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NBC report exposes AKC

The battle to expose and shut down shoddy, large commercial breeding operations received a great piece of national exposure today when NBC Television’s “Today Show” ran a story about how the American Kennel Club (AKC), which registers purebred dogs, has gone to great lengths to oppose laws that limit breeders and continues to oppose legislation to bring inhumane breeding conditions to an end.

Here is the link to the report.

Of course, there was nothing new in this report that any forward-thinking animal welfare organization hasn’t already been dealing with for years. But the fact that the story hit a national network in morning prime time is significant. Perhaps the little-discussed subject of puppy mills, perhaps the most significant source of grief for canines in the United States, may finally be going mainstream.

All we can say is it’s about time.

Of particular note in this report is the fact that the AKC’s public relations representative, interviewed by NBC’s Jeff Rossen, could not even answer basic questions, such as how many breeders in the United States have AKC-registered dogs or what percentage of AKC-registered breeders are inspected. When further asked if the nine kennel inspectors are enough to cover the country, the answer was: “That’s the number that we have.”

Further complicating things is the fact that 47 percent of all individual dog registrations and 75 percent of all litter registrations were online in 2011. With so many registrations taking place on the Internet, the integrity of the registration depends on the honesty of the registrant.

All of this uncertainty flies in the face of the AKC mission statement that reads in part: “We are dedicated to maintaining the integrity of our Registry.” This begs the question of exactly how the AKC is able to do that.

The report also hit on the issue of money. Every time a puppy is registered with the AKC — no matter where it is bred — the AKC makes money. This is the case whether the dog is registered by the breeder, the consumer, a broker or at an auction. We’ve seen AKC reps registering dogs at auctions, even though they have never seen where the dogs came from.

So it makes sense for the AKC to oppose legislation. Fewer breeders and fewer dogs mean less money for the AKC. Additionally, fewer registered dogs make it less likely that pet stores could charge high prices ($600 to more than $2,000), as compared with a comparable dog in a shelter ($70-$100). AKC papers make the dog more valuable. Like a Gucci label, it’s a mark of distinction that comes with a high price tag.

Here are some basic facts about the AKC: There are more than 600 AKC clubs in the United States. The AKC produces or licenses more than 200 revenue-generating products sold through more than 7,000 U.S. retailers. AKC revenue for 2011 surpassed $59 million, with $23 million coming from registrations.

Since the AKC is classified as a nonprofit organization, all of this income is tax free.

Thanks to the work of Best Friends, which for years has utilized the slogan “Puppies Aren’t Products” to fight puppy mills, and the work of other national animal welfare groups, the number of retail outlets selling dogs from commercial puppy mill sources is declining. But the NBC report underlines the severity of a problem that still exists and implicates an organization that puts its stamp of approval on pet stores retailing puppy mill dogs, many of them AKC-registered. Yet, accredited AKC clubs have in their codes of ethics that they will never sell a puppy to a pet store.

Interestingly enough, the AKC is not the only breed registry organization contributing to this situation, though it is the oldest. There are at least 22 other well-established registries in the United States and more in Canada, such as the Continental Kennel Club, United Kennel Club, World Kennel Club, American Canine Association, etc.

Congratulations to NBC for shining the spotlight on the AKC and by showing how a long-established organization with connections to large breeding operations contributes to the problem. Let’s hope that we see more of this in the national media. Only by letting the greatest number of people know about puppy mills — especially the vast majority of people who don’t follow animal welfare — will we eventually get to the point where puppy mills are a thing of the past.

Gregory Castle, CEO emeritus, Best Friends Animal Society Gregory Castle
CEO emeritus
Best Friends Animal Society