Tuesday, May 18, 2010

AKC Screws the Pooch

If you've been following dog shows and dog show news within the past few years, you're already aware that show entries have been on the decline for quite a while. Numerous articles have been written exploring this subject, attempting to determine the main reason(s) for the decline: the floundering economy, onerous anti-dog laws being enacted, the aging of the dog-showing population, lack of interest on the part of juniors, rising entry prices and other costs, the disappearance of the small local dog show... All of these are true and valid reasons, but there haven't been many articles discussing one of the larger and more disturbing reasons: AKC is so determined to make money at all costs that their core constituency -- dog exhibitors and breeders -- is no longer important to them. If they were a corporation, the trade press would be speculating when they planned to divest themselves of the conformation division, and whether they thought they could sell it for a profit.

I personally don't have a big problem with AKC's decision to allow mixed breeds in performance events, in spite of the fact that the decision contradicts AKC's own position as overseer of the sport of purebred dogs. Plenty of mixed breeds compete in leagues such as NADAC agility and APDT rally, and the world hasn't come to an end. What galled me at the time was that the constituency was asked its opinion after the decision was made, and it was evident that AKC would go on with the decision no matter what the member clubs said. If I were an owner of a purebred dog from a breed not recognized by the club, I'd be mighty pissed about now. Anyway, the decision is done, the events are opened, and welcome to the new exhibitors!

Don't even get me started on the long-standing romance between AKC, high volume breeders, pet shop brokers, and so on. When the whole Petland proclamation backfired, AKC backtracked, fortified itself with a few cocktails from the Hunte Corporation's table, and then quietly created the PRIME program in an attempt to woo back the breeders who went off to form their own bogus registries. What's the PRIME program? It's basically a double-secret discount on registrations for pet-store puppies. Pretty soon people can be as proud of their AKC registrations as they are of their registrations with the Continental Kennel Club.

As if that weren't enough evidence of AKC's waning interest in dog shows, the club has been creating rule after rule designed to ensure the extinction of the small local dog show. From piling on additonal educational requirements and rules to campaigning for clubs to advertise on AKC's behalf in the local papers (at the clubs' expense, of course) to ensuring that small clubs forced to cluster to save costs may not share the same volunteer show secretary, AKC has gone out of its way to make it harder to put on dog shows in the first place. They derive only a small part of their revenue from show entry fees and licensing fees, so they've made it evident that they won't miss us when we're gone.

Here, however, is the crowning glory of the whole sad scenario: AKC has decided to start killing off their Best in Show and group judges. It sounds innocent enough: they've decided to start charging each dog show judge an annual fee of $5 per breed. For the judges licensed in only one or a few breeds, this is no big whoop. Many already have day jobs, and they judge a few weekends a month. Provisional judges, eager to complete the requirements for the breeds they want to judge, pretty much pay their own way to their assignments -- plus they don't get paid.

However, consider the Best in Show judges, judges licensed to judge 151 breeds, or even just whole groups of breeds. Annual fees from them can run into the hundreds of dollars. This prospect makes the bean counters at AKC salivate like a cartoon doggie at the sight of a biscuit -- THIS is where they can make some serious judging revenue. Never mind that many of the judges who have reached that echelon are elderly, living on fixed incomes, and derive no benefits from their part-time judging labors. Faced with the prospect of having to pay such huge fees to AKC, it's likely that some judges will drop breeds they don't judge often, refrain from picking up additional breeds that don't fit the budget, or give up judging altogether. This scheme makes Wal-Mart's treatment of its senior employees look benevolent in comparison.

You have to hand it to UKC President Wayne Cavanaugh. In the wake of this pronouncement by AKC, his statement reiterated how much UKC values its judges -- and as a token of that club's appreciation, UKC would send them badges and other small gifts. Coincidence? I don't think so. On the page at the UKC site where this announcement appears, there's a link reading, "If you'd like to become a UKC judge, click here." In light of what AKC wants to do to its judges, who wouldn't want to click there?

-- Post From My iSomething


blogdog said...


That sure didn't take long. Look what landed in my email inbox this afternoon:

Dear Constituents:

Today the American Kennel Club faces unprecedented financial challenges. These challenges not only impact us in the present, but also raise critical questions about our future.

There was a time when the American Kennel Club’s robust registration revenue provided the opportunity for the sport to flourish and the ability to do more for dogs grew unabated. However, the past few years have witnessed a marked downward spiral in registrations, leaving the memories of yesterday in the wake of the harsh realities of today. Therefore, it has been necessary to embark on a number of new initiatives in the quest for additional revenue. At the same time, there has been a constant tightening of all expenses in ways that, thus far, have not impacted our preeminent position in the world of dogs.

Our ability to maintain a reasonable operating budget has come from alternative revenue sources, as well as some previously enacted revenue initiatives that have required exhibitors, clubs, and registered handlers to accept increased or new fees. In addition, there have been significant staff and expense reductions at AKC. When revenues fell below projections, staff made the necessary cuts to avoid an operating loss. While purebred dog organizations in other countries face serious threats to their very existence, we have been able to maintain the high level of our services to the sport, launch new programs, continue our important philanthropic contributions, and protect a financial reserve that helps ensure our future. Yet the decline in revenue continues.

Our judges are crucial to our sport. They not only officiate at our events; they are thought leaders, mentors, and breed experts who help bring the next generation of the fancy to maturation. Now it is time for judges to join the other constituencies of the AKC - clubs, breeders, exhibitors, and registered handlers – to make a financial contribution to help maintain the quality of the sport we all love so much.

With this in mind, at its May 2010 meeting the AKC Board voted, without an opposing vote, to enact a fee for conformation judges. The need for that fee is undeniable. The feedback from the judging community on the necessity for the fee has been very supportive. However, the feedback on the methodology for application of the fee has met with universal disapproval. Healthy debate is critical to the viability of a strong and vibrant organization. The Board values the opinions of the judging community and appreciates the many constructive suggestions offered concerning the fee structure methodology. With the input of the judging community in mind, the Board today has taken the following actions:

1. The previously approved fee structure has been withdrawn by the Board and new fee structures will be considered. The concept of judges’ fees remains intact.

2. The Board has instructed AKC staff to revisit the alternatives discussed over the past year in addition to the other suggestions made recently by several judges to arrive at several equitable methods for consideration.
3. The Board has instructed AKC staff to meet again with representatives of judges organizations for input on these methodologies before any final decision is made.
It is imperative that all of us come together to face our challenges with the same passion, sportsmanship, and determination that is the hallmark of the great competitive spirit of the fancy. When we have come together in this manner in the past, we have accomplished great things. For the good of the sport we all love so much, we must now move forward together.

Ronald H. Menaker
Chairman of the Board

Joanna said...

I completely agree with you on the judge's fee, and as you have seen it's been withdrawn. However, the mixed-breed program was something that the Delegate Board pushed for, over the objections of the Board, and basically insisted be considered. So it's not true that the Board put it into place without asking the member clubs; it was a move BY the member clubs and was actually met with more resistance by the Board. I actually think mixed-breed participation is a great thing, something AKC should have done a long time ago. But completely apart from my personal feelings on it, it was very definitely a Delegate Board move and not something coming down from On High like the judge fee was.