On March 10, 2015, Colorado became the first state in the country to recognize May 1 as National Purebred Dog Day. The force behind the day, the resolution recognizing it, the Facebook page and the successful Kickstarter campaign to launch a National Purebred Dog Day website is one woman driven to restore balance to the conversation about responsible dog ownership before many of our dogs breeds become extinct. Susi is that woman. Meet her now.
What is National Purebred Dog Day?
National Purebred Dog Day – May 1 – is a day on which the heritage, diversity and predictability of the purebred dog is celebrated.
Why is it important for us to recognize Purebred Dogs?
We are a society enriched by the diversity of cultures from all over the world. We celebrate Cinco de Mayo, participate in Oktoberfests, wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, and so on. Purebred dogs are a reflection of that cultural diversity. From New Guinea and Iceland, to Mexico and Australia, cultures from every continent and nearly every country created a dog breed that worked alongside humans for centuries to provide inestimable companionship even as they controlled vermin, herded our sheep and cattle, helped put food on table as hunting dogs, and pulled our carts and sleds. They are search and rescue dogs, service dogs, guide dogs, conservation dogs that help protect other species, and military dogs that protect the men and women in the armed forces. They are avalanche dogs, trackers and trailers, and therapy dogs that bring comfort to the ill or traumatized – and always, they have been guardians of family, home and hearth, and the heartbeat of a companion. Historically, we’ve taken purebred dogs for granted because they’ve always been there, but in reality, each breed is a unique dog that offers predictability while being a museum piece with a pulse. Sadly, some of our breeds are at risk of becoming extinct in our lifetime. The Skye Terrier, for example, is out numbered by Panda Bears world-wide, and the list of “vulnerable breeds” in England is growing. We need to preserve our breeds as surely as we protect other species.
National Dog Day, National Rescue Day, National Mutt Day, National Puppy Day – these are all days that have existed for a decade, but up until last year, there was no day that recognized the contributions of the purebred dog. Now there is, and my hope is that by having a day set aside for them, attention will be brought not only to the importance of having choice in getting the right “fit” of dog for ourselves be that a mutt or a purebred dog, but also to the fact that some of our breeds are in trouble.
In order to start and care about something like this, you must have a fondness for animals, was there a specific moment in your life this came about? Or a specific pet?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a dog in my life or feel an affinity for them (or all animals, to be accurate). It’s always seemed to me that dogs have been like a subculture living among us, unnnoticed, but with their own “culture,” so to speak, and as humans, we never really stopped to notice. Happily, science has caught up and is now investigating that which we’ve always taken for granted. It turns out that dogs are simply incredible, and we now have the tools to prove it.
What can we do to help support the cause?
In the world of pet ownership, a great deal of attention has been given to the importance of adopting shelter and rescue dogs over the last decade, some of which are purebred dogs, the majority, however, mixed breeds. Every dog deserves a family to call its own, and it was important that the plight of homeless dogs get attention. Ever so subtly, however, a subliminal message has worked its way into the national consciousness implying that the ownership of purebred dogs, especially those bred by ethical breeders dedicated to their particular breed, is selfish and insensitive to “mutts.” Caring, responsible breeders of purebred dogs have been vilified and mischaracterized, their dogs portrayed as unsound, inbred creatures. I would go so far as to say that some people have been made to feel guilty about owning purebred dog that wasn’t a rescue. Research from the University of California at Davis, and the National Animal Interest Alliance, to name two, is proving the inaccuracies of what’s become accepted fact.
Bringing a canine companion into one’s home is a highly personal, life long commitment; it’s more important that the right “fit” of dog be chosen to ensure a long, mutually nurturing relationship between dog and owner than what the dog actually is. For some families, a mixed breed from the shelter is just the ticket, but others need the predictability of a purpose bred dog bred by an ethical breeder. Respecting the choices of people to get the dog they really want after they’ve done their homework is a huge way of supporting “the cause,” even if that choice is a mixed breed, but especially if the dog is from an ethical breeder. Owners of purebred dogs should feel proud of what they’ve got – a dog with a rich breed history – and never apologize or make excuses for having gotten the dog from an ethical breeder.
