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Willie Nelson Lends Voice to Support American Kennel Club

Fanciers who breed and show dogs for AKC conformation dog shows know that over the past decade their motives, and sometimes their morality, have been brought into question. The animal rights extremists have created an effective campaign that paints even the most responsible hobby breeders as egomaniacs who breed unhealthy dogs that take homes away from and food out of the mouths of dogs in shelters every day.

Although almost exclusively fabricated, these accusations are difficult to fight. The health issues that face purebred dogs are largely genetic, and AKC’s owners, breeders and clubs continually contribute untold amounts of money to research into the causes and cures for canine disorders. But there’s something more that many fanciers have been doing for years that, until recently, no one was talking about.

In December last year at the AKC delegates meeting, then-director, now AKC Chairman Alan Kalter addressed the delegate body. He talked about one overriding theme that is undeniable regarding Americans and dogs today: the American public loves the notion of rescuing dogs, and they tend to revere the people who are involved with rescuing dogs.

Almost everyone involved with purebred dogs has been faced with a person who asks the breeder or exhibitor about their own dogs then explains that they don’t “believe in” owning a purebred dog. They either have or would only own a rescue or shelter dog. The truth is that many purebred dog enthusiasts want shelter dogs and rescue dogs to have homes, and many AKC clubs, both parent and single breed, are involved in rescue. One can begin a search of hundreds of rescue organizations on the AKC website at http://www.akc.org/breeds/rescue.cfm.

As Kalter pointed out to the delegate body, “The general dog-owning public believes HSUS [the Humane Society of the United States] rescues dogs, but they don’t think we rescue dogs. But they don’t and we do.” Then he pointed out that, thanks to AKC’s clubs, AKC breeders and fanciers likely make up the largest rescue network in America, but nobody knows it. With few exceptions, the average person has no idea that people involved with AKC purebred dogs have ever had anything to do with rescuing dogs. It may be the best kept secret in the sport.

Enter the Outlaw

Mr. Kalter and fellow board member Lee Arnold were determined to get this message out. As funding didn’t exist for the project, the two men decided to create a public service announcement, much like a commercial except that it is not produced for profit. PSAs are run on television, radio and in other media, and are designed to benefit the public interest by raising awareness of an issue. They decided to create a PSA for radio.

As it happens, Arnold not only has a master’s degree in television and communications, he spent his career as a radio personality in Boston and New York City, and has also been a TV news anchor. The radio expert knew that to be effective, the message must be delivered by someone whose voice would be instantly recognizable. Much of Arnold’s background included work in country music, with artists, managers, publishers and songwriters. The first person who came to mind when he thought about a voice that would be instantly recognized by the entire world was Willie Nelson.

Photo by Christopher Halloran/Shutterstock.com.

Willie Nelson has been involved in several ventures for charity and to raise public awareness. In 1985 he and fellow artists John Mellencamp and Neil Young set up Farm Aid, an organization created “to raise public awareness about the loss of family farms and raise money to keep farm families on their land.” Willie participates in the annual Farm Aid concerts that raise funds for the organization.

He has also supported the development of more environmentally friendly bio-fuels to help replace the use of fossil fuels in keeping up with the country’s energy usage. He has served on the board of directors for Habitat for Horses and has advocated for better treatment of horses and other livestock.

At Arnold’s request, Nelson agreed to record a PSA for the American Kennel Club about its rescue efforts. This is an excerpt:

“Hi, this is Willie Nelson. These days we all know people all around us that are having some hard times, losing a job, losing a home. And we hear about how many have to move just to look for work, certain to lose their homes. For many, they’re also losing a beloved family member, a pet, their dog. These dogs don’t understand what’s happening to them. Fortunately there are wonderful people who do: the people and rescue clubs of the American Kennel Club, the largest network of rescue groups and volunteers throughout America.”

At the end of the 60-second spot, Nelson says, “No matter how hard times get, remember how good dogs make us feel. They love us, rich or poor. Let’s return that love by making sure they have a place to stay forever. This is Willie Nelson. Thank you, AKC.”

