Usually recognition by the American Kennel Club is a target most parent breed clubs shoot for.
Not so the Australian Shepherd Club of America based in Liberty, Texas, an organization that lists 4,000 members and a registry of 60,000 dogs! As the breed grew in popularity nationwide, ASCA, the country's largest independent breed club outside of the AKC, long maintained that the versatile dog's place was in the field, not the show ring.
What's happened this year has been like "High Noon" for this dog that resembles Old Shep. Kinda like a "Shootout at the K-9 Corral."
It all began April 13 - this was a Saturday, not Friday - when an AKC official told ASCA that this governing body of purebred dogdom was going to recognize the Aussie.
In 1985, ASCA voted not to pursue this recognition. So why would the AKC recognize this breed?
Another, much smaller organization, the Australian Shepherd Association, was born and went to the AKC with a recognition proposal.
A recent ASCA press release said, "No one in our fancy ever heard of this ASA and still don't know who they are. We do not understand the AKC's decision to change policy and recognize our breed against the wishes of the only recognized parent club."
On May 13, the AKC board of directors approved the breed standard. The Aussies will compete in the nondescript miscellaneous class and in all applicable performance events such as obedience, tracking and herding Jan. 1. The board also recognized the newer, smaller Australian Shepherd Association (this name will be changed soon to the United States Australian Shepherd Association to avoid confusion) as the breed's parent club.
In a story headlined "Were Australian Shepherds `dognapped' " in the August issue of Dog World, AKC critic Herm David said capturing the breed was apparently "too attractive for the AKC to resist."
David's story quotes James Crowley of the AKC, "They (ASCA) turned us down five years ago. There was no point in contacting them again."
David characterized the quick move: "It was a done deal before the ASCA heard about it. It is as if a giant corporation has managed a hostile takeover of a much smaller, very healthy company without a vote of its stockholders - and without paying one cent for the property."
In a letter to prospective members, the new Australian Shepherd Association, based in Dallas, admits it was founded to seek AKC recognition, noting that membership in ASA is not necessary to participate in AKC events. All registration will be handled by the AKC.
According to Sheila Farrington-Polk, a longtime Martinez, Calif., Aussie breeder, a member of ASCA and a founding member of ASA, the International Australian Shepherd Association was organized in 1966, austensibly to seek AKC recognition but in the mid-1970s IASA was absorbed by ASCA.
In 1983, another challenge emerged to ASCA's anti-AKC front. A small group was organized simply to tell ASCA members what effect AKC membership would have on them. "The ASCA board was anti-AKC once again," said Polk, "The slogan of the times was if you were for AKC recognition you were anti-Aussie and anti-ASCA."
Polk, a member of the ASA board of directors, argues that the negative reaction to AKC affiliation stems from the breed's troubled political past and lack of understanding by Aussie enthusiasts about AKC.
Polk's credentials are impeccable. Her dogs have won five bests at ASCA nationals. Add to that numerous working and obedience titles. But because of her involvement with the new club, Polk has been suspended for one year from ASCA. Her attorney is appealing the dismissal.
"There's a great deal of misinformation going around," she says. "What annoys me the most is that politics and backstabbing can destroy many good people's interests in the breed. It's become a mudslinging, name-calling battle."
She cites several reasons for the conflict, one of which is "the ASCA board ignored a 1975 membership vote to pursue AKC recognition."
Toni Viola-Pearson, a 16-year Seattle Aussie breeder, adds, "It's time the breed became recognized by the AKC and gets a chance to compete among the world's best. No one is forcing those who register their dogs with the AKC to compete in the show ring. But there are certainly other opportunities out there for them, such as obedience, tracking and herding."
In correspondence sent to AKC delegates recently, ASCA asked the national registry body why no original or official pedigree and no photo are required to register the breed, since the AKC has long mandated both.
Then it says, "The AKC's actions since April have shocked and numbed the entire dog world. Their decision to recognize as the AKC parent breed club a secret group of 10 people organized for only a few months continues to astound long-time supporters. In addition, their decision to accept a breed standard drastically different from the previously established standard far exceeds all reasoning. The AKC has placed a young and rapidly growing breed in the hands of a few people who wish to change its appearance and genetic soundness. AKC's part in this matter is of major concern to the entire dog world. Who is responsible?"
What is this dog that's the center of all this attention?
The Australian shepherd's origin is uncertain. It is believed to have originated in the Spanish Pyrenees and found its way to Australia in the early 19th century when many sheep were imported from Spain. By the mid-19th century, when hundreds of Australian sheep were imported into the Western United States, Basque herders and their dogs came along, too.
The hardy breed, which can be as small as 35 and as heavy as 70 pounds, comes in four colors - black, red (liver), blue or red merle. Any of these can be accompanied by white or copper trim.
It sports a moderately long medium texture, straight to slightly wavy coat. Known as an intelligent working and athletic animal, it is excellent with children cats and other dogs. Like most dogs, it's not a breed for everyone. Special requirements are regular exercising, plenty of room to run, and twice weekly grooming.
Genetic problems include hip dysplasia, retinal dysplasia and cataracts. The average life span is 12 years, but it's not uncommon to see an Aussie at 15.
Want to see these Aussies in action? Next weekend at the Graham (Pierce County) home of Gayle White, 24614 94th Ave. E., (phone, 847-6655) they will compete in stock trials Saturday and obedience Sunday. Action begins both days at 9 a.m.
The 10th Delta Society Conference, "People, Animals and Nature," in Portland Oct. 10-12 still has openings for anyone wishing to attend.
Researchers and noted authors will address the international symposium about subjects dealing with the human-animal companion bond. Registration information is available from the Delta office in Renton, 226-7357.
The evening of Oct. 10 will feature a blessing of the animals, problem solving with your dog or cat, dealing with bird problems, hearing and service-dog demonstrations, an introduction to pot-bellied pigs and other presentations.
-- Mail information regarding dog events to Classified Division, attn. Marilyn Fairbanks, Dog Events and Cat Events, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Include a public phone-contact number.