Proactive Pros BY DAN SAYERS continued handlers, but which did not address the fact that it was virtually impossible to control the handling of dogs for pay by individuals that were not licensed by the American Kennel Club.” The motion to dis- continue the issuance of professional handlers’ licenses passed by a vote of 228 for and 37 against. Although no longer licensed by the AKC, profes- sional handlers continued to uphold the highest of standards during the tumultuous 1960s and ‘70s. When an oil embargo brought about a system for rationing gasoline in October of 1973, the business of traveling to dog shows was threatened. With sup- port from the AKC and PHA, dog clubs banded together to form “clusters” of shows that allowed consecutive events to be held at a single location. The practice proved so successful that it has since become the norm for all but a handful of all-breed and limited-breed clubs. Although some exhibitors would argue that clusters have given the profession- al handler an unfair advantage, there can be no doubt that they helped to safeguard conformation shows on the eve of the 21st century. Then vs. Now To many of today’s exhibitors — amateur and pro- fessional alike — the gas crisis may seem little more than an inconvenience when compared with the heady challenges that currently confront the sport. Increasing costs, an aging population, anti-purebred sentiment, the rise of Internet registries and the AR movement (not to mention the proliferation of dog shows) seem to threaten the very future of a tradi- tion that dates back to the Victorian era. However, doubtful fanciers should never discount the pure- bred dog’s appeal, particularly during times of cri- sis. Following the September 11 attacks, it was important for many Americans to maintain as nor- mal a way of life as possible. For dog fanciers, this meant breeding and showing dogs. For PHA mem- bers, this meant a renewed dedication during the Great Recession and the War on Terror. In 2001, the AKC unveiled its Registered Handlers Program that established criteria and standards for responsible, knowledgeable professionals. Though no longer licensed, professional handlers within the program are beholden to a Code of Ethics that ensures hon- est business practices, a sportsmanlike manner and the welfare of all dogs entrusted to their care. Today’s top professionals could easily fit the profile described by Mr. Cross nearly a half-century ago. Just like their Depression-era forebears, they carry on the tradition of preparing the next generation of handlers to meet future challenges head-on. In 2004, the AKC Registered Handler Apprentice Program was established to recognize and encour- age full-time assistants who may wish to develop
their knowledge and expertise in all aspects of the profession. As outlined on the AKC website, “Apprentices are mentored by their Registered Handlers with the hope that they will continue to develop skills, knowledge, and expertise in dog handling, kennel maintenance, proper dog care, as well as learning the business side of Professional Handling.” Applicants must be at least 18 years of age and employed by a Registered Handler for a period of at least six months prior to becoming eli- gible to enroll in the program. A Code of Ethics for Registered Handler Apprentices guides aspiring professionals to avail themselves of educational pro- grams and abide by all published AKC rules apply- ing to registration and dog shows. In response to current trends, applicants promise to “Never falsely represent a dog as a service animal when it is not, or as an able-bodied party, accompany a bona fide service dog to gain travel benefit due to the dog’s status.” The climate of change that has many fanciers con- cerned for the future of the sport today is really nothing new. The AKC — and the PHA — has always responded to seismic cultural shifts since the sport’s earliest days and it will continue to do so with all of our support. Despite economic collapse, global conflicts and depleted resources, the sport of dogs has survived many periods of uncertainty. Through thick and thin, the American Kennel Club and the Professional Handlers Association have always been proactive in the management and care of dogs in America. ■
Dan Sayers covers the dog sport with a particular interest in the people who’ve served to promote and preserve purebred dogs. His articles feature breeders and exhibitors of the past as well as those who work tirelessly on behalf of the fancy today. A self-taught artist, Dan’s artwork is represented in collections worldwide and his illustrations appear in the award-winning Encyclopedia of K-9 Terminology by Ed and Pat Gilbert. Since 1981, Dan has exhibited primarily Sporting breeds and Hounds. He’s bred both Irish Water Spaniels and Rhodesian Ridgebacks and has judged a variety of match shows and sweepstakes, including the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America National Specialty twice.
84 • S HOW S IGHT M AGAZINE , D ECEMBER 2017
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