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Thursday, April 16, 2009

AKC Invites Mixed Breeds to Join in on the Fun

Submitted to Clean Run Magazine for their Editorial Page:

This past week, the American Kennel Club (AKC), took a brave & bold step in creating a class where mixed breeds would also be able to participate in AKC Obedience, Rally & Agility events. In listening to some of the feedback, some folks weren't as impressed with this step as I was. I was initially very surprised by some of the lack of enthusiasm from mixed breed folks, but in thinking about it I can understand why.

As a bit of history, the AKC's mission (which was created 125 years ago) was to be a registry for Pure Bred dogs. Back then, I'm sure Pure Bred Dogs weren't necessarily the norm and the AKC was created as a means to solidify and bring order to the dogs who were being bred for specific purposes. Think of this as a bench mark, a standardization or consistency in breeding. For many, this was the start of record keeping, health statistics, temperament testing and so on.

Today, many of us benefit from that consistency - both pure & mixed breeds a like. After all, there is a bench mark for which a specific breeds' structure, temperament, characteristics and usefulness (i.e. their job) is being drawn upon.  This can only be done with decades & generations worth of data and for that, the AKC & Breed Clubs should be applauded.

Now for the negative part. During the last 125 years, the elitism that some AKC members have fostered and built their kennels on has turned off many mixed breed owners. It's true, some breeders have looked down their nose at a mixed breeds and it's also true that other breeders have looked at all dogs as...well dogs!

It wouldn't be fair to label all mixed breeds as mere "mutts" and it's also not fair to label all breeders & participants who partake in the AKC as snobs - especially those who focus mainly on the Performance Classes. I say this because the Performance Classes weren't created 125 years ago, but rather in the current times. For example, Agility has been in the AKC for approximately 15 years and Rally a mere 3-4 years. For the most part, Performance folks have come in with a much more modern & inclusive belief system.

However, even those of us who partake mainly in the Performance Classes have often joked that we we're once thought of as the "step child" in the AKC family. While times are changing and a ton of progress has been made, there are still some from the traditional days of the AKC who just don't understand or care about Performance Events. After 15 years, we realize that we're not going to change their attitudes by acting disgruntled. Instead, we move on, continue to grow, act in a sportsman-like fashion and have quietly moved our chair closer to the adult table each time the AKC Family has come together. It took awhile, but I think we're finally there! In summary, change doesn't happen over night, but change does happen.

Some mixed breed folks are resentful that they're having to join the AKC family at the kid's table. I can understand that. However, we've ALL been inducted the very same way. We all started out with paper plates & plastic ware and as we 'grew up', we were handed the china & silver utensils at the big table. 

Is it right? Who knows, but from the AKC's point of view, it seems to be the prudent thing to do and the best way to move forward and still keep the base of the organization intact. Think of it this way, it's the AKC family culture and just like my personal family, we don't always make sense to those looking in from the outside.

I think the mixed breed folks can learn some valuable lessons from those of us that have come before them.  
  • The first being that NOBODY goes straight from kindergarten to Harvard - there are the in-between steps that help to acclimate newcomers to the environment. 
  • Second, even long lost family members need time to get to know each other. The AKC has extended an invitation to dinner and now mixed breed folks have an opportunity to either acted graciously and accept or decline the invite - it's as simple as that. 
  • Third, every relationship has to START somewhere. We've all heard stories of happily married couples who met under not so perfect circumstances and years later they laugh together about that initial awkward moment. This could be one of those times!
  • Fourth, it is the Performance Event participants who are WELCOMING the mixed breeds. We're the ones who have opened the door, greeted mixed breeds with a smile and invited mixed breeds to come and play. We're part of the modern, hip and new way of thinking, so don't shun us because our AKC parents have some older beliefs that you don't agree with.
  • Fifth, just like an older brother or sister, Performance Event participants have helped pave the way for this new & exciting change. Why not come out and get to know us and let us be your friend & mentor when it comes to AKC matters.
In the meantime all agility participants, regardless of what branch of the family tree their dog comes from, can come out and play together.  Heck, I'll even arrange for this family event to serve finger food - no paper or china plates allowed!

1 comment:

  1. I love this post Lisa. It captures the issue so perfectly.

    Certainly too performance sports such as agility foster good structure and health in dogs and bring them to the forefront... Something that our dogs deserve and benefit from