April Chairman's Report
-- Making a Difference for Canine Health and Well-Being --
At the March Delegates meeting, Article III of the American Kennel Club Bylaws was amended to include the following: “The objects of the Club shall be to advance canine health and well-being…” Someone unfamiliar with the AKC might see this as a beginning. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, this amendment signals the commitment each of us has to the never-ending journey begun decades ago by our responsible breeders and breed Parent Clubs - a journey that is making a difference for dog health and well-being, but one that is not truly understood by the public.
Probably the most well-known product of the journey is the AKC Canine Health Foundation, which was instituted by the AKC in 1995 and is the largest funder of exclusively canine health research in the world today. Since its inception, the AKCCHF has funded almost 600 grants, totaling nearly $30 million – all addressing the health needs of dogs during their lifetime by focusing on all aspects of their physical, emotional and social well-being. What is not known by many people is that over 30 years ago the AKC was the first and the principle funder of the research that developed the vaccine for canine parvovirus, thus saving thousands of puppies’ lives around the world.
There is no doubt that responsible breeders - in their efforts to protect, preserve, and improve their breeds with every litter - embrace the advances in health screening and tests. These breeders apply their understanding of the science of genetics by utilizing the screening and testing protocols designed to aid in the selection of a sire and dam. Today there are a number of health registries that support breeders in that selection process, including the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). In addition, the AKCCHF and the OFA created the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). Working with participating Parent Clubs, CHIC provides a centralized health database used as a resource for breeders of purebred dogs to research information on the health issues prevalent in specific breeds.
The AKC recognizes our breeders’ motto of “Breed to Improve,” and offers significant information to help them achieve their ongoing quest. CHIC is but one of the many examples of available information and opportunities for advancing knowledge for the AKC breeder. The AKC offers breeders information via the website and the quarterly AKC Breeder Newsletter - covering a wide range of topics of interest to breeders. The AKCCHF hosts the National AKC Parent Club Canine Health Conference, affording dog breeders the opportunity to meet, learn, and share ideas with some of the most sought after researchers and experts in their fields. The latest addition to AKC programs helping breeders is the AKC Breeder-to-Breeder Workshop coming to the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Orlando this December. This will be a free workshop open to all AKC breeders. Pre-eminent expert AKC breeders will share the thinking behind their successful breeding programs in a learning experience that is sure to deliver “news you can use.”
The improvements we are seeing in the health of our dogs are a direct result of responsible breeders’ commitment to utilizing today’s science.
Our AKC Breed Parent Clubs are strongly committed to the journey of improving the health and well-being of their breeds through educational outreach and funding research studies. Virtually every Parent Club’s website includes a prominent health section supporting health awareness and education in their breed, identifying beneficial screening and testing protocols, and reporting on funded studies. In the aggregate, AKC Parent Clubs have contributed millions of dollars to fund research studies - many already yielding the science to change lives.
As George Bernard Shaw said, “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” By adding “health and well-being” so prominently into our Bylaws, we are re-affirming our commitment and our responsibility to ensure that every AKC dog can be a better dog and a quality pet. Our collective commitment to protecting, preserving, and improving the dogs we breed is vital and strong.
While we continue our mission, we must address a crucial issue: The fastest way to improve the lives of dogs is to connect knowledgeable puppy buyers with responsible breeders who register with the AKC. Unfortunately, we know that is not always the case. Not every dog breeder shares the motto “Breed to Improve,” and not every puppy buyer knows how to discern those that do from those that don’t.
It is imperative that we have a better informed, more knowledgeable puppy buyer – particularly in regard to health and well-being. In the spirit affirmed by Nelson Mandela, educating puppy buyers is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the destiny of dogs. We are aggressively committed to being at the forefront of that education.
And it is imperative that we have a way for responsible breeders to identify themselves and their litters. Certainly, our 10,000–member Breeder of Merit program is one way for the public to identify breeders who certify that applicable health screens are performed on their breeding stock as recommended by their breed’s Parent Club. However, not every responsible breeder meets all of the Breeder of Merit requirements around sport participation. A manageable way of identifying all AKC breeders who certify that applicable health screens were performed is a necessary goal in our desire to help buyers find healthy puppies.
In light of the importance of improving the health and well-being of all dogs, the Delegates acted wisely by writing the commitment to both into the Objects of the AKC Bylaws. While this is a reaffirmation of our beliefs and actions for the last 100+ years, it shall be addressed with energy – much like Yul Brynner’s pronouncement from Cecil B. DeMille’s epic film The Ten Commandments, “So let it be written; so let it be done.”
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