AKC Under Fire from Some Breeders and Animal Welfare Advocates

AKC Pets

Story at-a-glance -

  • Critics of the American Kennel Club (AKC) say the club is lax in performing inspections. They also point out that the AKC often lobbies against legislation designed to protect the rights of animals, fearing stricter laws might result in a decrease in AKC registration fees – a percentage of which come from questionable breeders and puppy mill operators.
  • In the last few years, a number of breeding kennels that passed AKC inspection have subsequently been raided by law enforcement and the owners charged with animal cruelty. Many people who acquire a purebred dog believe the AKC “stamp of approval” means their pet is healthy and of a certain quality. In reality, the only thing AKC registration papers insure is that both parents of your dog are also registered.
  • In addition to rubber stamping kennel inspections, the AKC also actively lobbies against proposed legislation intended to improve conditions for dogs in breeding kennels.
  • Reputable breeders, dog owners, animal protection groups, law enforcement agencies and lawmakers are increasingly speaking out against the AKC’s policies and practices.

By Dr. Becker

Many people are aware that the American Kennel Club (AKC) is the governing body for dog shows, including the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

But what you might not know is that law enforcement officials investigating complaints of animal abuse have raided breeders of AKC-registered dogs – including breeders who’ve passed AKC kennel inspections. Critics feel the AKC is derelict in its duty to inspect breeders it supports. According to the New York Times:

“… The A.K.C. is increasingly finding itself ostracized in the dog world, in the cross hairs of animal protection services, law enforcement agencies and lawmakers who say that the club is lax in performing inspections and that it often lobbies against basic animal rights bills because they could cut into dog registration fees.”

Registration fees account for about 40 percent of the AKC’s $61 million annual revenue, including fees from breeders of dubious character and puppy mill owners.

Critics of the AKC Include the ASPCA

One of the AKC’s critics is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). According to president Ed Sayres, a majority of commercial breeder raids the ASPCA has participated in have involved AKC-registered litters. Many of these dogs are genetically compromised and come from traumatic environments, according to Sayres.

Needless to say, the AKC disputes such allegations and says it is not a law enforcement agency and can’t be responsible for every breeder. The club has nine breeder inspectors and is “proactive in ferreting out animal abuse,” according to Lisa Peterson, communications director.  

While many breeders of AKC-registered dogs take excellent care of their animals, many others are looking for a quick sale to pet stores or individuals and aren’t at all concerned about the care the dogs receive before or after the sale.

Unfortunately, many people who buy an AKC-registered pet believe the AKC “stamp of approval” actually means something in terms of the health and background of the dog. In reality, the only thing AKC registration papers insure is that both parents of your dog are also registered. AKC registration says nothing about the quality of your dog or his health.

All it takes to get an AKC ‘blue slip’ registration is to send an application and the required fee. If your pet’s parents are registered, your pet will be entered into the database as well. He’ll receive a registration number, which will appear on the blue slip you receive back from the AKC.

Is the AKC Pencil Whipping Kennel Inspections?

The AKC website says the club has inspected over 55,000 kennels since 2000.

According to the New York Times, AKC inspectors found a kennel in Montana “in compliance” in both 2008 and 2009, with about 60 dogs in residence. But in 2011 the kennel was raided, and officials found “… 161 severely malnourished malamutes living off their own feces in small cages.” They also found that:

“Many of the dogs had diseases; one had advanced cancerous growths. Dead dogs were stacked outside small kennels, and empty, dirty water bowls were littered about.

“Five of the rescued dogs died within weeks. Authorities seized 18 pregnant female dogs, and half of their litters died of lack of nutrition upon delivery.”

The owner of that kennel received a five-year sentence on 91 counts of animal cruelty and neglect. It took over 70 volunteers and more than $500,000 to perform the rescue. The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) picked up most of the cost.

Three months before police raided a Great Dane and mastiff kennel in North Carolina, the AKC performed an inspection and deemed the conditions “acceptable,” and “in compliance with AKC’s Care Conditions Policy,” despite the fact that the giant breed dogs did not get daily exercise outside their cages.

During the raid, officials removed 28 of the dogs, most of them in poor condition and suffering from various injuries and illnesses, all of which were serious to severe according to veterinarians. Additionally, the injuries appeared to be chronic and long-standing.

Why Does the AKC Oppose Legislation to Improve Conditions for Animals?

According to the Times, AKC critics claim the club has opposed legislation to improve conditions at breeding kennels and to reduce the number of abusive high-volume breeders.

One Rhode Island bill the AKC opposed would have prevented dogs from being held in cages or tethered for more than 14 hours a day. The club also opposed a Massachusetts bill defining how law enforcement could go about removing animals and recouping expenses from people suspected of animal cruelty. And in Louisiana, the AKC opposed a bill to prevent the stacking of wire-floored cages.

In defense of the club’s opposition to certain legislative bills, AKC communications director Peterson explained that some bills are too broad in scope; other bills would permanently remove dogs from their owners-turned-defendants (a practice the AKC doesn’t necessarily agree with); and in the case of the bill to stop stacking wire-floored cages, she cites other situations in which it is common practice.

Unfortunately, without reading each bill in question in its entirety as well as the AKC’s efforts to oppose it, it’s impossible to say whether the club is generally focused on improving the lives of dogs, or keeping breeders happy. Their critics certainly believe it’s the latter.

If you’d like to learn more about the AKC’s involvement in canine legislation, you can visit the club’s Legislative Alerts page.

Some Breeders Speak Out Against the AKC

In October 2012, a longtime breeder of Coton de Tulear dogs, Hailey Parker, filed a lawsuit against the AKC.

According to Out of the Cage, the majority of Coton breeders, individual Coton owners, and the national rescue organization for Cotons have decided to stay away from the AKC:

The AKC has a reputation for being associated with puppy mills and other large-size commercial breeding operations, both of which are often cited for practices not good for the health of either fully grown dogs or the pups they are continually birthing. In addition, according to Parker, once a breed is part of the AKC it becomes hard to control the lineage of the population. There is both an increased chance of inbreeding as well as a risk that the purity of the breed will be diluted. “You simply may not be getting a purebred dog or a healthy dog if you get an AKC dog,” says Parker. She also believes that breeds that become part of the AKC begin to be bred so that their physical look is altered to maximize their appearance for the show ring, which can also lead to health problems.

Longtime Breeder Called “Traitor” for Supporting Breeding Limits

In 2009, Oregon lawmakers introduced legislation to limit the number of intact dogs a breeder could have to 25. Ted Paul, a Salem collie breeder, past president of the Collie Club of America, and dog show judge for over 40 years was asked by lawmakers to lend his support to the bill, and he agreed. Soon he was reading on Internet websites that he was a “traitor,” and AKC-affiliated dog show organizers stopped inviting him to judge events.

The breeding limits bill passed, but Ted Paul has been unofficially banned from judging dog shows because he put his support behind it.

It seems clear there is growing dissent among reputable breeders and dog owners against some of the AKC’s policies and practices. Hopefully pressure from these groups and animal welfare organizations like the ASPCA and the HSUS will prompt the American Kennel Club to take a more active role in promoting and enforcing responsible breeding practices.