But it didn’t stop there. Arnold had a second great idea, and asked Nelson if he might create a PSA for the Canine Health Foundation. After hearing about all the good work the CHF does, Nelson agreed, and the second PSA, perhaps even more important and impactful than the first, goes like this:

“Hi, this is Willie Nelson. Do you want your dog to live a long, healthy life? Together we can make that happen. Over four million dogs are diagnosed with cancer each year. Through groundbreaking research, the AKC Canine Health Foundation is finding ways to prevent, treat and cure canine diseases like cancer, epilepsy, and heart and eye disease. This is Willie Nelson. For more information, visit their website at www.akcchf.org.”

How You Can Help

According to AKC Director of Communications Lisa Peterson, the PSAs have been distributed to more than 4000 radio stations nationwide in hopes that the messages will be aired. Although Peterson says that they’ve distributed to about “90 percent of the total market,” according to the FCC as of March 2011 there were 14,728 “full power” radio stations in the United States, which included 4778 AM, 6533 FM and 3417 educational FM stations. There is enormous potential for getting the good word out about AKC if more of these stations can be reached and encouraged to air these PSAs.

The American Kennel Club is currently tracking the results of their distribution of the PSAs. “In addition,” says Peterson,” we’ve made them available to all delegates and any AKC club member who requested a copy, to distribute to their local radio stations.”

The challenge of educating the general public about all of the positive things that AKC and its affiliated breeders do is one the sport has faced for many years, and it has not been easy to find solutions. These public service announcements, featuring a voice that almost every American will recognize and trust, are one potentially effective way to help get a positive message to a huge audience.

If you are a member of an AKC club and you’d like to make sure your local radio stations are encouraged to air these PSAs, talk to your club officers, or contact Lisa Peterson at AKC at lxp@akc.org.

Written by

Christi McDonald is a second-generation dog person, raised with a kennel full of Cairn Terriers. After more than a decade as a professional handler’s apprentice and handling professionally on her own, primarily Poodles and Cairns, she landed a fortuitous position in advertising sales with the monthly all-breed magazine ShowSight. This led to an 11-year run at Dogs in Review, where she wore several hats, including advertising sales rep, ad sales manager and, finally, editor for five years. Christi is proud to be part of the editorial team for the cutting-edge Best In Show Daily. She lives in Apex, N.C., with two homebred black Toy Poodles, the last of her Foxfire line, and a Norwich Terrier.
  • Terri MyToyBulldogs April 25, 2012 at 8:32 PM

    This is wonderful. Thank you Willie, Christi,
    and thank you AKC

  • Colllin April 26, 2012 at 8:39 AM

    How generous of Willie Nelson to contribute his time for this. Good for AKC!

  • Donavon Thompson April 28, 2012 at 8:05 AM

    A couple of terrific messages together with an instantly recognized and respected voice can’t help but succeed in helping pure-bred dogs needing a new home! A resounding “Arffff!” from my dogs to Alan Kalter, Lee Arnold, the AKC and of course Willie Nelson!

  • Susan Shidler May 10, 2012 at 6:29 AM

    Thank you, Willie. A great voice and a great man!

  • Leah Swatko May 11, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    Thank you thank you thank you! Tell it like it is Willie and AKC. As a breeder I face the reality of invasive anti animal groups on many fronts. Be it on my farm, my working dogs or my show dogs. If We All Stand together, we are stronger!

  • Terri May 13, 2012 at 1:21 PM

    Well, for every up-standing, honest, hard-working rescue group, I can name at least 3 unethical, immoral AKC breeders. In the past 10
    years of doing rescue work, I’ve only met a handful of AKC breeders (and, I’ve
    met plenty) that I would trust getting a decent dog from. The majority I
    wouldn’t trust to get a healthy dog, that wasn’t an in-bred, unsocialized
    genetic disaster. It’s very unfortunate that less-than-scrupulous breeders can
    hide behind their title of “AKC Breeder”, and deceive the public into thinking
    they are “good” breeders.

    It seems to me, that if AKC breeders were actually rescuing dogs, there wouldn’t
    be a need for rescues in the first. Pull them from the shelters, cure their heartworm, mange, flea infestations, intestinal worms, massive ear infections, glaucoma, etc., and find them new loving homes, like we do. Tell the shelters that AKC BREEDERS want to be contacted about dogs that come in to their care, so that THEY can rescue them! Right now, when cocker spaniels come in to our local shelters, they call us, and ask for us to please take the cockers in to our rescue. I’m not sure where AKC has been doing all this rescuing, but it sure hasn’t been in our neck of the woods. Since reading this post about the AKC free PSA, I’ve asked 13 animal shelters in our state about AKC rescuing dogs — each time I was told
    that they’ve never heard of AKC (or AKC breeders) ever rescuing dogs from them
    or any other shelter. I told them that AKC claims to have been rescuing dogs
    for years, and played Willy Nelson’s PSA for them from my iPhone. After
    listening to it, they also wanted to know where AKC claims to be rescuing from.

