Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Dying AKC Is Proof Darwin Was Right

Like the dinosaur that has noticed it has been raining ash from the sky for three straight weeks, the AKC is starting to become aware they are an ancient creature in a new world.

Over at Canine Chronicle, a publication written for the inbred dog show crowd about their inbred show dogs, Gerry Meisels has a piece entitled The Future of Conformation Shows, which begins:

A few weeks ago I stood by the ringside along with some of my friends and watched the judging in a Terrier breed, not my own Westies though. We watched several breeds, and I found out pretty quickly that my friend felt that the judge consistently put up the best known face in the ring. I couldn’t disagree with his opinion of this multiple group judge. Then we got ourselves a cup of coffee and the conversation became very wide ranging, from the decline in entries, to the aging of club members and exhibitors, the quality and cost of show facilities, individual dogs of various breeds – you surely have been in similar conversations yourself. After about half an hour or so we both became quiet and sat opposite each other on one of the food court’s picnic tables. Then out of a clear blue sky my friend said, “The way things are going, there will be no conformation shows in ten or fifteen years.” My friend, a long-time breeder and exhibitor in a Terrier breed different from mine, is quite knowledgeable about dogs and shows. He owner-handled one of his dogs to the top of the rankings, and has served as show chair and president of his club. The sense of the statement, that Conformation Shows (CSs) were in decline, did not surprise me but the vehemence and strength of that statement blew me away and set me to thinking. Are things really that bad, or is it just that shows are changing?

Meisels goes on to say things ARE really bad, but he valiantly looks for hope.

But here's the scoop: there isn't any.

We no longer live in an era of rabbit ear antennas on the TV and a belief that the color of a person's skin should determine their place in life.

The horseless carriage is gone, and so too is the  notion that there are "blue bloods" and royalty.

People who sniff about their pedigree and their ancestors are screaming failures.  The most important people in the world are folks like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Barack Obama, and Elon Musk. Not a blue blood or hint of royalty among them.

And beauty pageants? When was the last time you saw one of those on TV? They are a product of the "Mad Men" era; an embarrassing anachronism that women's groups no longer even have to protest.  They are dead all on their own.

And dog shows? They too are from another era. No one wants to be part of a parade of mutants, where deformed and diseased dogs with entirely fake histories are trotted out at the end of a string leash.

It's always been a freak show (and not just for the dogs!), but now we know and understand the crackpot eugenic theories that underpin it all, and the freight train of pain and disease that has followed.

And no, it does not help that the AKC itself not only winks at puppy mills but actually helps to subsidize them.

Conformation dog shows come from an era in which women knew better than to speak up, gays were closeted, and blacks were at the back of the bus.

Conformation dog shows come from an era in which gas had lead in it, and salt was not iodized.

In short, dogs shows come from an era when we were a little bit stupider than we are today.

Back in 2010, I predicted that the AKC would go out of business by 2025, and time has not shown me to be wrong.  AKC registrations, which topped 1.5 million in 1992, were down to 716,000 in 2010 and are now down to 400,00.

Back in 2008 I quoted AKC Chairman Ron Menager who bemoaned market economics and wondered why the American people were no longer quite so gullible.  Menager wrote:

The American Kennel Club faces enormous challenges in reversing the continuing decline in registrations. Today, we are losing market share at an alarming rate, especially in the retail sector. We are being challenged competitively and financially. The declining registrations and associated core revenues, if allowed to continue, will fundamentally change our organization going forward. Make no mistake, the very future of the AKC and our sport is at risk. ....

.... AKC used to dominate the marketplace. Even places like Macy's and Gimbels sold AKC puppies. Many pet owners who bought these puppies, and I was one of them, tried their hand at showing and breeding.

For decades we collected millions of registration dollars from AKC pet owners. These millions overwhelmingly subsidized our sport. Today, this scenario no longer exists. Twenty-five years ago almost all of our revenue was registration related. Last year less than one half of our revenues came from registrations. Dog registrations peaked at 1.5 million in 1992. By the end of 2008 it is projected we will register only 725,000 dogs. This is a staggering 53% decline.

