When the new AKC Chairman of the Board Alan Kalter released his first chairman’s report in May 2012, he mentioned that 100 million Americans own a dog, whether mixed breed or purebred. He couldn’t be more right when he says that, as AKC fanciers and breeders, “We only scratch the surface of those who make dogs an important part of their lives.”

Anyone who pays any attention at all knows by now that a lot of people are worried about the survival of the sport of showing dogs, or at least the sport of dogs connected to the American Kennel Club. Registrations are down, entries at dog shows declined significantly over the past decade or so, animal rights extremists have convinced much of the public that it is evil to own a purebred dog, and all of this means AKC’s revenue is down. Many believe that the only way to save our registry is by expanding our base.

I’m a 100-percent fan of being more friendly to spectators at dog shows, being more encouraging to people who call looking for a puppy or just asking questions about a breed, and using events like Meet the Breeds, Responsible Dog Owners Days and My Dog Can Do That to encourage more people to become involved in an AKC event, whether it’s obedience, agility, conformation or any one of the other fun competitions under the AKC umbrella. We not only need to expand our base for more revenue for AKC, we need all of the political power we can get, and the more people we educate, the more support we have when faced with legislative and electoral battles. Again, if you’re paying attention, getting more people involved with AKC is probably among the subjects you hear and read about more than any other in the dog press. But are we really user-friendly enough?

A couple of friends of mine recently traveled to Australia to their breed’s National Specialty there. They’re Beagle people. Over the three days of the show, held at a beautiful outdoor location under blue skies and in the most moderate temperatures, they made lots of friends among the local Beagle folks. The most interesting thing I learned about their experience when we had dinner on their return is that in Australia, the Beagle club isn’t just made up of people who show Beagles. Some of their members are people who just have a Beagle. Some of them bought a puppy or got an older dog from a club member to be a pet and companion. Some adopted a rescue Beagle. They might participate in obedience or another event, but some of them just have one dog and don’t do any kind of event with it. They just love Beagles.

Those Beagle “pet people” came to the show. They worked right alongside the Beagle “show people.” They helped set up the rings and chairs, handle hospitality, sell catalogs, or fill in wherever they were needed. They talked to visitors. When the club had a funny little lure-coursing demonstration in and around the rings – yes, with scent hounds! – some of the “pet” Beagles participated, and very enthusiastically!

Beagles participate in a fun lure coursing demonstration at the Australian National Specialty. Photo by Eden Thornton.

These people love their breed and love being among others who share their passion. The best part is that they get together away from club meetings and go hiking together, taking their dogs along, or have dog-friendly picnics. They do all kinds of things together. Of course, they all no doubt have friends other than those in the Beagle club, but it must be great to know other people who, if you want to have a summer picnic and bring your dog along, not only won’t mind, but will bring theirs too! It’s such a simple idea, yet a brilliant one… bringing together people who share a passion.

The sad part is that, as my friend excitedly told me about how this all works in Australia, we agreed that most clubs in the U.S. would probably be unlikely to welcome pet people into their folds. I’m not sure why, but I can’t imagine it happening in many parent or all-breed clubs here.

Everyone laments the fact that there aren’t enough young people coming into the sport, and that so many clubs are “graying” and have little hope to survive because there won’t be anyone to take over when the old members are gone. In my own parent club, the elders worry constantly about who is going to take over when they’re all gone, because we don’t have young members. But it’s hard enough for people who show Poodles to get into Poodle Club of America. No way could someone with one pet get in.

Perhaps some local breed clubs include people who have just one or two dogs and don’t show. When I was growing up in the Trinity Valley Cairn Terrier Club, we had a few members who didn’t show dogs, who had one or two companion Cairns and just enjoyed being with others who loved the breed. But I haven’t seen anything like that for many years.

It’s something to think about, isn’t it? Maybe the next time you sell a pet to a nice individual or couple, you should invite them to join your local breed or all-breed dog club. Next time your club participates in a Responsible Dog Owners Day, you should invite the people you meet to come to the next club meeting when you have an interesting program. Maybe my own all-breed club should plan some kind of interesting program for our October meeting, so that when we talk to people from our booth at RDO Day in September, we can invite them to come to our October meeting.

I know it’s difficult to imagine a day when there won’t be dog shows. It’s inconceivable that the time would come when there would be no American Kennel Club, or when we aren’t allowed to breed dogs anymore. But stranger things have happened. And anyway, wouldn’t it be much more fun to have a variety of people involved in our clubs? There’s that old saying that “many hands make light work.” If nothing else, sharing the workload would be nice!