A funny thing happened last week.
A holiday that didn’t exist a year ago was celebrated by dog owners across the world from Mongolia to New York and points in between. National Purebred Dog Day was conceived in the corner of a coffee shop, initially out of surprise at the discovery that no day had ever been set aside to mark the inestimable contribution of purebred dogs. National Mutt Day, National Dog Day, National Puppy Day, National Rescue Day, National Service Dog Day – even National Poop Scooping Day – these are all verifiable days of recognition named for the dogs they honor. How was it possible that purebred dogs had been forgotten?
Piggy-backing on surprise, however, was anger borne of frustration. As purebred dog owners, fanciers and ethical breeders, we’ve been omitted from the national conversation about responsible dog ownership for at least fifteen years. Inaccurately portrayed by a radical animal rights movement seeking to end pet ownership, we’ve been vilified by rigid rescue dog proponents, and misunderstood by a largely uninformed public that continues to donate millions of dollars to the Humane Society of the United States, and buys into, “Adopt, don’t shop, or a shelter dog dies,” and, “There’s no such thing as a good breeder” (PETA) propaganda. If you doubt this, ask a purebred dog owner about the dead silence that often follows after they’ve informed someone that their dog was purchased from a breeder.
I created National Purebred Dog Day not to diminish mixed breeds, but to celebrate purebred dogs and restore balance to the dialogue by giving their owners a voice. Ultimately, the crux of the issue as I saw it – and still do – is about having the freedom to choose the dog that’s the best fit for our lives, and to enjoy our dogs without guilt trips or recriminations from those who think all pets should be re-homed shelter dogs. For some, a loveable mutt is perfect, but for others, the predictability of a purebred dog is the better choice. In the end, all dogs benefit when whatever they are is a good match with their owners.
Designating a specific date to mark an occasion is a dicey proposition, and when that day, May 1st, rolled around last week, I ran errands, cleaned a bathroom, redeemed a gift coupon for a massage, and kept tabs on the Facebook page from an emotionally distant perspective. The first National Purebred Dog Day was not unlike throwing a party and hoping someone would show up. I’m not unfamiliar with humiliating myself. I just didn’t want to do it in front of 18,000 witnesses.
There was no advertising about the first National Purebred Dog Day. A few tweets were put out on Twitter, downloadable links to print “I (heart) Purebred Dogs” were posted on Facebook, and other than the Facebook page itself, information about the day was entirely by word-of-mouth. Now that the day is in the rearview mirror, what does the data say about it?
- On the morning of May 1, the National Purebred Dog Day Facebook page had approximately 17,100 fans, give or take. By the end of the day, the page had “reached” 88,500 people;
- As astounding 16,900 people reached “clicked,” “liked,” commented on or shared a post, something social media strategists called “engagement;” Now a few days later, that number continues to grow;
- On May 1, 27,700 people “liked” the page on Facebook.
At mid-day of May 1st, the AKC placed a post noting National Purebred Dog Day on their Facebook page. I later learned that they had waited until they knew their audience was at its peak viewership to post the notice (thank you, AKC!). Chris Walker from the AKC was kind enough to share with me the AKC’s internal numbers from that post:
It was the highest engaged post of last week on Twitter with hundreds of images being sent to the AKC. On Facebook, the numbers were as follows:
- 1,028,096 people were reached;
- There were 74,340 likes, comments & shares;
- 60,792 “Likes;’
- 39,968 On Post
- 20,824 On Shares
- 5,891 Comments
- Post Clicks 10,711
Imagine. Over a million people expressed interest in a day that didn’t exist six months ago. Tweets were retweeted, posts were shared, and friends told other friends. The “significance” of the day gained momentum as the day went on. At least ten national columnists “picked up” the story and wrote about it, including a psychologist who posted on Psychology Today online. An on-line website of national holidays even listed May 1st as National Purebred Dog Day (alongside Chocolate Parfait Day!!!)
And then, of course, there appeared on my windshield proof positive of the day’s impact: An anonymous note!
As far as I was concerned, however, the real story of National Purebred Dog Day wasn’t found in statistics or tweets. It was found in the enthusiasm with which people embraced the day. It was in the pictures they posted on the Facebook page and in the comments they wrote about their dogs. Owners whose dogs held impressive AKC records showed up, and so did people whose dogs rarely left the backyard. Kind souls who rescued refugees from horrific substandard breeders wrote to support National Purebred Dog Day because, as one owner put it, “An ethical breeder would never have bred a dog with lethal genes” resulting in the deaf and nearly blind dog she now loves.
In a day already filled with enthusiasm, support and good cheer, there was a one thing (a “high water mark,” if you will) that especially caught my attention and made me think, “Wow.” A person I don’t think I’ve ever met wrote a response to the Canadian Kennel Club’s Facebook notice about mixed-breed and unrecognized-breed dogs being allowed to compete in performance trials. Her response appears below (her name smudged to protect her privacy):
She wrote with such conviction that she might as well have written, “Seriously? You post this today? Did you know that today is Thanksgiving?” She wrote the way someone writes about an accepted and beloved holiday, one that will come around again.
I’m left but with one conclusion. Purebred dog owners have been waiting a very long time to rally around something that supports them.
The success of the day belongs to every person who friended the NPDD page, tweeted on Twitter or posted on Facebook, and who used May 1st to share a picture or make a comment about their purebred dog. The heavy lifting was done by the people who wrote their signs and gamely stood with it and their dogs in front of a camera to record the moment they showed the world, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. I love purebred dogs.”
Poignant, fabulous, funny and imaginative photographs of purebred dogs were shared on the Internet on May 1st, but if there was one picture that encapsulated up the pent up sentiment of purebred dog fanciers, it was this one:
People have been congratulating me, asking if I’m thrilled at the success of the day. Certainly, I’m gratified (and relieved). I “threw a party” and people showed up. Any notions I might have of erupting with unbridled joy at having provided a spark for a grassroots movement, however, are tempered with a couple of observations:
- The “opposition” never saw this coming. Except for a few tired and lame charges of “canine racism” on Twitter, the animal rights and shelter zealots were unprepared to counter the tsunami of joyful purebred dog pictures that appeared on Twitter and Facebook. Next year, they’ll be ready. Will we be as enthusiastic if faced with an onslaught of criticism and negativity?
- In most successful grassroots movements, energy starts at the bottom and percolates upwards – or it dies. On May 1, 2014, we saw the “every person” accept National Purebred Dog Day as their own, people in the “trenches:” The pet owners, groomers, rescue volunteers, foster homes, kennel owners, exhibiters, club members and anyone who ever loved a purebred dog in the quietness of their daily lives. Next year, will the upper echelon of the dog fancy recognize, let alone embrace National Purebred Dog Day? Will we see professional handlers, judges, high ranking club officials and the “money people” pose with people holding, “I (heart) Purebred Dog” signs because those of us who pay the entry fees, breed or buy the dogs, register and train them insist on it? Can we effect influence by virtue of our need for this day to succeed?
I don’t know the answer. I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing because it helps me sleep at night. The question is: What will everyone else do?