The dog fancy is not always for the faint of heart. The life blood of dog shows is competition, and since the success of anyone — dog or person — is predicated on the fact that others should lose, you might think those of us who are seriously involved in dog shows must be a selfish, shallow, hardened bunch. That this isn’t so is one of life’s surprising mysteries. In fact, when the chips are down it’s invariably clear that dog people are more like one big, extended family of people who argue and bicker among themselves but are also ready to help one another in times of need.
Nowhere is this shown more clearly than by Take The Lead. That the dog sport has been able to produce a charity of such efficiency, generosity and, above all, heart is something that everyone who’s involved in dogs can be proud of. Especially today, when so many people, both inside our sport and outside of it, are critical of purebred dog activities it’s heart-warming to find that an organization such as this not only exists but thrives in our midst, and is able to make a difference in so many people’s lives.
You’ve probably heard of Take The Lead; you may even have some idea of what it’s about, but too many dog people still don’t know much about it. Since this year marks the 20th anniversary of Take The Lead’s founding, now is a good time to take a look at how this organization came into existence and how it operates.
So just what is it? Take The Lead describes itself on its website simply as “a not-for-profit foundation […] dedicated to provide direct services, support and care for all qualified participants in the sport of dogs who suffer from the devastating realities of life-threatening or terminal illnesses.” Take The Lead does not send money to applicants, but they pay bills as needed and approved: mortgages, rent, utility bills, insurance, medical bills, house payments, living expenses… Take The Lead may pay for the expense of flying in a family member for a visit, relieve a caregiver with a few days of professional nursing, or pay for home health care.
Who Can Get Help?
Anyone who has participated in the sport of dogs for five years or more may qualify for help. It doesn’t matter where in the country you live, who you are, or which category of the fancy you belong to. You may be an exhibitor, a breeder, a judge, a dog show photographer, a superintendent, a vendor or a ring steward — if you’ve been in dogs for five years you may be able to get help.
Applying is simple. There’s a form to fill out at http://takethelead.org; the completed application will be sent to three members of the Assistance Committee, who keep all information strictly confidential. Nobody will know you applied unless you want them to. A copy of your most recent tax returns and a note from your doctor with diagnosis and prognosis is required. Usually Take The Lead will authorize payments for a period of three or four months; at the end of this time it is possible to ask for an extension, once again with documentation from your doctor regarding condition and prognosis. At the end of each month the recipient receives a statement showing what has been paid. The committee works fast when necessary: some bills can get paid within 24 hours of the committee’s decision.
The biggest hurdle for applicants, according to Take The Lead officials, is simply pride — accepting that you need help and making the decision to apply. If you’ve always been self-reliant and able to take care of yourself, it can be difficult to acknowledge that things are in fact beyond your control. As one Take The Lead trustee said, “We can’t solve all of your problems, but we can help and we will.”
How It Started
How did it all start? Sometime in early 1993 a few concerned dog people got together to discuss how they could help the many in “the family” who were not doing well. That’s putting it mildly: the AIDS crisis was then in the news on a daily basis, and many in the dog world — handlers, breeders, judges, exhibitors of every kind — were affected, not just health-wise but also by the financial devastation that often accompanies catastrophic illness. Take The Lead states: “As much as we would like to believe that our efforts can make miracles happen, they cannot. The money we raise and the assistance we provide cannot buy a single cure. But we take some real comfort in knowing we can make a difference in a person’s life.” The AIDS crisis played a large part in the creation of Take The Lead, but it was clear from the start that dog people suffering from all kinds of terminal or life-threatening illness needed help.
The group of East Coast dog fanciers who started the ball rolling appointed a board of trustees and filed for status as a not-for-profit foundation under Section 501 (c)3 of the IRS code. A first fundraiser was held on September 9, 1993 at the Tarrytown Hilton Hotel in New York, the night before Tuxedo Park Kennel Club’s show during the Westchester KC weekend. More than 250 people, including many from other parts of the country, came together and succeeded in raising what was then considered an outstanding sum of $35,000. The first checks to help dog people in need were sent out less than three months later.
It was also on this evening that the small white pin with a red leash logo and Take The Lead printed on it was introduced. Each person attending this historic event was given a pin. The next day at the show, pins were proudly displayed on many lapels, and thousands more have been distributed to members over the years.
Other fundraisers followed: at Westminster, the International and Del Valle, in Boston, Knoxville, Houston, Portland and other locations around the country. The Wine Country KC is hosting a dinner and wine tasting event in Napa, Calif. on November 9 this year. The Eastern KC Christmas party in Springfield, Mass. on December 7 has become an annual tradition. There’s a Take The Lead booth at a couple of dozen shows around the country each year, and supportive clubs have held silent auctions and raffles, given free public service advertisements in show catalogs to benefit Take The Lead, even donated part of their entry fees.
