2009-09-16 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

“If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and development.”

—Aristotle

Hence, there is something drastically wrong and shortsighted with the following decision. Dog fanciers pride themselves on history. Ironically, as the American Kennel Club (AKC) marks 125 years this week, upsetting news coincides with this important anniversary. To save money, last month the AKC mothballed its 18,000 volume library and eliminated the librarian position. Unfortunately, you cannot put a price tag on this loss of collective wisdom, the dog equivalent to padlocking the Smithsonian.

On Sept. 17, 1884 the AKC was “born” when a group of sportsmen met to form a national dog association where show rules, breed conformation, stud books and procedures would be standardized. A month later at a Madison Square Garden Westminster show (Westminster Kennel Club was already 7 years old; their clubhouse thriving in Babylon Village), the new AKC committee elected officers and adopted a constitution and bylaws.

Our local dignitary, August Belmont Jr., was the fourth president of the AKC. During the financier’s term from 1888 to 1916, Belmont’s acumen brought the young AKC stability, prestige, and fiscal strength. When the AKC needed an editorial forum and record of kennel activity, in 1889 he created the AKC Gazette, guaranteeing it with his own money. This magazine, highlighting purebred dogs, continues to publish monthly.

On Oct. 17-18, the AKC in conjunction with the CFA (Cat Fanciers Association) will be hosting a laudable public service event called “Meet the Breeds™” at the Javits Center in NYC. It promises to be the world’s largest showcase of cat/ dog breeds and their experts, each having a decorated booth that reflects the breed’s heritage. The AKC hopes to attract more to purebred dogs. Thus, it seems like a peculiar time to close their crown jewel, the AKC library. (Actually it is open only by appointment now, but that means it is essentially closed.)

The AKC cites the economy, fewer visitors and their online catalog as reasons for closing the library, which was founded during the AKC’s 50th year. Despite this claim, just a fraction of the content is digitalized. Many works are too fragile to be scanned. Only those who have researched can see the tragedy herein. The AKC library is a world renowned special interest collection. Having a library, especially an archival research library, without a librarian is like sailing a ship without a captain.

Barbara Kolk has been the AKC librarian for the last 17 years. At one time she had several assistants; for the last year or so she has accomplished the mega task solo. She is the keeper of the Kanine Kingdom, the walking/talking card catalog, and the info-ambassador to dog fanciers throughout the world. In her last week, the librarian was helping a lady in Australia with her second book about Rhodesian Ridgebacks and a Canadian woman with an Old English Sheepdog book. Will these authors be scheduling appointments now?

Kolk’s fund of knowledge is encyclopedic. She knows every piece in the collection- how it fits into the canine schemata, and often can relate anecdotes about the writer. She understands her long term responsibility, safeguarding the irreplaceable documents, acquiring new finds wisely while integrating the AKC inventory with other dog libraries. Her research is the backbone behind many prominent canine works published by esteemed authors. Just glance at the acknowledgement page and you will find her name.

As for counting visitors, quality not quantity of the inquiries and the subsequent discoveries should be the measure. Usage at the AKC library has changed. Years ago lots of people would stop in because they were puppy shopping and wanted to learn about breeds. Now you can find much of this basic information on the Internet.

Presently most of the AKC library patrons are researchers, professors or breed historians with specific, detailed questions or areas of interest. The level of inquiry is intense, requiring time consuming fact finding. For example, the librarian spent several months assisting the American Rottweiler Club compile data to prepare a report about the impact of animal rights extremism on the veterinary profession.

Kolk is the pivotal person behind those who publish and get the word out to the rest of the dog universe. Many of the requests are made by phone or email. Some of the biggest “customers” have only been to the library once or twice during a trip to NYC. A lot happens beyond the guest register.

Throughout my hunt for the Westminster Kennel Club site and Sensation’s grave in Babylon, Barbara’s interest has been boundless. When I first appeared at her desk, she quipped: “Finally. I have been waiting for someone to start searching.” She pointed me in the right direction, providing obscure old journals. Her insight and analysis of every clue and theory, has helped us connect the dots. We have also explored many intriguing tangents, including identifying the dog tomb on Belmont’s North Babylon property as a Gordon Setter entered in the first Westminster show of 1877. Similarly, years ago Kolk realized that a mystery grave in a New Hampshire schoolyard belonged to Obo II, the foundation dog for the American Cocker Spaniel- a huge find for the breed club.

As the AKC celebrates 125 years and peers into the future, I implore CEO Dennis Sprung and Chairman Ron Menaker to reconsider; then re-open the library and bring back Barbara Kolk, even several days a week. She understands how crucial it is to preserve the history, the science, and the culture of all things canine. Methinks, Aristotle, Mr. Belmont (plus dog lovers everywhere) would agree.

For Adoption at the Last Hope Dog Center (631-957-0023) 642 Rt. 109, Lindenhurst: The Center adjoins Basic Pet Care. Our poster dogs have that “AKC look” this week. “Texas” is a mature Beagle who had dental work courtesy of Last Hope. Young “Shadow” resembles a Cairn Terrier.

More choices: “Lady Godiva”- Miniature Pinscher; “Bear”-Shepherd mix; “Petie”- Pit mix; “Patches”- Dalmatian mix.

Upcoming: “Buddy Cares Pet Fair” Sat. Sept. 26 from 1 to 4 pm at Tanner Park, Copiague to spotlight Babylon Town Shelter’s adoptables; microchip clinic; $12 rabies shots. Call 631-893-1053.

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