts to rein him in didn’t fare any better. “Resolved that James Watson, now delegate of the Horrellsville KC and engaged in publication and editing the American Kennel Register in opposition to the AKC stud book, and as editor of the Kennel Department of Philadelphia Sporting Life, uses his position in opposition to said stud book. It is therefore resolved that the Horrelsville KC be requested to name some other delegate.” (Minutes of AKC Delegates Meeting, Dec. 17, 1887)

In reality, Watson’s reporting voiced the ambivalence of many fanciers. They were concerned about impending drastic changes, but rationalized that things couldn’t get worse. Either way, they were desperate to get the chaos under control and AKC was the only game in town. “There can be only one official stud book and every dog man must concede that it should be under control of AKC. [...] At a show last fall in a class of 30 setters there were 15 dogs whose pedigrees were unknown, lost or imported from Lancashire, England. One dog had his registered number but looking at the AKC stud book, I find him classified as a crossbred. Now is that right?” (American Field, Jan. 14, 1888)

Three months later, at the March 3, 1888 AKC delegates meeting, Watson was still representing Horrellsville and immediately requested an appeal of AKC’s decision to decline show entries of unregistered dogs. AKC responded by going into executive session. “It was resolved that it is the sense of this meeting that Horrellsville KC is not represented.” AKC also accepted resignations of the New England and New Haven clubs at this meeting.

Next: The AKC Under Attack >>

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