01 Jun 2002

Alfred L. Cheauré - A Dog's Life

by Susan Young

For several decades, the career path of Alfred L. Cheauré (MBA '71) was fairly straightforward. A first-generation immigrant American from Germany, Cheauré grew up in New Jersey and attended the U.S. Naval Academy. He began his 27-year service in the Navy as a nuclear submarine officer, took a break to earn his MBA (with distinction), and then continued up the ranks as submarine squadron commander and finally deputy oceanographer of the Navy. After retiring from the Navy, he took an assignment with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, spearheading a major global-warming oceanography research effort.

In 1996, however, Cheauré made a dramatic shift when he parlayed his enthusiasm for purebred dogs into a second career and took the helm of the American Kennel Club (AKC), a $60 million not-for-profit organization devoted to the “sport” of purebred dogs. In his time at the AKC, he has attended more than one hundred dog shows across the country, converted an outdated mainframe computer system to a client server system, streamlined internal procedures, cut expenses, introduced DNA as part of the dog registration process, launched a Web site that attracts over 1.5 million visitors each month, and had “a lot of fun in the process.”

How did you end up at the American Kennel Club?

My dog was instrumental in getting me this position. After retiring from the Navy, my wife and I acquired a golden retriever named Anni. We had other goldens in the past, but this one was very special. My competitive nature led me to contact a local dog club about showing her in competition, and one thing led to another. For about a year I went almost every weekend to a dog show with Anni and served as kennel help and doer of odd jobs taking care of the dogs. During this time I became captivated by the sport and met a number of wonderful people who are dedicated to it. When I learned that the AKC was looking for a president/CEO, I applied. I am the first CEO who is not a “dog person.” For those in the know, a dog person is someone who grew up in the sport — usually participating from early childhood.

What's the mission of the AKC?

Our mission is to promote and support the sport of purebred dogs. We are the umbrella organization for a variety of competitive events that number over fifteen thousand annually. In addition, for nearly 120 years, the AKC has kept the breeding and event records for our constituents. We also take a leadership role in responsible dog ownership, including legislative issues involving dogs. The AKC provides assistance for a number of affiliated organizations. We give a million dollars a year to the AKC Canine Health Foundation, which sponsors canine health research grants. We support the AKC Companion Animal Recovery, an organization that focuses on providing lost-dog recovery services by maintaining a database for animals equipped with an ID microchip. The AKC also has a world-class collection of dog artwork in New York and supports the AKC Museum of the Dog in St. Louis.

Tell us about the business side of the AKC.

Our primary revenues come from the registration of dog litters and individual dogs. Annually, we register five hundred thousand litters and one million dogs. Our expenses are driven primarily by the thousands of events that we sanction each year with close to two million dogs in competition.

Are there any plans for expansion?

We are currently working to upgrade our work process in order to provide better, more timely service to our constituents and to make available a host of information products from our extensive library on the sport and breeding and event records. We are focused on a number of technology advances that can help the sport and have recently made DNA for parentage identification a part of the dog registration process. (We use a noninvasive method — saliva — to provide a permanent record of a dog's DNA.) We're also planning to launch an AKC-branded pet insurance product to meet a critical need since medical advances that have served humans well are now being made available for our canine companions. Procedures such as hip replacements and cornea transplants have become common in veterinary medicine, and without insurance, these procedures are often cost-prohibitive.

Are there some unusual AKC competitions for dogs?

Dogs that are bred to scent raccoons compete in an event called a “Coon Hunt.” The raccoons are not actually hunted, but the sport is for the dog to locate the scent of a wild raccoon and then get the raccoon up a tree. Humans who participate wear waders and hip boots, because it is often swampy, and use coal miners' hats with lights, because the event takes place at 11 p.m. There are also timed agility events where dogs go through obstacle courses with tunnels, hurdles to jump over, and A-frames to climb up and down.

Did you see Best in Show, the “mockumentary” about dog shows?

Yes, I thought it was hilarious. Some of it was more accurate than I'd like to admit. People take the sport very seriously, but you have to have a sense of humor.

Why are dogs so popular?

Dogs were the earliest domesticated animals, and they really do become part of the family. They have total devotion, ask for nothing, and give so much. Being around a dog is an absolutely wonderful experience. You can see the emotion in people's eyes when you take a dog into a nursing home or a hospital. Everybody lights up.

What are the advantages of a purebred dog?

With a purebred you can predict size, temperament, and needs of the adult dog. If I show you a golden retriever puppy, you can expect it to grow into a seventy-pound medium-sized dog. It is also important to note that a golden is an in-your-face dog. They need to constantly sit at your side, be touching, and say, “I'm here.” The bottom line is that you can determine whether a dog meets your lifestyle by investigating and selecting the right purebred dog.

Was the AKC involved with the dogs that took part in the September 11 search-and-rescue effort?

Yes, from the beginning and continuing since the disaster, the AKC has taken a leadership role in providing service to the NYPD K-9 Unit. We launched a relief fund and then gave $220,000 to over ninety search-and-rescue organizations that were at the Pentagon, at Ground Zero, and in the fields of Pennsylvania. We also paid tribute to canine search-and-rescue organizations (dogs and their handlers) last December at the AKC/Eukanuba American Dog Classic show in Orlando, Florida. In addition, we have set up a continuing long-term relief fund to help our canine companions in time of crisis, be it a flood, a tornado, or an earthquake.

Do you still have Anni?

No, unfortunately she died of cancer. But we have a new golden retriever puppy named Rudy. He's a real sweetheart and brings great joy to our family.


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