When I told a friend who is very involved in the dog sport that I would be writing about AKC and the puppy mills she warned I would be opening a can of worms. Sure, I expected things to get a little heated, but I did not anticipate either the number or the vehemence of some comments that have been published. BIS Daily Friday 6-27-14  Obviously this is a subject that needs to be discussed.

Re-reading my article I find nothing I want to change, but perhaps a couple of responses are required. Here goes. First, the term “puppy mill” is not one I made up; it has been used for years to denote someone who breeds a lot of puppies. Google it and you will find “puppy mill facts,” “puppy mill rescue,” “puppy mill articles,” etc. The living conditions in puppy mills may vary, as in most other things, but regardless of hygiene and cleanliness my point is that puppies should never be mass produced or disposed of without a great deal of concern for their future homes, which obviously means NOT through pet stores.

To those who breed puppies for financial gain I have nothing to say beyond what I already wrote. If you tell me it’s possible for a commercial kennel to put the dogs’ well-being first I can only repeat that this is a contradiction in terms, since the definition of “commercial” is that financial aspects are what’s most important. (Wikipedia Dictionary: “Commercial” = “profit-oriented.”) I already listed some reasons that obviously would prevent a commercial kennel from turning a profit. Just hiring enough staff to provide the dogs with the amount of attention, affection and socialization they need would be prohibitive for anyone aiming at financial success. Also, no commercial business can afford to turn away customers willing to pay ready money for their “product,” the way serious hobby breeders do if they are not convinced a prospective owner would be a good match for the puppy. Show me a kennel that puts its dogs well-being first and I promise you this won’t be a commercial success! I’ll say it again, at the risk of incurring further wrath: If you love dogs you do not expect to make a financial profit from your breeding program.

Even if you breed dogs simply as a hobby you may have an occasional windfall from puppy sales, but this is never enough to pay off more than, at best, some basic expenses involved in keeping your dogs happy and healthy. Most of the large hobby kennels I know run at a substantial financial loss, year after year, and have to be supported by income from other sources to keep going. They are not commercial kennels, regardless of the number of dogs involved. In other words, what AKC calls a “high volume breeder” may not be the same as a “commercial” breeder, even though the expressions are often used interchangeably.

As I also said earlier, there is unfortunately no guarantee that all hobby breeders will take wonderful care of their dogs. We have all seen lamentable examples of the opposite. However, if you breed dogs because you love them, of course the chances are much greater that you will give them a good life than if you breed dogs with the primary aim of making money.

That’s why it’s fine to set out to make money from other activities in dogs; it’s when the live animals’ well-being is at stake that commercialism and dogs don’t mix.

Over Regulation and Restrictions

I have a lot of understanding for hobby breeders who are concerned about over-regulation and restrictions on their right to keep and raise dogs. That affects all those who are involved in the dog sport, including myself. However, I absolutely refuse to align myself with the commercial breeders for that reason. Rita Rice is right in her letter: it’s high time hobby breeders distanced themselves from the puppy mills. We have done a lousy job in informing society in general — and the rabid anti-breeding establishment in particular — that responsible hobby breeders perform a valuable service, providing the general public with puppies that are as as healthy and happy, as carefully raised and well socialized as reasonably possible — puppies that are extremely unlikely to end up in a shelter or on the street. We should be encouraged and supported for that.

There is a huge gulf between the commercial kennels and those who breed responsibly because they love dogs without expecting financial reward. We go to endless trouble to place our puppies in loving homes, follow them through the years and are willing to take them back if something goes wrong. It ought to be much better known than it is that there are people who breed dogs simply because they love doing it, even if it’s a financial sacrifice. That fact is not known by the general public, and society at large therefore feels a greater need to restrict our hobby activity than necessary.

It seems to me that this is where our — and AKC’s — real efforts should be instead of trying to defend ALL those who raise puppies, even those who are involved in a mass production that cannot possibly be good for either the dogs or their future owners.

Too Many Puppies?

It’s a separate problem that too many people who ought not to have a dog want one. The puppy breeding “industry” has an inherent interest in as many people buying puppies as possible, regardless of the consequences. The responsible breeder does not. Too many puppies are already sold to people who buy one on the spur of the moment without having the time, the facilities or even the long-term commitment to keep it, love it and take care of it for 10 or 15 years.

There’s not much most of us can do about that, but there is no reason — for us, or for AKC — to encourage the mass production of puppies that go to unsuitable homes. (Someone said it’s none of my business how they breed their dogs. Yes, it IS my business, and everybody else’s, too, how people raise dogs, if they are not kept physically and mentally comfortable.)

The AKC Commercial Breeders Department

One thing I admit to is being naive about AKC’s Commercial Breeders Department. I did not even know one existed, and I bet most other active fanciers don’t either. I tried the Search engine on AKC’s website without finding any information about it. I spoke to two people who are employed by AKC, both of whom had heard it existed but neither of whom had any idea what exactly it did. It seems AKC is not exactly trumpeting the existence a Commercial Breeders Department very loudly. While searching the AKC website, however, I came across the following recommendations for buying a puppy:

The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase from a responsible breeder. In conjunction with the Online Breeder Classifieds, other online resources AKC recommends include:

AKC Parent Club Breeder Referral
Local Club Breeder Referral
Breed Rescue Groups

None of these resources are likely (to put it mildly) to recommend commercial kennels or pet shops. The Online Breeders Classified eligibility clause specifically states that Brokers, Pet Shops, Auctioneers and Flea Markets (!) are not allowed to list litters for sale on the AKC website. So why does AKC then support such outlets elsewhere? Isn’t it natural to assume, as most of us do (or did) that AKC is all about dogs as a hobby?

One letter writer includes the supposedly comforting note that “most” of the commerical breeders don’t treat their dogs as if they were livestock. That just about says it all…

Stop Criticizing AKC

To the person who says I should stop criticizing AKC and instead point to all the good they d
o: that’s what I do as often as I can. The AKC does many things extremely well, and there are many bright and passionate individuals involved on so many different levels that their support of an activity that most of us in the fancy despise is doubly surprising.

To those who question my background as a dog person, breeder and journalist: I have been a dog owner for 55 years and a breeder for more than 50, although I have never felt comfortable producing more than, on average, one litter per year. I am an FCI judge and was until recently an AKC judge and AKC delegate, but now focus on my present occupation as publisher of a specialist dog magazine (which AKC feels would constitute a conflict if I remained a judge or delegate). I have written about dogs for as long as I can remember, including a few award-winning books, and earned more professional recognition for my writing than I feel comfortable listing.

Thanks for the nice letters of support, both those published and those sent directly to me. Some of them express what I wanted to say with greater expertise than I coiuld ever hope to do. One email questions my assertion that the U.S. is the biggest producer of puppy mill puppies in the world; she is probably right in that e.g. Russia and China may have even more. Another email is from an AKC parent club official who would like to reprint my article in her club newsletter but is as yet “afraid” to do so.

Obviously the subject of AKC and the puppy mills is even more loaded than I thought it might be.