Red Oliver, ASCA Board of Directors
Originally printed in the June/July 1991 Ranch Dog Trainer. We feel it’s of major historical interest that the story endures.
In the late fifties, a small group of individuals got together to develop a registration system whereby the farm dog that had served rural America for 400 years would not slip away into antiquity. They developed a herding program, along with an obedience and conformation program for this old farm dog. They gave him a formal name, the Australian Shepherd (Aussie), and a nice one it is, too. They nourished the programs and paid a lot of the expenses out of their own pockets.
For you that are too young to remember your great grandfather’s dog, let Arthur Allen describe him to you: “He was an old Collie dog named ‘Shep’. He had an uncanny, inborn ability to handle sheep and cattle. Shep was a broad-headed, short nosed dog with a sharp eye, a keen ear and a shaggy black coat which was touched here and there with a bit of white and tan. Shep was capable and accomplished, a constant companion and dependable friend, a guarding with a deep sense of propriety; he performed all the livestock chores faithfully. It didn’t make any difference to Shep whether he was asked to fetch the cows, herd the sheep, bring up the horses, put an old sow back under the fence, or simply chase the chickens out with the zest of a trouper playing before a packed house…. Old Shep was real: the old timer’s stories of his accomplishments are not dreams.”
Those folks back in the fifties called their organization THE AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD CLUB OF AMERICA (ASCA) after the dog they knew and appreciated. This club has not grown to about 3,500 members and in the last six years we have finally achieved some consistency in our breeding program. Sure, the conformation dogs are sliding away from the instincts that made them what they are, but still, each program has supported the other and we have had a lot of fun preserving old Shep.
One day, before Montana was a state, Charley Russell, sitting on a sweaty horse, was discussing with Granville Stuart the idyllic life of the Plains Indians before the white man’s intrusion. He paused and said, “You know, Granville, we traded heaven for forty dollars a month.” And so it seems with the Aussie. A few self-serving individuals have sold, to a willing buyer, the future of Old Shep for a few pieces of silver.
In 1985, the question of applying for AKC recognition was brought up and the membership overwhelmingly voted it down. [As reported in the Nov/Dec 1985 issue of Aussie Times, 1006 members voted — 307 for AKC recognition and 699 against.] On the weekend of April 14, 1991 an AKC Board member just happened to tell a member of ASCA that the AKC Board had voted to accept the Aussie into its fold. On the following MOnday, the ASCA Board of DIrectors (myself included) learned that for the last year, a handful of ASCA conformation proponents with ASCA registered dogs had been secretly meeting members of the AKC Board concerning AKC’s regonition of the breed. While there are still not a lot of facts being given out by either AKC or this small coalition, who call themselves the “Australian Shepherd Association” (ASA), it appears certain that AKC has decided to recognize the AUstralian Shepherd as one of its own. This event has occurred even though the ASCA membership, at first blush, appears to be solidly opposed. The subject of requesting AKC recognition was never brought up with the parent club, ASCA, by either AKC or this small group.
From the calls and letters I have received, I would say the majority of the ASCA members and its Board or Directors feel that the secretive and underhanded actions of this small group of people, the acceptance of such a self-serving group by AKC< and their working under an obvious fear of letting ASCA in on the decision bears on dishonesty. We hear the Border Collie is next and that the Spitz will follow, which leaves a lot of breeds which been in the AKC Miscellaneous Class for years and who want AKC registration still out in the cold. If we in ASCA can figure out how to stop this takeover, we certainly will give you all the formula. If any of you have the answer, give us a call!
Each of us who have been raising, training and trialling the Aussie for the last 25 years is very sympathetic to the AKC members in their fledgling efforts to develop a herding program, learn how to train their dogs and how to trial. My belief is that while some of these breeds may not be the greatest herding dogs in the world, the dog each person owns is the dog he has chosen and I respect his willingness to try. Now comes AKC in the form of Armageddon.
To the USBCHA and the regional Border COllie Associations I would tell you that you should be forewarned. I do not know what can be done, but letting organizations walk over you rough-shod for a few pieces of silver with no concept of what it takes to retain the herding instinct, nor do they care, is not conducive to health and prosperity, nor to the art and science of friendship.
I would say, however, that the ASCA Board is attempting to do what it can to keep AKC from taking the working Aussie with it, down the river Isis. Wish us luck and I”ll see you at the next trial;.
The American Kennel Club has responded to our query regarding the admission of the Australian Shepherd to their ranks as follows:
The Australian Shepherd Association was formed by owners and breeders who specifically wished to have their dogs become eligible for American Kennel Club registration, and for participation in AKC events. Because of the position taken by the AUstralian Shepherd Club of America, AKC felt free to deal with this group to bring about the registration of their dogs, as well as those Australian Shepherds belonging to owners who have no connection to the Australian Shepherd Association. AKC registration would simply be another option which such owners would be free to choose, or not to choose, for their own dogs.
The American Kennel Club respects the right of any owner to refrain from registering their dogs. However, it does not feel that any owner or organization should be able to preclude other owners who wish to register their dogs with AKC, from doing just that.
It is debatable as to how many Australian Shepherd owners feel it would not be advantageous to register their dogs with the American Kennel Club. According to Mr. Phillip Wildhagen, ASCA Club Historian and International Coordinator, only 40% of ASCA’s membership voted in the 1985 ballot wherein the decision was made not to seek AKC registration. Further, of those who did vote, 48% wished to seek AKC registration. Thus, only about 20% of the ASCA 1985 membership actually went on record as being opposed to American Kennel Club registration.
Since no additional vote was subsequently taken, and no indication was given that the Australian Shepherd Club of America was considering a change in its position, our Board did indeed express a willingness to work with a group that actively wished to pursue AKC registration. Only time will tell whether the majority of Australian Shepherd owners agree or disagree with this decision.
(signed) W. Terry Stacy, Vice-President