Kenneth Tatsch can weave, jump through hoops and balance a teeter totter as well as even a top agility dog. He has to. It’s all part of his job as the president of the United States Dog Agility Association.
While dogs are dashing around agility courses all over the United States and in other countries, Tatsch is darting around the USDAA office in Dallas or sprinting overseas to offer his expertise and guidance.
That wasn’t his plan when he was studying music, business and accounting in college. Soon after graduating in 1980, he bought a house and got his first dog, a Shetland Sheepdog named Jennifer. A certified public accountant, he worked as an audit manager. Having grown up without a canine pal, Ken wasted no time in immersing himself in all things dog, taking up obedience with Jennifer. A few years later, he was looking for something different. He found it in agility.
The light bulb went on for him when he saw an agility meet in England in 1985. He recalls thinking, “That’s the kind of relationship that needs to be built with a dog.”
He went home to the Dallas area, constructed some obstacles and started doing exhibitions. The first was for the Houston Kennel Club, which wanted a competition as entertainment during its annual all-breed show.
By fall of the next year, he and some other enthusiasts had put together a competition. The U.S. Obedience Classic was sponsored by Gaines and known as the Gaines Classic for many years.
Tatsch and the organization have been on the run ever since, defining USDAA agility competition programs and licensing them to dog clubs around the country, and helping other countries import the programs.
“We try to keep things at a high competitive level so the sport can be the most it can be,” Tatsch says
People wanting to participate in USDAA-sanctioned agility events register themselves and their dogs with the organization.
An advisory board monitors rules and regulations and how they’re working in the field, Tatsch explains. One goal is to “keep the sport exciting over time. It’s like professional football, they change the rules, for example, so you see more touchdown passes.
“To us the key is the variety, the challenge, and the fun,” he says.
Tatsch has his own challenges with two young daughters at home, two adult sons in the area, and a heavy travel schedule. He often teaches judges’ seminars in other countries and helps clubs establish agility programs.
As the USDAA president, he says he wants to stay “principled and focused.” A myriad of tasks and projects have to be prioritized so he and his staff of six can stay on track. “As in any small business, you have all the demands of a big business, but you don’t have the people. They’re wearing two or three hats each.”
Stuart Mah, who started teaching agility classes in Florida after retiring early from his oral surgery practice, met Tatsch in 1990. A year or two later he was on the USDAA board.
“The one thing that Ken does better than a lot of people is that he doesn’t necessarily set short-term goals. He looks five or 10 years down the road, even though he worries about the day-to-day stuff. He looks beyond what’s in front of him. In the long run, it benefits everybody.”
Mah says that even after all these years Ken still likes to watch dogs run courses. “He likes the social aspect too. I think our people really enjoy how the program is going. He really does care if people are happy with it.” For example, a jump height decision was made by the board some years ago. “After about a year, we kind of looked at each other and said, ‘What were we thinking?’ It was so insane that we couldn’t believe we did it. So, we changed it.
“The other part is he does listen. Ken’s one of the few executives that you can call and he’ll pick up the phone and talk to you. He’s pretty accessible to the regular people, not just the people who are in the office or whatever.”
Tatsch says he never stops to look back. “I’m always looking at the weakest link and how to fix it.” He also never imagined going from accounting to something in the dog world. “I meet all sorts of executives and stuff. They say, ‘Really, someone can make a living doing that?’”
When he first fell for agility, he says he knew the sport “could be big, but I never thought it would be a career.”
So, what keeps him going? “I can‘t tell you the number of people who have come up and told me: ‘I’ve always liked my dog, but being able to get out and do these things has changed my life.’”