Bo Bengtson At Large: "Who's in Charge?"

How much do you know about how the sport of purebred dogs is governed?

By Bo Bengtson | May 1, 2012

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How much do you know about how the sport of purebred dogs is governed? Do you know who’s in charge, how the decisions are made, and are you aware that you, too, can have some input in which direction the dog fancy is heading?

We dog fanciers, just like most other people, often complain about how bad things are, but we seldom try to change them. Perhaps that’s because most of us are so busy with our own dogs, dealing with the day-to-day problems involved in showing and breeding dogs, that the ivory towers where those with real power supposedly exist seem impossibly remote.

Yet almost any active dog person can to some degree have an impact on what’s happening at the top level. If you belong to one of the more than 500 AKC member clubs (local all-breed clubs, national parent clubs, whatever), you are already on your way to exerting some influence.

Here’s how it works. The American Kennel Club, as you probably know, does not have individual members; it’s a “club of clubs” and each member club has the right to appoint a delegate, who may then attend the quarterly AKC meetings on his or her club’s behalf. The delegate is obligated to vote as instructed by his or her club in matters that come before the delegates. This includes election of the AKC Board of  Directors — the people who actually run the club. The delegates also have “sole power to make the Rules governing dog shows and field trials,” and may be elected to serve on any of a number of Standing Committees, which present their findings for a vote. (It’s in the committees, I’m told, that most of the “real work” is done.)

In addition, a delegate may run for a place on the AKC Board. This means that a regular club member can — at least in theory — go straight to the top of the AKC hierarchy. It may be just about as hard to do so as winning BIS at Westminster, but there is a straight line from top to bottom in our sport, and it helps to remember that.

It was an interesting experience to attend, after so many years in dogs, my first AKC Delegates meeting in New York in March. This was reportedly the biggest Delegates meeting ever, which was easy to believe, looking out over the vast conference room filled with hundreds of delegates. (More than 400 voted, which, when you think about it, really is “democracy in action.”)

Some had told me that being a delegate would be a waste of time and that the delegates just can’t get anything accomplished. I don’t think that’s true. Others have already written about what occurred; for one thing, the delegates voted in three new Directors to the AKC Board (two from the floor, meaning that they defeated the nominating committee’s choices): Patricia Cruz, Thomas S. Powers and William Feeney. As you probably know by now, the new AKC Chairman is Alan Kalter, a long-time active breeder of Bullmastiffs, and the new Vice President is Dr. Robert D. Smith, well known to most active dog fanciers as a judge of all seven AKC groups.

One interesting result of delegate activity was the feedback to a survey titled “The Importance of Your AKC Delegate” that had been sent to 2,355 member club officers and delegates. Their 960 responses represent the views of a cross-section of the more active and, one hopes, most knowledgeable, within the fancy. (The entire survey is on AKC’s website.) One of the things that came across most strongly in the answers was the frustration felt by many that all AKC Delegates meetings are now held on the East Coast (New York, Florida, North Carolina), placing a financial burden on the majority of the delegates who must travel long distances to get there. You don’t have to live in the West to be appalled that AKC is still so “East-centric.” Many also felt it’s high time AKC should enter the 21st century and offer some form of more cost-effective tele- or video conference.

When he wrote, in 1835, that “We get the government we deserve,” Alexis de Tocqueville was referring to American society in general, but the same principle applies to the dog fancy. This is YOUR sport, and if you are not happy with AKC you need to get involved in your club and help appoint a delegate who can affect the changes you want. It’s as simple as that.

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