Most AKC critics are applauding this decision as actually virtuous and good for dogs and their owners. Here's why I'm not joining them.
A couple years ago, ACK started sending up weather balloons about the feasibility of permitting filthy mongrels to compete in performance events.
AKC has always controlled virtually all the venues for formal obedience competition and titling in the US. Only properly-documented ACK-registered "purebreds" were eligible to compete in this red-headed stepchild of "The Sport of Purebred Dogs."
When I took my golden retriever -- an obviously purebred, field-line bitch -- to community obedience classes in the mid-70's, she could not prepare for any formal competitions because she came from the pound. No "papers." The instructor was kind but matter-of-fact in explaining this inflexible reality to the skinny kid who rode her bike* to class, dog galloping beside. Shannon's more accomplished son, who looked purebred, was not, and was also ineligible.
So there we were, alone at the fairgrounds and park, practicing retrieving over jumps and scent discrimination, just because.
In the 80's, they instituted a scheme called the "indefinite listing privilege," (renamed "Purebred Alternative Listing" two years ago) in which the owners of undocumented dogs that looked like a particular AKC-registered breed might pay a fee and send in some photos and proof that their putative purebred was surgically sterilized, and be permitted to slip in alongside the pedigreed elite in the pursuit of obedience and tracking titles.
Many a mongrel became a "Labrador" or "poodle" by virtue of a clever camera angle or strategic haircut, and once the Government of Dogs (G.O.D.) had so declared it, who was to say it was not so? And on the ground, who the hell cared? Obedience competitors are practical sorts, for the most part. The only complaint about an ILP I've ever heard seemed to have to do with someone winning too much, and with the pageant matrons of the breed club getting wind of it. That one provoked a special rule.
Meanwhile, an organization called the American Mixed-Breed Obedience Registry got going in the early 80's. They worked out a deal whereby mongrels could enter local "fun"** matches, the handler and judge could treat the run as if it were a trial and be scored accordingly, and AMBOR would issue titles.
Yeah, second-class citizenship -- but citizenship of a sort, even if not granted by the G.O.D.. Later AMBOR and the privately-owned commercial registry called the United Kennel Club worked out a deal that allowed mixed dogs into UKC obedience trials on an equal footing with UCK-registered -- with one caveat. The mixed-breed dogs had to be sterilized.
Keep watching that last clause, because it becomes important.
One big disadvantage of hitching up with the UKC was that there aren't a lot of UKC trials in most parts of the country. The owner of an AKC-registered dog or an AKC-anointed "ILP" dog could trial every weekend with moderate travel in most parts of the US. Nowhere was that true for those with dogs whose only venues were UKC shows. The advantage was that everyone in the class was really competing, so it was harder for snobs to denigrate the curs' achievements as just affirmative action grade-inflation.
Meanwhile, through the 90's, new, innovative dog sports not under the aegis of the G.O.D. were catching on -- flyball, agility, freestyle and rally obedience -- and venerable working tests/sports -- stockdog trials, schutzhund, earthdog trials -- were becoming more prominent. These events were, for the most part, sponsored and controlled by entities that did not limit entrants or prizes based on breed or registration or "purity." In the new sports, mixed-breed dogs were common and unremarked. In some cases, competitors started to deliberately cross-breed in order to develop competitive animals. Interest in entering dog beauty pageants was waning (even as more and more were televised and glamorized), and consumers started getting wise to the bad deal that "champion bloodlines" meant when they went looking for a pet. ACK registrations were in a clearly unrecoverable tailspin, due in part to the rise of the new puppymill registries, and in part to the indifference of pet owners who quite rightly could not be bothered to send AKC money in exchange for worthless paper. In a panicked attempt to keep the registrations rolling in, the AKC was grabbing "new" breeds right and left, against the increasingly righteous and organized resistance of their breed stewards.
Is it any wonder that the AKC also cast its lidless red eye on these new, and newly prominent, sports -- sports that had developed and flourished under a system of fair, equitable, open-to-all competition? Earthdog, agility, rally obedience, "herding" and lure coursing were soon appropriated, with varying degrees of success. In the wake of public interest in SAR dogs after the Oklahoma City bombing, a new variable-surface tracking title was, before the screaming from the public safety community, witlessly promoted as a search and rescue certification! ("The level of physical difficulty should be such that it will permit all AKC breeds and handlers of any age to participate.")
In the case of, for example, agility trials, clubs and venues that had previously hosted open-to-all, level-playing-field trials sanctioned by USDAA or NADAC in conjunction with their large dog shows and obedience trials now found themselves forbidden to do so.
In 1993, my SAR unit was asked to provide demos and a booth for an AKC dog show in Massachusetts. We'd done the same at an even bigger "cluster" of shows for some years -- a cluster that included an ARBA pageant and open-to-all agility. Good PR and education, sometimes a recruiting success, and a moderate fund-raiser.
But the hosting AKC club of this other show had one stipulation. Only search and rescue dogs that were AKC purebreds were invited to demonstrate or attend. The pit bull (gasp!) and the mixed breeds and their low-life handlers were not wanted. Not Our Sort, you know.
I was the unit's contact person for setting up this demonstration. My regular readers can probably fill in the wording and tone of my response for themselves.
The following year, AKC-sanctioned agility trials -- for registered purebreds only -- replaced those held by the USDAA or NADAC at AKC show and obedience-trial venues.