Another way to support National Purebred Dog Day is to pursue having one’s own state recognize it by contacting state legislators. I’ve written about how it was done, and the language of the resolution, as well as videos are available to anyone who wants them for that purpose. The AKC (American Kennel Club) has been enormously supportive and would be very helpful to anyone wanting to pick up the torch for their own state. Most states also include a Federation of Dog Clubs, each of which typically has a legislative liaison. Reaching out to that person is a great first step.
What steps did you have to take to get Colorado to recognize National Purebred Dog Day?
Getting National Purebred Dog Day recognized was the culmination of several different “weather fronts” that finally collided to make the perfect storm. A few years ago, I became involved in the political process because I believe that’s what good citizens do. I attended caucuses, was made a delegate, and met people running for office. One of them was a candidate I agreed to meet over coffee to learn more about her views. She subsequently lost her race, but ran again in the next election cycle a few years later when I happened to be a delegate again, and this time she won. About the time I thought of National Purebred Dog Day, she was made the Minority Whip of the Senate. I’d already written the resolution and only needed someone to introduce it, and when she was named the Minority Whip, I saw my opportunity. I asked her to introduce the resolution on the floor of the House and she agreed.
I’m a writer by profession who’s also been active in the “dog fancy” for years. Between the two, I’ve gotten to meet some individuals who would later became very supportive of the effort to recognize National Purebred Dog Day. I’d written the resolution, but one of the folks I’d met only a few months before was an attorney who works at the legislative arm of the AKC. “Phil” was instrumental in crafting my resolution into “legalese” that was appropriate for a House Bill without changing much of the language. His boss, in turn, showed the resolution to the President of the AKC who wrote a letter endorsing it. Having the support of the AKC was huge. Such fortuitous winds will likely never happen to me again, but with this one thing, I knew the right people at the right time. I think the outcome would have been the same had I not known these people simply because I so believed in the effort, but it might have taken longer and been a bit harder.
Do you believe one person is capable of changing the world?
I’m pretty sure my parents thought I was special, just as I think my own children are, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m an “every person” who’s average in every way. Occasionally, I’ll remember (with a start!) that I created a holiday recognized by a state and wonder, “who WAS that person?” and realize that it was ME. So yes, I think one person can throw a tiny pebble into a pond and have the subsequent waves impact everything in its path.
How can we become a responsible dog owner?
Increasingly, we’re learning that dogs are more sophisticated than we first thought, and the more we understand how they work, the better (and more responsible) owners we can become. Dogs are not little people, and some of what they do (yawning, for example) has significantly different meaning in a dog’s world than in a human’s. Responsible owners have an awareness of canine social structure, recognizing stress, how dogs interpret the world, and thus, how they react to it. Once we have even a passing knowledge of this, we can act in a way that’s more responsive to the dog while acknowledging that not every dog is going to like our dog (please don’t let your dog run up to a strange dog!) and that there IS such a thing as canine etiquette.
Tell us about your history with dogs. Tell us about your dog.
I’ve been a dog owner all my life, and until 1978, they were a blend of mixed breeds and purebreds. In 1978, I got my first Puli and was introduced to the world of dog shows. Since then, I’ve been active in my breed at several levels, from exhibitor and breeder to board of directors member in my breed club. In 2010, I created the social media presence for Westminster Kennel Club and have worked for the club during the dog show ever since. All the while, I’m somewhat cursed with being a “canine good samaritan” and will rescue anything that looks lost or in trouble off the street – awkward when the owner is jogging a short distance away.
Do you believe the sentiment “dogs are a mans best friend?” Why/Why Not?
Man hasn’t always been dog’s best friend, that’s for sure, but dogs continue to show devotion even in the face of abuse or abandonment. Unless a dog is damaged from terrible breeding or inadequate socialization during key periods of its puppy hood, dogs are remarkably forgiving and resilient.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
I would ask dog owners to do their homework. Not even animal charity, politician or law has the best interest of all dogs. There is a difference between animal rights and animal welfare. Before adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue group, be sure to have a Plan B and Plan C in place in the event the dog has issues, and before buying a dog from a breeder, ask tough questions because not all breeders are alike, and just as there is corruption, ineptitude and incompetence to be found in most walks of life, there are substandard breeders and red flags surrounding them.