David Merriam’s 7 Keys to a Great Parent Club

AKC Gazette breed column: The Honorable David C. Merriam has been a Bull Terrier breeder,...

AKC Gazette breed column: The Honorable David C. Merriam has been a Bull Terrier breeder, exhibitor, judge, and statesman for over 60 years. He is the AKC’s former chairman of the board.


In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Malvolio says, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." Parent clubs are not born great and do not have greatness thrust upon them.

In my time with the Bull Terrier Club of America and as chairman of the AKC, I have observed many parent clubs and have formed some conclusions. I would like to share them with you.

To start, one must concede that breed clubs, parent or local, have a significant inconsistency built within them. They start with group of like-minded people who have an interest in promoting their favored breed and enjoy being together. However, this fraternity is strongly committed to serious competition at their club shows, and this can be divisive. If not handled right, this conflict can be the destruction of a breed club.


What, then, are the elements of a great parent club? I suggest:

  1. A solid historical basis. Deep roots foster stability and commitment. New parent clubs may exhibit great enthusiasm but they must still survive a certain test of time.

  2. An honest commitment to the breed by a core membership. Membership rosters fluctuate, but the great parent club has a core membership that is in for the long run. They are there when times are good, and there when times are not so good. The BTCA’s quick recovery from the treasury theft can be attributed to a committed core membership.

  3. Able breeders. It is true that good breeders can make a great club, but even the best club cannot make good breeders. It can facilitate the conditions and shows that good breeders require to compare their product, but in the end it is the breeder who produces the winners that move the breed forward.

  4. Commitment to good sportsmanship and civility. Vigorous competition in the ring must not be inconsistent with fraternity and social interaction outside the ring.

  5. Able leadership. All parent clubs can only exist with the extensive volunteer efforts of its members. That extends from the president to those who set up the ring at the national specialty. I know that every parent club can be subjected to power struggles within, and I suppose that goes with competitive individuals. However, the great parent club keeps these struggles within bounds and, once over, moves on to the club’s committed goals.

  6. A voice. The great parent club has organs of communication. Many parent clubs now have almost professional-level publications. The BTCA’s Barks and Record fall into that category. These color-filled publications reach the members who eagerly devour them. Historically, the Gazette breed column records breed life.

  7. Balance. Great parent clubs need a diversity of membership.  It is important that a parent club includes younger and older participants. The older provide experience based on years in the club and the breed which helps provide stability. The younger provide the enthusiasm of youth and the infusion of new ideas to meet the challenges of new times.


Of course I am biased, but I do believe that the BTCA is a great parent club. With roots extending back to 1895, it has been through both good and trying times and yet, when needed, the leadership and member commitment was there to carry on. —David Merriam, Bull Terrier Club of America


Browse the archive of AKC Gazette breed columns here.