To many dog lovers, the stamp of the American Kennel Club (AKC) is a mark of distinction and a sign that the puppies purchased “with papers” are the best of their breed.
The AKC is facing a swarm of criticism, as more large-scale puppy breeders are being shut down by law enforcement agencies and charged with animal cruelty. According to records from the Humane Society of the United States, at least three facilities in North Carolina that have been busted in the past six months regularly registered dogs with the AKC.
The AKC claims to be “the only purebred registry in the United States with an ongoing routine kennel inspection program.”
In fact, the AKC website states that “inspectors check breeders’ records for accuracy as well as the care and conditions of dogs in their kennels.”
“The public needs to be aware that an AKC-certified puppy is not a guarantee of a puppy mill-free dog — quite the contrary,” said HSUS representative Rebecca Basu. “AKC documentation was found during raided puppy mills in N.C.”
Basu said that the AKC has been called on to change direction, and support reputable, small-scale breeders rather than large-scale commercial ones that currently fill its coffers, but the organization chooses to do the opposite.
“All the AKC cares about is money,” said HSUS representative Melanie Kahn. “They are beholden to puppy mills because of the large numbers of dogs that are paid to be registered through them.”
This is a far cry from the organization that claims “protecting the health and well-being of all dogs” as one of its core values, she said.
According to a report issued by HSUS, the AKC lobbied against more than 80 different state bills aiming to regulate large-scale breeders across the country.
One of the bills opposed by the AKC includes the currently proposed USDA federal retail rule.
According to the USDA website, the new regulations would revise its definition of a “retail pet store” to include breeders who sell animals on the Internet, phone and mail. This new legislation would close the loophole that exempts these breeders from meeting the basic requirements of the Animal Welfare Act.
This proposed rule change is “intended to help ensure the health and well-being of animals sold at retail for use as pets.” Yet, AKC chair Alan Kalter called the regulations “onerous” in the June 2012 Chairman’s Report.
“The AKC is not opposed to regulating commercial breeders to ensure for the humane treatment and continued welfare of animals in their care,” said Lisa Peterson, communications director for the AKC.
She said the group is opposed to “one size fits all” legislation, but there’s no clear indication as to how the legislation would inhibit responsible breeders.
“The regularity with which AKC-affiliated breeders have been linked with substandard facilities demonstrates that AKC’s system of self-managed random inspections is insufficient to protect all its dogs from cruelty,” said a report from the HSUS.
“Whether a breeder is inspected by the AKC is based on many factors,” said Peterson.
Peterson said that if a breeder is inspected and is found to be not maintaining the dogs or facility in a manner that is compliant with the AKC’s Care and Conditions Policy, the individual’s AKC privileges may be placed on hold.
The April 2012 AKC “Care and Conditions of Dogs” policies are vague, minimal, and do not provide specific, measurable standards of care for vet care, housing, feeding or exercise, claims the HSUS. Which means that if inspectors do actually inspect dog breeders, there don’t seem to be any clear guidelines that would give them pause to yank certification. None of this is known, however, because AKC inspection reports are private, and AKC kennel visit results and/or lists of inspected breeders are not available to potential buyers.
The AKC certification may now be tainted, but there are other ways to find reputable breeders, say animal advocates.
“The first thing I tell people who are interested in a particular breed is to always go to the breeder’s home and look at the conditions,” said Kahn. “If a breeder won’t let you do that, it’s a huge red flag.”
“It’s also very important to know about the breed, its health problems, and don’t be afraid to ask breeders a lot of questions,” said Amy Kuhnen, owner of Paradise Creek German Shepherd kennels in Ellerbe.
Kuhnen said that responsible breeders aren’t afraid to make information available, and also won’t sell puppies to just anyone.
“We interview potential buyers, as much as they interview us,” said Kuhnen.
A checklist from the HSUS suggests potential buyers look for the following in a responsible breeder:
• Clean, healthy and friendly animals.
• Roomy spaces that meet the needs of the breed.
• Breeds only one type of dog, and is knowledgeable about the breed and special requirements.
• Doesn’t always have puppies available.
• Allows visitors to meet puppy’s parents.
• Veterinary records made available.
• Can explain in detail the potential genetic and developmental problems inherent to the breed, and can provide documentation that the puppy’s parents were evaluated for those problems.
• Is available to assist with care and training questions after you take the puppy home.
• Provides references from other families who have one of their dogs.
A responsible breeder should:
• Ask buyers why they want the dog.
• Ask where the dog will spend most of its time, and who will be responsible for care-giving.
• Ask for proof from landlords that you’re allowed to have a dog.
• Ask that a contract to spay or neuter be signed, unless the dog will be shown.
• Ask that a contract be signed stating that the dog will be returned to the breeder if you can no longer provide care.
The HSUS also recommends starting the search for a purebred dog at local shelters, because one in every four shelter animals is purebred. There are also breed-specific rescue groups that can easily be found on the Internet, or with the help of the local shelter.
The HSUS full report on the AKC can be downloaded at http://www.humanesociety.org/news/press_releases/2012/07/akc_puppy_mills_070912.html.