... If the current trend continues and dog registrations decline to 250,000 over the next several years, AKC will face an annual revenue shortfall of $40 million. ... a $40 million revenue shortfall would necessitate a reduction of our expenses by two-thirds. This is totally unrealistic.

So, did the AKC register only 725,000 dogs in 2008? They did not. They registered LESS than that, and the numbers are now down to 400,000, with more declines to follow.

At a certain point, as Menager notes, there is an economic tipping point. The tipping can be slowed down by trying to find other sources of revenue, such as trying to create a veterinary and insurance company kickback scheme, which the AKC has tried, but in the end market forces are going to be too much and gravity and common sense are going to win.

So when Gerry Meisels' friend says "The way things are going, there will be no conformation shows in ten or fifteen years,” he has it exactly right.

Like the dinosaur that has noticed it has been raining ash from the sky for three straight weeks, the AKC is starting to become aware they are an ancient creature in a new world.

Adapt or die? 

There was a time where adaptation might have been possible, but that point is past.

The AKC has become a toxic brand with failed leadership and no viable economic model.

They are frozen in amber and unfit for function and, as Darwin predicted for such creatures, they are doomed to extinction.

But will life go on? Oh yes. Count on it!


jeffrey thurston said...

Love this post- however I have to disagree with one of your statements: "In short, dogs shows come from an era when we were a little bit stupider than we are today." We are MUCH stupider in some ways today- Americans as a people are abysmally stupid as their country becomes a corrupt empire and the rich gobble up everything. Sure, we ride more bikes and talk PC and let men marry each other and elect black Presidents but that's just stuff which our masters allow so as to distract from their plutocratic schemes...

Donald McCaig said...

Dear Patrick,

The AKC has done so much harm to dogs, causing dogs (and naive pet owners) so much pain over more than a century, I will be - mostly - glad to see them go.

Last week I visited a splendid traditional obedience trainer who has won every major AKC prize and her students are winning them today.

Most dog people of her (and my) generation grew up when the Dog Fancy was the only game in town and now that it (and its ancillaries-like obedience) are dying, she feels a profound regret.

The AKC wasn't just dog shows - it was a complete mindset of what dogs are and meant and how dogs are valued.

My friend said to me: "If a dog from California comes here to Maryland and has a CDX, I know just exactly what that dog can do."

National standards enforced (however arbitrarily) by an authoritarian organization that made the rules to which every dog fancier must adhere:that's the world they were used to and came to see as the only possible world.

When I told her that sheepdog trials have no rules (we do have guidelines for judges with cultural pressure to conform to them and sheepdogging norms) and that withou the AKC she could continue setting up obedience matches and others might do the same, she could not imagine any alternative.

The AKC's death gasps will confuse and hurt an awful lot of fine people who know a hell of a lot about dogs.

Which is why - mostly - I applaud its demise.

Donald McCaig

Gaddy Bergmann said...

I would welcome the extinction of the AKC, and along with it the mentality that pure-breeding any animal (canine or otherwise) is better than outcrossing. I hasten to add that I'm not against phenotypic diversity in dogs, it's just that I'm more concerned about genetic diversity.

I'm glad to see those declining enrollment numbers, but I wonder how long it's going to take for the "kennel club mentality" to really die off. I still meet people who are proud of the awards they've "earned" in dog shows, which not only ruin dogs, but are about as arbitrary and devoid of merit as a contest can be. I also meet people who are ignorant of the difference between a breed and a species; breeds are human constructs, while species are naturally occurring, and genetically much more different from each other, often reproductively incompatible.

I think we have a long way to go to get the dog fancy caught up with biology, and to get animal welfare caught up with what Man's Best Friend and other species really deserve.

Stacey said...

"Many pet owners who bought these puppies, and I was one of them, tried their hand at showing and breeding."

This right here is one of the reasons the AKC is in decline. Where are all those dogs to go? If every person who registered an AKC dog tried their hand at showing and breeding, there would be a crazy population explosion, and drowning unwanted puppies is just so not in vogue these days.

robert johnson said...

I think one of the many reasons that registration has declined is the use of limited registration by breeders. I sell my pups on limited registration until the pup (Doberman) has received an entry level protection dog title. I see that more than half of my pups are never registered with the akc. I think people see no need in registering with AKC if the have no intention of breeding.