Mixed Messages

By Jessica Freni

Photo by  Shannon Barnes

This is a follow up to a previous article, for part one see “Mixed Breeds for Mixed Reviews”

In its January meeting, the AKC Board of Directors passed a decision to roll out a pilot program beginning July 1st, 2021 which would open the door (or flood gates? According to opposition) for mixed breeds to be eligible for exhibition in Junior Showmanship. The community reaction was swift and elicited strong support and equally vocal opposition. A petition quickly circulated imploring the AKC reverse the decision and re-evaluate better alternatives truer to the purebred foundations of AKC, particularly at all levels of conformation, including Junior Showmanship, and garnered thousands of signatures. Within days, AKC made an attempt to split the baby, not entirely nixing the controversial program, but postponing its debut until January 1st, 2022 with an option for clubs to disallow mix breeds in juniors.

Social media erupted again as AKC tried to satisfy both camps, those arguing it was “elitist” to not allow kids with whatever the family dog was they had access to and hope that it would convert to purebred enthusiasm and loyalty to the sport vs those who worried AKC was losing its core values and commitment and instead should foster more Juniors participation via simply removing the ownership requirement.  A thread on the topic in the Facebook group “Dog Show Forum” rapidly amassed in excess of 1,100 comments.

Jody Davidson, mentor, coach, and coordinator of a very successful Junior Showmanship training program, offered this insightful statement after the postponement announcement:

“I agree with this decision and before people jump on me for this stand, I’d like to explain.

I ABSOLUTELY support juniors and the involvement of new juniors AND families in this sport. And for years I have “put my money where my mouth is”! Here are just a few of the more than 28 (!!) juniors I currently mentor and teach – and this doesn’t include my 3 PeeWees.

I help find free dogs for these kids to use if needed and every dog I own except my little mixed breed rescue Nedward, is co-owned with a junior…and Ned get used in classes to help start beginners. I provide free dog show appropriate clothing including St John suits for the older girls. When a kid needs it, I take them to the shows myself.

And 2/3rds of my kids come from non-dog show families, many of whom have NEVER owned a purebred dog! Yet this year, 9 of my Juniors qualified for the National Finals in FL and 6 have qualified for and will be competing at Westminster,

But if the majority in our sport believe the including mixed breed dogs in Junior Showmanship will help further the AKC’s mission, then PLEASE let it be in a special and separate one kid to support and mentor, this whole situation would no longer be an issue for the sport. The future of our sport would be secured. This is what someone did for me 58 years!

I would love to see every kid who wants to try showing in the ring with a dog….but a purebred dog. That’s what our sport is about. More importantly, that is VERY much what Junior Showmanship is about – showing a purebred dog in a breed appropriate manner, emphasizing positive breed characteristics and learning to diminish faults with skillful handling.

But if the majority in our sport believe the including mixed breed dogs in Junior Showmanship will help further the AKC’s mission, then PLEASE let it be in a special and separate class in shows and not our regular Junior Showmanship classes. IF the true goal of this is encouraging participation, then this should not be an issue. These kids and their dogs will be allowed to demonstrate their skills and in a competition of like against like.

I won’t bother to argue my stand with those who disagree. This is my opinion and I believe it whole-heartedly.  And if ANYONE would like advice on how to replicate my program on ANY level, contact me. And if ANY junior would like to be mentored and assisted ANYWHERE in the country, I am here to help and only a message away.

Hopping off my soapbox….”