Now to the statistic that is potentially harmful to our very breed. Th e number of Airedale litters registered with AKC. Th at dropped by 38% in the last decade. You may ask, “Why does that number mat- ter?” Th is is the opinion from our club his- torian’s view. Over the last few decades the Airedale breed has enjoyed a steady growth in the numbers of breeders and dogs pro- duced. However, this has not always been the case. We have risen from near obscu- rity at the turn of the century; to number one breed status in the Twenties to a pre- cipitous drop back down in numbers in the 30s. Along with the breed’s numbers drop- ping, so did the ATCA membership as well as the show entries. Airedales as a breed began recovering after WWII and by the 60s were steadily climbing back. How this was achieved, and how our modern world di ff ers from that time, challenges me to be the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” about this looming issue that could a ff ect our breeds future. Even during the lowest of population lows, Airedales have always been blessed with breeders who had the same diehard tenacity and stubbornness of the breed we love. Pockets of those breeders, located all around the world, hunkered down, and even when showing became an una ff ord- able luxury, and membership to a breed club too expensive, they kept on having litters. Th ey probably could only breed somewhat locally and on a smaller scale, but somehow they kept their lines going. So while the breed contracted in numbers, the breeders who remained were forced by economics and geography to stay close to home in their stud dog choices. Th ey may not have lived close to a Crufts or West- minster winner, maybe the best they could do was a littermate, a son or daughter, possibly a grand kid to add that “Flyer”
to their pedigree. When times got better there were plenty of diverse lines to help restart the breed again. Th ey exited the downturn, continuing on with the same healthy vibrant breed which has continued to this day. Now, in the last decade we have seen a decline in the litters produced which in and of itself is not the biggest concern. It’s what I call the new “Double AA” addition to the equation, Airplanes and Artificial Insemination, that’s potentially troubling. Th ese wonderful new technologies can allow the Airedale gene pool to be shared in such a way that if our numbers continue to decline, we may lose the diversity that carried the breed through the downturns of the past. Today, when we all fall in love with the same beautiful dog from the magazine, all of us around the world has the ability to use him. No longer are we forced to pick only a related dog, we can have “THE” dog! Th is is not a huge prob- lem when the breed has a diverse and large group of breeders doing their “own” thing, but if we were to drop to 1930’s breed numbers and have but a few likeminded breeders who all love the same bloodlines, who’s to say what shape the Airedale breed will come out on the other side. I’m not sure anyone really knows. However, diver- sity is what will keep a breed healthy even when numbers plummet. “...much of the valuable breed knowledge is PRESERVED THROUGH MENTORSHIP.”
Additionally, much of the valuable breed knowledge is preserved through mentorship. Th e challenge is finding men- tors willing to invest the time and e ff ort to be a mentor. Many exhibitors quickly learned the value of engaging an expe- rienced breeder/exhibitor and remain engaged to learn the basics, only to lose focus, to result in keeping their knowledge at only the basic levels. A teachable spirit is definitely required on the part of the one being mentored. So, it is up to us, the breeders of today, to take a serious look at what we have in our home and kennel, and value what makes us di ff erent from a genetic standpoint. In a time now when many older breeders have or are considering leaving the hobby; is there anyone in the wings who will continue their lifelong breeding program? Do they have anything that most would consider an” unusual or rare “pedigree? Maybe those lines should be saved or incorporated somehow? Th e answers to these questions do not come easily, but the decisions of today, will directly a ff ect our breed tomorrow. Th at is why I wanted to start the conversation now. A frank and honest discussion of the future of our breed may be warranted in the next decade, and it is my hope that today’s article will at least get you think- ing that far down the road. I hope our breed does not end up on the rare breed list someday, but if it does, I hope the ones who continue to love the Airedale as much as we do today, will thank us for keeping the breed as beautiful, healthy and diverse as it was in its “heyday.” Th e future is now. Do your part. Cel- ebrate and preserve what makes your line of dogs unique and special. Th e result will be a healthy, vibrant, versatile breed for decades to come.
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