One of the most popular ways of raising funds is by hosting a “Chuck-A-Duck” event. Take The Lead has invested in a flock of plastic ducks that can be rented by a club for its show. The size of the flock is 100 ducks that the club in turn “rents” to show attendees for $5 each. At an appointed time, usually just before Best in Show, a children’s wading pool, is placed in the center of the ring, and the duck renters are encouraged to chuck their ducks at the pool. The ducks are individually numbered, the one that lands closest to the center of the pool is declared the winner, and whoever chucked it wins half the total rent pool. Most of the winners generously donate part or all of their winnings back to Take The Lead.
There doesn’t have to be a club for someone to host a benefit. Professional handler Larry Cornelius received help from Take The Lead when, years ago, he was diagnosed with cancer and was unable to work during what turned out to be successful chemotherapy treatment. He found a way to “pay back” by, with his partner Marcelo Veras, hosting an annual fundraising “theme” dinner at their house after the Ocala show in Florida in January. It started with a dozen guests; last year there were 200. The first year there was an “organized” fundraiser, in 2009, the goal was to make $5,000; the end result was nearly $35,000. The next party will be held on January 25, 2014, with “Prom Night” as the theme.
Over the 20 years of Take The Lead’s existence, thousands of hours of volunteer labor have been donated by the Board of Trustees and the dog community at large. More than $3.5 million has been distributed to dog people in need, and almost 2,500 dog lovers are currently members of Take The Lead.
In an effort to ensure that those in need will be provided for, Take The Lead early on established a permanent restricted fund and determined that up to one half of each year’s net income would be placed in it. This investment has become a substantial asset, with the goal that eventually the interest earned on this endowment will provide enough income to cover the expenses of everyone in our sport who qualifies for assistance.
The simplest way to donate is of course through a financial contribution or membership. An individual membership in Take The Lead costs $30, family membership $50. New members will receive a membership pin. Junior membership is free. A Lifetime membership costs $750, Specialty Club $100, Kennel Club $500, Silver $1,000, Gold $2,500 and Diamond $5,000. There is a monthly newsletter, edited by Cindy Vogels, and an email list. Any club or individual who is interested in helping should go to the website at http://takethelead.org, write to Take The Lead, P.O. Box 6353, Watertown, NY 13601 or call 1-800-814-1123. All contributions are tax deductible.
Who’s Who in Take The Lead
One of the most appealing features of Take The Lead is the total lack of ego and self-promotion among those involved. There’s no question, however, that a great deal of its success is due to the fact that the core group consists of well respected, high profile dog people. Among the first to join 20 years ago were Tom Bradley, Show Chairman for Westminster Kennel Club, who agreed to be Take The Lead’s first chairman, and Pat Laurans, long active in AKC affairs and an AKC judge since 1984. Neither of them need an introduction to serious dog fanciers, and both are still heavily involved in Take The Lead today, Tom Bradley as Executive Director and Pat Laurans as a Vice Chairman. Others in the founders group included Dorothy Collier, Ellen Frost, Michael Larizza and Eric Steel. Jeffrey Pepper was the first treasurer and Nancy Campbell was secretary.
In 2003 Edd E. Bivin took over the position as Chairman, with Tom Bradley moving to the newly created office of CEO. One of Mr. Bivin’s efforts focused on a greater geographic diversity: Take The Lead was sometimes perceived as primarily an East Coast effort by people in other parts of the country, although it has always been a national organization. After eight very active years Edd Bivin handed over the chairman’s post to Pam Beale in 2011. Dog people may know her best for her Norfolk Terriers, primarily of course the immortal “Coco,” Ch. Cracknor Cause Celebre, who was Top Dog of all breeds in 2003, won two Groups at Westminster and BIS at Crufts.
Pam says: “I hope everyone takes time to stop by our booths to meet our current board members. They are all wonderful, hardworking, dedicated individuals that you will be happy to know.”
TAKE THE LEAD OFFICERS
Pamela Beale, Chairman
Dottie Collier, 1st Vice Chairman
Patricia W. Laurans, 2nd Vice Chairman
Dan Nechemias, 3rd Vice Chairman
Jeffrey Pepper, Treasurer
Susan Sprung, Secretary
Thomas H. Bradley, 3d, Chief Operating Officer
Joseph W. Russell, Esq. Menter, Rudin & Trivelpiece P.C., Counsel to the Board
Thomas H. Bradley, 3d, Dottie Collier, Ellen Frost, Michael Larizza, Patricia W. Laurans, Jeffrey Pepper, Eric Steel
BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Janet Lange Moses
All officers and Trustees indicated with an asterisk (*).