Showsight December 2017

The National Dog Show TEXT AND PHOTOS BY DAN SAYERS Have Millennials Evolved Past Purebreds?

It’s usually a pleasant surprise to find a purebred dog on the cover of a magazine. That is, one that’s not specifically a dog magazine. So, imagine my surprise when I opened a recent issue of a farm-to-table quarterly with a recognizable purebred under the masthead to find a story on farm dogs that read, in part, “Now that we’ve evolved past purebreds to embrace an inclusive, pro-rescue approach, almost any mutt can become the ultimate farm dog.” What? Of course, not just any dog is capable of herding, drafting, guarding or keeping a barnyard free of vermin. The irony of espousing a “pro-rescue” position while celebrating the virtues of working purebreds (the article introduced dogs of eight separate breeds) is misleading, to say

the least. How is it that such a paradox can appear in print today? This question caused me to consider how our understanding of dogs might be influenced by our experiences — and our age. Can our appreciation of purebreds be dependent on the generation into which we were born? Do Baby Boomers support purebred dogs out of a sense of nos- talgia, and have Millennials really evolved past purebreds?

The Silent Generation Today’s most senior breeders and exhibitors are part of a group born between 1925 and 1945 known as the Silent Generation. "Silents" are characterized as depres- sion-era children who came of age to become career- oriented adults who conformed to social norms. Employment opportunities were plentiful for this gen- eration whose members could afford to raise a family on a single income. The Silent Generation thrived in an economy that supported an expansion of the middle class into suburban developments. This lifestyle allowed many families to purchase a living — and lov- able — status symbol in the form of a purebred dog. Many of these new dog owners were encouraged to dip their toe into the conformation pond, and from this pool emerged today’s most experienced judges, show chairs, handlers, exhibitors and breeders. The men and women of this generation are our link to the sport’s earliest days. Some of its members even had first-hand experience with legendary figures such as Alva Rosenberg, Louis Murr and Percy Roberts. For a half- century or more, the Silent Generation has quietly hon- ored their mentors by producing families of dogs that conform to the breed standards and not the whims of fashion or fortune. Baby Boomers Born from the mid-1940s through the early ‘60s, the Baby Boomer generation is associated with increased affluence and a healthy skepticism. As a group, “Boomers” have been America’s wealthiest, with

income levels previously considered inconceivable. Although often criticized for their excessiveness, mem- bers of this generation are also altruistic and idealistic. They grew up during a time of dramatic social change when television brought home Civil Rights marches, “love-ins” and the Vietnam War. As a result, Baby Boomers got involved. And when the networks cov- ered more celebratory events such as the Olympic Games and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, people flocked to convention centers across the U.S. to meet the athletes — including the dogs — they saw on TV. Participation in the dog sport grew during this period and registrations increased. However, with the advent of social media, the general public’s attitude toward purebred dogs began to change. The Internet appealed to a younger audience that embraced new technologies and the (mis)information that was readily available. As Boomer breeders continued to maintain business as usual, the next generation of potential fanciers was discovering other sources for finding a dog. Generation X Although there are no precise dates to de-mark Generation X, its members are generally considered those people born from the mid-1960s through the early ‘80s. Many “Gen Xers” grew up as “latchkey” kids since they were either children of divorce or had two parents working full-time. Frequently characterized as cynical and apathetic, members of Generation X are self-described as being happy and active. As adults,


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