The MALC: Making History
In 1997, on a porch with friends, pizza, and tea, the Mid-Atlantic Leonberger Club formed as the first Regional Leonberger Club in the United States. These were early days for the Leonberger with very few breeders spread at great distances throughout the United States. There were pockets of Leonberger communities which had Breeders at their heart spread far and wide. At the time, however, there were some influential go-getters in the area of Central Virginia and many aspiring Leonberger fanciers who wanted opportunities to show and title their Leonbergers in conformation. With a little push here and there from Agi Hejja, Linda Spirio, Kathleen Bisbee, and friends, we had a Leonberger Club! By 2000 we were putting on Large Regional Specialties and hosting the National Specialty.
Soon after forming, Regional Clubs like ours were sprouting all over the United States. In our region of the U.S., we had the Northeastern Region Leonberger Club, the Greater Lakes Leonberger Club, and the Southeast Leonberger Club. All these Clubs were putting together Regional Specialties which offered chances to earn a championship certificate through the National Breed Club. In 2001, the first Triple Crown took place in Pennsylvania supported by the MALC, Great Lakes, and the Northeast Region Leonberger Clubs with help from Whitney and Nancy Coombs on their fabulous farm. The big event was brought back in 2013 with an amazing showing and now takes place annually in October, always featuring a large gathering of Leonbergers.
[Left: A gathering of fanciers from a show in Williamsburg 2002. We were pretty casual! Then]
The Leonberger became officially recognized by the AKC on July 1, 2010. Members of Mid-Atlantic Leonberger Club traveled the United States and established almost every single breed "first" in the AKC from the first Championship/Grand Championship, to the first Group Win, to the first Westminster Winner, to the first Best in Show Winner and much more. As members became more involved at the All-Breed level, we yearned to once again put on our shows in full club pride. Matt Townsend somehow finagled a deal with AKC Club Relations and the membership agreed: we were now the Mid-Atlantic Leonberger Club of Virginia! The next several years had rapid growth for our little club as we ballooned from fewer than forty members to over two hundred! With all the enthusiasm, we brought the Leonberger Triple Crown back with a big debut on Memorial weekend in 2013.
[Above: After three years in the AKC, we are the same fun-loving people, but we found our dress clothes. 2013 Triple Crown.]
Progress was rapid, the MALC held our first AKC Sanctioned “B” Match in conjunction with the Greater Fredericksburg show on January 11, 2014 with Ms. Carol Brown as the match secretary and Ms. Brittany Cipriotti as the judge. On October 1, 2016 we had completed the entire Sanctioned Match program and were holding our first licensed specialty as the first AKC Specialty Club for Leonbergers in America. There were 64 entries under Mrs. Abby Patrizio at the Historic Long Branch Farm in Leesburg, VA- a spectacular entry!
In 2016, the Mid-Atlantic Leonberger Club of Virginia began the hard work of pursuing Member Status with the American Kennel Club. Member Clubs have input in the democratic process by which the rules and priorities of the AKC come into effect. After hundreds of hours of volunteer labor and ceaseless pursuit, we achieved approval of our application for Member Status with Club Relations and had the role of Delegate added to our Bylaws. In 2020, the National Breed Club decided to strongly oppose our application and it was ultimately voted down by the AKC Board of Directors. You can read a little bit about that in a fabulous article: Specialty Club & AKC Member Status: The Story of a Specialty Club’s Fight To Become a Member Club of AKC by Amy Fernandez in the Canine Chronicle's 2020-21 Annual.
In 2023, the Mid-Atlantic Leonberger Club of Virginia celebrated our 25th Anniversary at the Leonberger Triple Crown in West Friendship, MD. Almost all of the faces that sat on a porch in 1997 dreaming of what we might be able to do were there enjoying the feast, the comradery, the music, and, most importantly, our Leonbergers. We can't wait to see what the next twenty-five years have to offer!