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

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/

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”

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