At Large: Judges Ask: “Has AKC Gone Crazy?”

Is the American Kennel Club being realistic about dealing with financial hardships?

Dogs in Review


Sometimes you quite literally can’t believe your eyes. Such was the case when an AKC missive arrived last month announcing that the club would start charging judges a fee simply for being judges. On top of a basic “maintenance fee” ($50/year), there would also be an annual fee that when implemented would amount to $10 per breed. For those of us who only judge a few breeds this may not be a major financial hardship, but anyone approved for several Groups would have to shell out hundreds of dollars, sometimes as much as $1,000-$1,500 in new fees each year.

In most other countries dog judges are considered a sort of treasure, a pool of experience and knowledge that the national kennel clubs take pride in and treat accordingly. It says a lot about how AKC views the sport of purebred dogs — the activity of which it is purportedly the guardian — that they instead feel that dog judges can be treated as a sort of cash cow, one that may be milked whenever the club feels the need for additional revenue.

For the record, most dog judges already spend thousands of dollars earning the right to become approved by AKC — going to seminars, attending national specialties, purchasing literature, and (of course) paying AKC a hefty, non-refundable sum even for the right to apply to become a dog judge. Once approved, most dog judges charge nothing for their services beyond basic expenses and, in fact, cheerfully admit that judging leaves them out of pocket in a hundred small ways. Many of the most active dog judges are seniors living on a fixed income and may choose to quit judging rather than pay for the privilege. If they continue to judge they will certainly forward additional expenses to the clubs that hire them… and these in turn will have to charge higher entry fees, with more costs for the exhibitors and lower entries as a result.

So everybody hurts. Is that really what AKC had in mind?

The response to AKC’s letter was stronger than anything I’ve seen in years. The genuine outrage, sadness and disappointment no doubt reflected a widespread feeling that AKC does not have much respect or fondness for its judges as much as purely financial concerns. “Has AKC gone completely crazy?” was one of the few comments that can be printed in a family publication. “Incredible!” and “Off with his head!” were other frequent cries, the latter directed primarily at AKC’s President, although I don’t see why he would be considered more responsible for this débacle than anyone else.

It is a well-known fact that AKC’s share of the purebred dog registration market has dropped so sharply in recent years that the club is seriously concerned about revenue. The falling number of entries doesn’t help. It is not known what steps, if any, AKC is taking to counteract these developments — but starting to charge the judges for doing their work won’t help.

If the judges felt that these fees represent a desperate last resort of a financially ailing organization the outrage may have been more restrained. That is not the case, however. Consider the following:

• Yes, AKC recorded an operating deficit of $192,000 for April of 2010 compared to the previous period last year — but AKC’s investments during the same month earned a gain of $1.5 million;

• AKC spent a reported $10 million on recent “improvements” of the office facilities in New York and Raleigh. These offices are leased, not AKC’s own — and, in the case of the Madison Avenue address, may be an unnecessary luxury anyway, with or without renovations;  

• AKC salaries are seriously out of whack. In 2008 the “reported compensation” of 11 top AKC executives ran from a low of $141,370 up to $629,303 — more than the U.S. President and Vice President combined. That’s for a 38-hour work week, not including “other compensations” or expenses. Are the executives worth that? In most organizations, when an executive does not succeed in reversing a downward trend he is replaced — not rewarded.

In view of the above the outrage felt throughout the fancy is understandable. In face of withering criticism, the judges’ fee structure was withdrawn and a new one will be considered, but the concept of judges’ fees remains intact.

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