    I have personally notified AKC breeders when we’ve had their dogs in our rescue
    — only 1 took the dog and re-homed it herself, and one other offered whatever
    help we needed (but, we had already found her a good home, and the breeder was
    from another state)– the rest tell us to do whatever we want with the dogs,
    because they don’t want them back. How do I know who the breeders were?
    Because many dogs do come here with their pedigree papers, and many times the
    owners tell us who the breeder is. We’ve taken in many dogs, whose owners
    cannot keep them for whatever reason — they don’t want to take the dog to the
    pound, and won’t take the dog back to the breeder, saying that the breeders
    don’t have the dogs’ best interest in mind. Many breeders I no longer bother
    notifying when we have one of their dogs here in rescue, because I would never
    want the dog to go back to horrible conditions, and be hap-hazardly re-sold. I
    have often times wished that every puppy was tattooed with its AKC #, so that
    when they come into rescue, we can just return them right back to the breeder
    (because reputable breeders DO care about their pups, right?). But, having
    re-thought that, returning them isn’t always the best thing for the pups.

    One local AKC breeder told me herself, that she has “rescued” over 800 cocker
    spaniels. Come to find out, those 800+ cockers that she “rescued” were actually
    800 of her own pups that had been returned to her for a refund because of
    genetic, physical, health and behavioral issues. OVER EIGHT HUNDRED dogs!! In
    addition, we’ve re-homed so many of her dogs, I’ve lost count as to how many
    there have been. Re-selling your returned pups, should definitely NOT be
    considered rescuing. Are these the dogs that AKC claims to have rescued? Dogs
    returned to their own breeders for a refund?? Because, it doesn’t sound like
    they are pulling them from shelters.

    Does AKC ever investigate questionable AKC breeders? Do they ever visit the
    kennels to see the living conditions where the dogs are kept? Do they ever
    review a breeder’s records to see if they are actually breeding to improve the
    breed line? Or, is AKC just happy to get a fee every time a litter is born, or
    a dog is registered with them? Do they have records of all the dogs they claim
    to have rescued? Just curious. “the American public loves the notion of rescuing dogs”, because the public with any compassion at all, has grown tired of the fact that millions and millions of dogs are killed in shelters every year. They don’t think it is fair to buy a dog from a breeder, when there are millions (MILLIONS) of good dogs dying in shelters. Is it wrong to think that way?

    Thank you Mr. Kalter and Willie Nelson for getting the word out about AKC rescuing dogs — I hope the public will become more informed about AKC rescue efforts, so that AKC will also continue and increase their rescue efforts. I know I’ll be under fire for posting this, and I’m certainly not trying to start a feud — I’m hoping for fairness and cooperation from both sides. We turn away between 3 and 5 lovely cocker spaniels EVERY SINGLE DAY (1,095 – 1,825 dogs a year!!), because we simply don’t have room. We would welcome any assistance from AKC in our rescue efforts.

    Terri Guiles
    Founder, American Cocker Spaniel Rescue
    Spanaway, WA

    • Christopher R. Adams June 20, 2012 at 10:05 AM

      Why can’t people do both? Why does it have to be one or the other? The great thing about living in a free country like the US is that we have a choice. Just because there are millions of dogs in shelters doesn’t mean that someone looking for a dog is going to find a suitable dog in a shelter. The right dog for the right home. Picking and choosing a REPUTABLE breeder (because there are plenty of reputable breeders out there. It’s a fallacy to say that every hobby breeder is a bad breeder), combined with the proper amount of research will ensure that far fewer dogs end up needing to be rescued.

      This isn’t a black and white issue and unfortunately, I have to be suspicious of bias on the part of many of the larger shelter organizations, especially the ones who work with pet stores like PETCO. To say that there’s a bias in those kinds of situations would be an understatement.

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