That's the mindset we are dealing with here, folks. It may have learned to keep its David Duke opinions about canine race under wraps a little better in the past decade and a half, but believe me, inside the country club, when the help is out of earshot, nothing has changed.
So fast-forward to around 2007, when the AKC started floating those weather balloons about the mutts. Eventually it belched out a survey directed at the members of the "Purebred Fancy" and the owners of impure performance dogs, asking under what conditions each group would find it acceptable for mixed dogs to compete in agility, obedience, rally, and tracking trials.
What they came up with, in an attempt to have/eat cake, was separate water fountains.
Mixed dogs could not earn the same exalted titles as the pure. They could never compete head-to-head for placements with the pure. They could not advance to AKC invitationals or the Nationals. They could not be entered into trials where a beauty pageant was being conducted at the same venue, else they might infect the Aryan dogs in much the same way that a rusty heap can profane a new Beemer just by parking next to it. And of course, they had to be sterilized.
Reaction from the owners of mixed-breed performance dogs -- particularly those that are tearing up the USDAA and NADAC agility courses around the country -- apparently sounded like this.
It appears that the reaction from the clubs that actually run the trials and shows from which ACK takes a cut for its "sanction" was also less than enthusiastic.
While each club's participation in the AKC Canine Partners program will remain voluntary, clubs may now choose to allow mixed breed participation at any AKC Agility, Obedience or Rally event. Mixed breeds will compete in the same classes and earn the same titles as their purebred counterparts.So, individual clubs may now ban the impure, but the G.O.D. is no longer mandating apartheid.
As long as the mongrels are sterilized!
The "Canine Partners" program is also open to "purebred" dogs of non-AKC breeds.
As long as the infidel dogs are sterilized!
Ruh roh, Raggy.
Of great note, the AKC's new-ish method of breed-takeover-by-attrition, the "Foundation Stock Service," comes into play here. Because if you own a dog of an FSS-listed breed, you can't access performance events through the "Canine Partners" scheme. You have to register it through the FSS -- the dog, and it's sweet, juicy pedigree.
Make no mistake that the AKC's latest policy move has nothing to do with what is good for dogs, what is good for dog breeds, or what is good for dog owners.
It is good for
One aim is to destroy the largest of the level-playing-field, open-to-all competitive venues entirely. USDAA and NADAC compete with ACK for entry fees, publicity, and credibility, and they have to die. Same for APDT rally trials. What started when their trials (and the mutts that entered them) were banned from the same grounds as the dog shows is now meant to finish with the appropriation of all the entrants.
Another aim is to short-stop deliberate cross-breeding for performance and the development of new breeds for new roles. The G.O.D. that howls in protest whenever a mandatory sterilization law threatens to impact their revenues institutes the exact same policy against a subset of their "customers."
A third aim, largely dependent on the destruction of the independent sporting organizations, is to appropriate non-AKC breeds into the FSS, and thence on to full "recognition" as proper show dogs. So they can be improved, natch. And to keep those registration dollahs coming in.
There is no way for the owner of a non-AKC purebred dog to compete with him in AKC events unless the dog is sterilized. With the swamping of alternative venues, the ACK can increase the pressure on independent breed clubs to fold and be assimilated into the FSS, in order to maintain some access to events that can serve as thresholds for soundness and ability, and an engaging hobby for the owners of dogs who don't have real work to do.
The AKC spent nearly a century imagining itself to be the G.O.D. in the United States, and having that presumption continually reinforced by its toadies in The Fancy. Those it considers its rightful subjects have overwhelmingly been sniggering at its nudity or ignoring its existence and getting on with their lives with dogs without benefit of its rule for decades.
Since bringing down the hammer of "purity" backfired last time -- causing the puppymills to take their registration money and go home -- the putative G.O.D. is pursuing another favorite tactic of the failing tyrant -- expansionist warfare.
Fourth, the money from the individual enrollees could be significant. The fee for enrolling a mudblood dog or non-AKC breed as a "Canine Partner" is $15 more than standard registration. An extra ten-spot if you want to give him a particularly long and fancy name. Interesting differential, given that the AKC (we're just a registry, we keep the pedigree records) is not charged with the task of recording the pedigrees of these animals, nor will those pedigrees continue into the future.
More confusion. Although wolf hybrids of any percentage are strictly verboten from enrollment in the "Canine Partners" scheme, by the curious and physics-challenged requirement that the animal be "... not a wolf or the immediate progeny of a wolf-dog crossbreeding, in the past or in the future" the FSS happily enrolls these wolf-dogs as a "breed."
What it all adds up to is a grab for more power over American dogs and their owners, and especially the breeding of dogs and the development of breeds, presented in PR-friendly way. It's especially targeted at getting control of working dogs -- those breeds and types whose owners and breeders are most likely to seek outside validation of their dogs' trainability and athleticism. ACK has been trying for decades to take credit for working dogs, and accelerated their efforts after 9-11 in the smarmiest way.
What better way to associate oneself with the achievements of others than by killing off any alternative sources of external validation?
*Purple. Hi-rise handlebars. Flowered banana seat. Plastic basket on the front. Yes, those are bell-bottoms caught in the chain. But no sissy-bar. Not a Stingray, either, what, were we the friggin' Rockefellers?
** Those not "sanctioned" by the AKC, and meant for people to practice before entering a sanctioned match or trial. Often hosted by obedience clubs, sometimes by training centers.