Many people involved with AKC shows and dogs will have seen the “Today Show” program that aired on May 1. If you haven’t seen it, you should, because at some point someone who knows you’re part of the world of breeding and showing dogs will ask you about it.
My personal reaction to the program could fill volumes. It’s difficult to even know where to begin. But I think the most important message I can bring to our readers is this: it is up to us to spread a positive message about breeders. No one can do it as well as we can do it ourselves. Don’t be ashamed of who we are. The vast majority of people who go to dog shows every weekend and who breed the dogs shown there take better care of their animals than the average pet owner. We simply must be prepared with real facts to rebut biased reporting like what appeared this week on NBC.
Are you disgusted that AKC didn’t do a better job of presenting our side of the story? Me too, but remember that the animal rights extremists’ goal is to divide and conquer, so they want you to be mad at AKC and to think about leaving the sport altogether. Instead let’s work on helping AKC get out the right messages about who we are. On the other hand, I see no reason that we shouldn’t ask AKC to be accountable for the “I don’t have an answer for that” responses given during the broadcast, this despite the fact that the organization has reportedly hired the “best PR people” in the business the past few years, no doubt at great expense. We all know that “no comment” and “I don’t have an answer” make it look like someone is hiding something. And as long as AKC is viewed as “hiding something” there will be more attacks against us, and they’ll continue to be indefensible.
The best defense for responsible breeders is a strong offense, and a strong offense requires each and every one of us to treat our dogs well and to do appropriate health testing before we breed. It requires us to not be afraid to breed a litter of healthy, happy puppiesthat will be sold to the public as pets – after all, if responsible hobby breeders don’t supply puppies for pet homes, someone else will. Let people know that you spend far more on your dogs, between buying premium dog food, veterinary care, health testing and the cost of whelping and raising puppies, just to mention a very few costs associated with raising dogs, than you’ll ever make back.
To properly defend ourselves, we have to be prepared to explain to anyone who asks why owning a purebred dog is a good idea. With a purebred dog, thanks to centuries of careful breeding, you know what you’re getting in terms of the very basics, like how big your dog is going to get, what kind of temperament he’s going to have and how much grooming will be involved in owning this dog. New owners can learn what behaviors this particular breed’s natural instincts might lead them to exhibit, whether it’s a natural instinct to herd, follow his nose around the neighborhood or build sand castles in the backyard. And – despite all of the claims that purebred dogs are inherently less healthy than mixed-breed dogs – owners will also get a snapshot of what kinds of health concerns have come up in the family, and an assurance that the responsible breeder has done everything possible to weed out dogs with health problems, whether it’s something as common as skin allergies or as serious as cardiac anomalies. Perhaps one of the most valuable things people get when they buy a purebred puppy from a responsible breeder is, for the life of their dog, a sounding board and advisor whom they can ask questions of and receive advice from if there’s anything they want to know about living with their dog.
It would also be wise to remind the harshest critics of dog breeding that a world without purebred dogs would be very different from the one we know today. Without purebred dogs, there would be many fewer reliable canines involved in law enforcement, search and rescue, bomb and drug detection, and working on farms and ranches around the world. These are just a few of the services dogs provide for us, and those who know will tell you that for these jobs, the reliability of temperament and performance of a purebred dog is irreplaceable.
A strong offense also means we have to keep doing what we’re doing in our kennel clubs: doing the extra work required to offer activities to the general public that will bring them in and allow them to get to know us and to learn that we want to have fun with our dogs, as well as show them ways to have fun with their dogs. It means continuing to interact with local politicians, law enforcement, vet schools, students in need of scholarships, and the families and individuals who come out for Meet the Breeds and other activities at our shows.
It also requires us to be prepared when someone asks us about programs like the one on the “Today Show.” At the end of the segment, Jeff Rossen mentioned that perhaps the best place to get a dog is from a rescue organization, but he failed to mention that a huge number of rescue organizations are run and funded by parent club members. We have to get that message out, because no one else is doing it. We have to get out the message that AKC, AKC parent clubs and AKC breeders also donate millions of dollars each year to research that leads not only to breakthroughs that will benefit dogs, but those that benefit humans as well.
Why AKC isn’t spending money on broadcasting all of these good things we do, or countering video of horrible situations in raided kennels with film from the kennels of responsible hobby breeders, is beyond me. Why, for instance, the public service announcement that Willie Nelson so generously created for AKC, letting people know that AKC clubs are responsible for many rescue groups, was not more widely used, I can’t say. But what I can tell you is that, if we want to protect our own reputations as fanciers and breeders of purebred dogs, we have to do what AKC is for some reason not able to do, and that is to spread the word about the good things we do, how terrific our dogs are and how devoted we are to making sure that purebred dogs continue to be happy and healthy members of our families and society. That’s the only way we can effectively counter these continual attacks.
Join your local breed or all-breed club, and help organize a doggie fun day or Meet the Breeds where people can get to know the breeders in your community. Know the important points to mention when someone asks you about programs like the one on the “Today Show.” Next time you’re at a show and you seeanyone who looks like they’re interested in talking about dogs, strike up a friendly conversation. Health test your dogs before you breed them, and be honest with yourself and with others in your breed about any problems you’ve encountered. It’s up to us to do the right things and spread the word. No one is going to do it for us.
AKC has provided additional talking points and rebuttal to the “Today Show” program, which can be found here.