Elisabeth Torres, Global Animal
The American Kennel Club (AKC) has always portrayed themselves as an elite organization of people and purebred dogs based off the integrity of their registry, but the truth is a little different. Facts show that many AKC-registered dogs are born in puppy mills. A huge chunk of the money that finances the American Kennel Club, and an unbelievable number of dogs come from commercial puppy mill breeders.
According to Friends of Animals and multiple other animal welfare organizations, it’s estimated that up to 80% of the AKC’s annual income comes from puppy mills or “high volume breeders.” The AKC’s relationship with large commercial breeders is no small thing, it’s a vital part of their income. It is how they fund their Madison Avenue office and subset money lost on dog shows. In 2010 the AKC’s total revenue was nearly $56 million dollars, with over $21 million spent on dog events with a revenue of only $11 million from the events.
The AKC started in 1884 as an organization with good intentions by keeping track of and showcasing breed lineage. The AKC does take part in positive initiatives, such as supporting their Canine Health Research Center, fighting breed discrimination legislation, and providing lost dog recovery services.
The issue that remains is that the AKC still gets the majority of their money from high volume breeders and does little to tackle the national puppy mill problem. Small scale, responsible breeders are not the issue. As a respected and historic organization that carries so much weight in the minds of pet guardians, the AKC has the responsibility to hold themselves to a higher standard. “The integrity of the AKC registry is the backbone of our organization”, the AKC states. Does that mean that puppies from high volume breeders are its backbone?
“Dogs are property. And we like to leave the option to the owner of the property, of the dog, with the breeder. It’s their decision as to how many intact females to own or how many litters to produce,” according to AKC representative Lisa Peterson. If the AKC is going to turn a blind eye and profit from animal cruelty, what does having an AKC-registered dog actually mean?
According to their website, the AKC “cannot guarantee the quality or health of dogs in its registry. A registration certificate identifies the dog as the offspring of a known sire and dam born on a known date.” So being AKC-registered simply verifies that the puppy has two parents of the same breed, even if both those parents are lying malnourished in their own filth at a puppy mill.
It should really come as no surprise that the AKC won’t vouch for your pets health. Many dogs from puppy mills have infectious diseases such as kennel cough, intestinal parasites, mange, canine distemper, and infectious hepatitis. Not to mention a range of genetic defects from overbreeding that can cause serious health problems and shorter lifespans. Because attention to the health of registered dogs is not mandated, some US breeders started their own databases unconnected to the AKC. When it was discovered genetic diseases reduced the average lifespan of Bernese Mountain dogs to seven years, the Berner Garde Foundation started their own database to prevent overbreeding. Many breed clubs outside the U.S. require extensive health testing of their breeding dogs. The AKC should raise the bar and follow suit.
The AKC abides by some standards, including only registering litters from kennels that follow the Animal Welfare Act guidelines mandated by the USDA. The problem is USDA standards are so low and so poorly enforced it means very little. According to the ASPCA, small scale breeders (50 dogs or less) who sell dogs directly to the public, don’t have to be inspected on licensed by the USDA. So if a breeder is USDA certified, it’s a good indicator they are probably a puppy mill.
The AKC reserves the right to suspend breeders for not meeting certain quality standards, and says on their website that they inspect over 4,000 kennels annually. In 2010 the Humane Society of the United States did a 17-month investigation of an AKC licensed kennel in South Carolina. The kennel was involved in bear-baiting competitions, an event where a captive bear with its teeth or claws removed is tied to a stake in an arena and attacked by multiple dogs at a time. The kennel was licensed by and operated as an AKC club, and took part in four official AKC events. After the HSUS presented their evidence to the AKC, they rightfully suspended the kennel. As an active AKC kennel, it’s puzzling this animal abuse wasn’t discovered or reported in one of their 4,000 plus annual kennel investigations.
As a respected brand, the AKC should do much more to protect the animals they represent. In its current state, the AKC makes it easier for large-scale breeders to profit at the breed’s expense.
What can you do to change AKC standards and help stop puppy mills? Do your research on the AKC before registering your dog. If you’re looking for a purebred dog, start at your local shelter, breed rescue, or small hobby breeders who abide by the ASPCA standards for responsible breeding. Twenty-five percent of shelter dogs are actually purebred and many rescue shelters specialize in rescuing dogs of a certain breed and finding them homes. Take the pledge to not shop at pet stores that sell puppies. If you’re a responsible, small hobby breeder whose dogs are AKC-registered, urge the organization to increase their quality standards and stop registering puppy mill dogs.
Let’s make the AKC name stand for something respectable again.
Note from the editor: This story was first published on June 25, 2012 and was temporarily taken down to make sure Global Animal’s editorial standards were met. It was republished on June 28 with several revisions.
More On Pure Breeds: