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February 11, 2013

AKC Standing in the Way of Dog Welfare

In the run-up to today’s opening events for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer did some major reporting about the startling obstructionism of the American Kennel Club on animal welfare issues. It’s not news to me or to The HSUS. I wrote about the AKC as a huge impediment to change in my book, The Bond, in which I told the story of Ted Paul, a dog breeder from Oregon and a highly respected show judge, who was ostracized from the fraternity for supporting a bill to establish humane breeding standards. 

USUS_1966A_GIDDINGS_104501_042012_4827_117159
Mark Greenberg/The HSUS
A Yorkshire Terrier peers out from her cage at a
puppy mill in Dime Box, Texas. Yorkies are one of
the AKC's top 10 most popular breeds.

Several months ago, The HSUS issued a report revealing that the AKC has opposed 80 state and local bills to establish some minimum humane breeding standards for the care of dogs. The AKC not only opposed Prop B in Missouri (the nation’s leading puppy mill state), but similar bills in Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. In fact, I can’t think of a time when the AKC supported a bill to establish standards of care for dogs on large-scale breeding operations. They even opposed legislation that had nothing to do with breeding – such as prohibiting the debarking of dogs and preventing dogs from being left in hot cars or chained for long periods of time.


The AKC is financially conflicted on the issue. Their revenue model depends on breeders being registered with the AKC, and selling “AKC-approved” puppies. If they were to crack down on puppy mills, they’d be sacrificing a portion of their revenue. It’s not surprising to me, then, that HSUS raids of illegal puppy mill operations have consistently found those breeders affiliated with the AKC. One of the most notorious of these operators is one we brought to the attention of the New York Times: a Montana breeder, Mike Chilinski, who was convicted of 91 counts of cruelty for his gross mistreatment of malamutes he was breeding and selling. One two-year-old dog we found on the property weighed less than 25 lbs. and has more than doubled his weight since being rescued.

The AKC says it has an inspections program, but The Times reported there are just 9 inspectors and no public record of their inspections. In fact, the AKC does not make its standards for kennel inspections public, so we have little way of knowing if there’s any practical meaning to those inspections.

There’s one other element of this story that The HSUS has focused on: the conformation standards  that lead to genetic and hereditary problems for so many purebreds, who have flattened faces, elongated backs, weak hips, and other physical characteristics that come as a consequence of selective breeding. Many of the dog shows for particular breeds value external characteristics over the underlying health and welfare of the dogs. That’s why so many animals from these breeds have chronic health problems, shortened life-spans, and a severely diminished quality of life. Our Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy held an important conference on this issue, “The Purebred Paradox,” to launch an examination of what may be the most pressing welfare issue for dogs and AKC decided not to attend. 

The AKC also recently released its annual top 10 list of the most popular breeds in America. If The HSUS released a top 10 list of the most common breeds found in puppy mills, the two lists would be curiously similar – and so would the roster of health problems that veterinarians treat from malformed and poorly bred dogs. With Labrador Retrievers at the top of the ranking for 10 years in a row, it comes as no surprise that they are frequently found at the raids we conduct in these mass-breeding facilities; they may suffer from as many as 50 chronic health problems associated with breeding for a certain conformation. In Vermont in 2011, our Animal Rescue Team assisted in the removal of over 50 dogs from a puppy mill that only bred Labrador Retrievers. Seems the perpetrators of this large-scale animal cruelty know where the money is. In three separate Central Missouri puppy mill rescues we did in March of 2011, almost every single breed on the AKC’s top ten was represented, in staggering numbers.

The HSUS has formed a Breeders Advisory and Resource Council, and it is composed of responsible breeders from around the country who have a particular interest in improving the lives of dogs bred in the inhumane, commercial breeding facilities known as puppy mills. BARC members work with The HSUS to help the public to identify responsible breeders and to avoid supporting puppy mills. It is our great hope to work with responsible breeders so we can not only root out puppy mills, but also make sure that breeding practices produce healthy dogs, rather than dogs destined for a short, painful life because of their genetic characteristics.

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