Public Education Corner

Public Education: An Introduction and Overview

The AKC created the Public Education department in the early ‘90s when undesirable canine legislation was creeping up across the country.

Particularly startling on the legislative front a decade ago was a 1990 ordinance introduced in San Mateo County, Calif., that required every dog and cat in that county be spayed or neutered. The law created a breeding ban that would exist until no dogs nor cats remained in any county animal shelter.

Dog club volunteers bring public education to classrooms across the country.

A task force, which included local dog interests, formed to study the legislation. Almost a year later, the San Mateo town council adjusted its decision and passed a much watered-down, less restrictive version of the ordinance.

The San Mateo story reflected a much larger picture of a pervasive anti-dog, anti-breeder sentiment that was growing across the country under the animal rights moniker at the time.

“Anti-dog legislation had started to threaten our sport,” said Noreen Baxter, who first headed the Public Education department and now serves as vice-president of AKC Communications. “The AKC decided to take the offense, not the defense.”

In 1991, Louis Auslander, then chair of the AKC Board of Directors, announced the creation of the AKC Public Education department and issued a call for volunteers who would hold the office of public education coordinator in their AKC-affiliated clubs. These public education coordinators would lead their clubs’ community outreach efforts to promote and educate their neighbors about the sport of purebred dogs, responsible dog ownership and the AKC.

“There has never been a greater threat to our sport than this growing challenge,” Auslander said, referring to the anti-dog legislation at the time. “If we do not work together to defend our sport and educate the country about what we do and why we do it, there is a good chance our sport, as we know it, will be unrecognizable to us before long.”

“With the combined efforts of dog clubs throughout the United States, we can become an effective and powerful network capable of doing great things for dogs,” Auslander said.

“It was a huge effort. It was obvious we had to use our resources and power,” recalled Baxter. “The PEC network was a natural with AKC clubs established across the country. Right from the beginning we realized we had a resource of experts in place.”

Clubs responded enthusiastically to the creation of the department and the formalized PEC network.

“People loved it,” Baxter said. “They were very excited and really glad the AKC was getting into this. They were excited about having a partnership.”

Public education helps people learn how to care for and enjoy their dogs.

“First of all, it was a way of organizing what many clubs were already doing,” Baxter said. “I was amazed at all the programs that were going on. People were out there doing so many good things, and they weren’t looking for a pat on the back. They were doing it for the right reasons.”

The Public Education department’s charge was to support and encourage the efforts of PECs. The department became responsible for creating materials and projects ranging from bumper stickers, bookmarks and brochures to full-fledged grade school curricula including detailed teacher’s discussion guides and videos.

“Our general goal was to get a PEC from every club,” Baxter said. “We also wanted to find out what PECs were doing, pass along success stories through the network and keep programs fresh. Additionally, we wanted to offer our materials to other folks who were concerned about the same issues, such as veterinarians.”

Veteran Flagstaff (AZ) Public Education Coordinator Elna Manges feels driven as a dog lover and fancier to promote responsible dog ownership. Elna coordinates her club’s canine drill team that performs in parades and other community events. She participates in read-to-a-dog literacy programs. And she makes safety presentations at schools and nursing homes, among other public education activities.

“We do a lot of public education not just in talking but in showing,” Manges said. “Giving the public a chance to watch and meet well-behaved, well-trained dogs is one of the best things we do. It helps fight misconceptions about certain breeds.”

“Public education is important because people need to know how to care for their dogs, how to train their dogs and the wonderful things they can do to enjoy their dogs,” Manges said. “Public education is also important for safety reasons. Whether we’re visiting a group of seniors or kids, we teach how to meet and greet a dog.”

Baxter, who has overseen the AKC Public Education department and PEC network in one capacity or another since its inception, is proud of Public Education’s accomplishments over the past 15 years, which include the creation of the Safety Around Dogs DVD and teaching kit, the Best Friends Teaching Kit, The Complete Dog Book for Kids, the Careers in Dogs information booklet, the AKC’s Guide to Purebred Dogs poster, and the Children’s Education Catalog; the growth of the Public Education Corner and Kids’ Corner newsletters; and the formation of the Canine Ambassador Program and Community Achievement Award program, to name a few.

“What we’ve been able to do over the years is expand and offer more programs in depth,” Baxter said.

“We’re very fortunate to have the AKC committed to education and a network of clubs that shares that commitment,” Baxter said.

But Public Education’s early goals still hold true.

“Some things haven’t changed. We continue to be threatened by anti-dog legislation,” she added. “Through public education efforts, the AKC and the dog fancy are really doing their part to head off unfavorable legislation and turn things around.”

“There are always new dog owners coming on the scene,” Baxter said. “Our objective is to promote and teach responsible dog ownership and not forget there are people who don’t understand the very basic things we can sometimes take for granted.”

“If people understand and practice responsible dog ownership, then there’s no need to legislate dog ownership,” Baxter said. “Public education is not a stretch. Most folks love their dogs and want to know about responsible dog ownership. Through public education, the AKC can be a lifelong partner with dog owners. We can tell them about care, training and AKC events.”

PECs who’ve just taken on the position and may not quite know how to start or those who hold multiple offices in their clubs and don’t have extra hours to devote to coordinating elaborate public education activities should take heart.

“Do something. Do a little program. Do a grand program. But do something,” Baxter said. “Order bookmarks, organize a breed fair. There are such extremes as to what you can do in regards to educating the public. Just remember, every little bit helps.”