Fred T. Miller wasn’t afraid to bark, even growl in public. Miller, the president/owner of the United Kennel Club (UKC) – based in Kalamazoo, Mich., passed away on March 24. Under Miller, the UKC grew to be the second largest registry of dogs in America and the largest registry of hunting dogs in the world. Miller, who was 79-years old, had been ill in early 1999, but rallied to take an extended vacation in Mexico, which is where he succumbed.
His towering 6’4″ frame was only exceeded by an already larger than life persona, arguably an icon in the dog world. For years, he was a staunch warrior at fighting breed specific legislation, puppy mills and anti-hunting legislation that affected dog owners.
Miller is survived by his wife Connie Miller, who herself is well know in the dog world for showing golden retrievers. Connie loved telling the story of the Boston bull terrier that was under his mother’s bed as Fred was born.
Miller was an aerospace engineer of great fame when he purchased the United Kennel Club in 1973. He designed and developed the landing equipment used for the first lunar landing module.
In a 1998 interview Fred said, “I loved dogs because I believe they’re more genuine than people – what you see is what you get.” Fred was the same way. Before heading south for Mexico, Miller attended the Winter Classic (dog show) in Albany, Ga. and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and Dog Writers Association of America Awards Banquet in New York City. At a Dog Writers Board Meeting, Miller was as outspoken as ever.
“If he felt something needed to be said, he said it,” said veteran author Mordecai Siegal, president of the Dog Writers Association, and a friend of Miller’s for 24 years. Siegal recalls back in the mid-1970’s when the Dog Writers membership had dwindled to only about 30. “It was Fred who came to bat for the organization with public support.”
What Fred cared about most was the UKC. Under his leadership, the PREMIER event began, where dogs are judged in obedience, confirmation and agility. In the UKC the emphasis is on what the dog was bred to do, so coonhounds tree raccoons and beagles and Airedales work in the field. There are 50 employees at the UKC, and a quarter of a million registered dogs. “He considered all those employees and all those dogs his children,” says UKC’s Wayne Cavanaugh, the newly appointed UKC president.
Miller is also survived by his sons Chris, John and Tom Miller, daughter Geri Hart, four golden retrievers, one German shepherd dog, two cats and several grandchildren.
Miller was the vice president and director of the American Dog Owners Association, and in recent years was awarded many honors for his long time service to benefit man’s best friend. “I’m very proud that the UKC attracts families, that’s what doing things with dogs should be about,” said Miller in 1998.
When Miller purchased the business, he actually had to convince Dr. E.G. Furhman that, he’d “take care of” the UKC. Similarly, there’s little doubt about why Cavanaugh came on board in August (1999). Aside from showing dogs since he was six years old, Cavanaugh worked for six years as vice-president communications at the New York City based American Kennel Club. As a certified financial planner, Cavanaugh also has a background in dealing with dollars.
Although Connie has a strong voice in UKC operations, it’s Cavanaugh who’s been running the day-to-day affairs since he was hired. “Fred dreamed big dreams and he made his own way, accomplishing so much for the benefit of dogs,” says Cavanaugh. “Those are big shoes to fill – I’m not sure anyone ever will.”
In 1997, the Dog Writer’s honored Miller with a special plaque, which simply read “Thanks Fred.”
“That says it all,” Siegal says.
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