In Part 1 we established the fact that recruitment of new compeitors is key to beefing up participation in competition obedience. I cited Catherine Zinsky's Front & Finish column in the July/August 2010 issue. Several well-regarded veteran obedience people suggested that the AKC develop programs to reach out to students in pet obedience programs nationwide to acquaint them with the fun available in AKC obedience competition. Prominently mentioned were PetSmart, Petco and 4-H. Whose students, by and large, are unaware that competition obedience even exists.
No doubt about it, partnerships with those basic-level obedience programs would get the attention of legions of prospective recruits.
Did anything happen? Did the AKC embrace those suggestions? In view of all the teeth-gnashing and handwringing that has been prompted by the problem in recent years, one would think so. Right?
Wrong. I can find no sign of a pulse. I left a phone message for Curt Curtis, assistant vice president for companion events at the AKC. I told him I'd like his take on those suggestions. The call was not returned. What a surprise! (See my blog post of December 21: "AKC: Arrogant Kennel Club." Particularly paragraph 8)
A spokesperson at PetSmart -- which happens to be headquartered here in Phoenix -- did some asking among appropriate people at the company. She reported back that no one was aware of such a contact.
I contacted the Maricopa County 4-H organization (serving Phoenix and a broad surrounding area). Zilch.
Of course, I realize the AKC has bigger fish to fry. Since the day I wobbled into the world of competition obedience more than two decades ago, the consensus I've heard has been that obedience is a stepchild at the AKC. We may not like that, but it's understandable. The AKC is a not-for-profit business, but a business nevertheless. Horrible corporate things like budgets come into play. And obedience certainly isn't the cash cow that conformation is.
But let's flip this over. If I were the AKC's Head Honch for a Day, first of all, I'd do something. But that something wouldn't be grandiose and global. I'd enlist the aid of local doers in a few test markets. "Deputize" them. Offer modest compensation. Create pilot projects. Work with a 4-H group here, a cluster of Petco stores there, a similar group of PetSmart training sites somewhere else. Incorporate into each of those programs upbeat, attractive information. Create the type of exhibition class that Louise Meredith suggested.
Tinker with the program. Fine tune it. Measure its success. If it shows merit, roll it out nationally.
On the other hand, where is it written that such an effort must be initiated from on high? There is precedent that just the opposite can yield great success.
Around the turn of the millennium, Bud Kramer, a retired biology professor in Lawrence, Kansas, devised courses, signs and rules for a new dog sport called Rally Obedience. The rest is history. And who among oldtimers can forget the exciting Gaines Tournaments. Those were locally initiated, entirely independent of the AKC
All that has been suggested here could be pioneered locally by an enterprising group. Such a pilot project might be initiated by an obedience club in cooperation with, say, the local 4-H club. (I suggest a 4-H group beause that would avoid having to navigate the inevitable labyrinth of approvals presented by the corporate hiearchy in a large company).
Think about it. You, too, could be a hero.