Sometimes you literally cannot believe your ears. When a friend told me that the American Kennel Club had made a substantial financial contribution to the Missouri Pet Breeders Association I did not think that could possibly be true. This is, after all, probably the largest puppy mill organization in the world and represents everything that hobby breeders and dog lovers — those we usually think of as AKC’s core group — abhor. Commercial mass production of puppies is not something that any dog fancier would want AKC to be linked to.

Well, believe it or not: it’s true. Once I saw the press release sent out by MPBA asking for money, proudly listing the American Kennel Club as one of the main sponsors of a new study with an object to, among other things, recruit new participants in “the industry,” there was no denying it. The sum, $10,000, may not be large by AKC’s standard — this is an organization that pays its top executives annual salaries in the high six figures — but it is nearly as much as the Missouri Farm Bureau ($15,000) and the MBPA itself ($11,000) have donated. In addition AKC is also a “Platinum Sponsor” for an upcoming MBPA event together with such embattled puppy factories as Petland and the Hunte Corporation. Among other sponsors are the Continental Kennel Club and America’s Pet Registry, neither an organization I thought AKC would be happy to be associated with. (The United Kennel Club, notably, is not on that list of sponsors; nor are any of the respected canine health organizations such as OFA, CHIC, the Canine Health Foundation, the Morris Animal Foundation, or the Animal Health Trust.)

Let’s make it clear that the Missouri Pet Breeders Association is not a gathering of amateur hobbyists. They continually refer to themselves as an “industry,” and on their website proudly claim to be “the nation’s oldest and largest professional pet organization,” founded in 1987. Since Missouri is the biggest puppy mill state in the country, and the U.S. is the biggest puppy mill country in the world, I guess that really does make MBPA the largest puppy mill organization anywhere.

If the study that AKC is helping finance were trying to find out how to make life better for puppies raised in high volume kennels, or what their impact is on the health, temperaments, etc. of puppies raised there — that would be one thing. That’s not the case, however. This study is clearly the result of the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act that was passed in Missouri just a few years ago and obliged breeders to, among other things, allow their dogs access to outdoor exercise and disallowed dogs to be housed on wire flooring — pretty basic stuff. The passing of this act had the effect of closing down more than 1,000 commercial dog breeding operations; about 50% of the total. In the hearing for a preliminary injunction some commercial breeders made it clear that they would rather kill their dogs than comply with the new rule. (And tragically, some of them in fact did.) A lot of the evidence at the hearing is frankly sickening.

Dog Breeding “A Sector of Agriculture”

This is not to suggest that all MBPA breeders are monsters of callousness. I’m sure many genuinely feel that dogs are just another form of livestock and convinced that they should be treated as such. The Missouri Farm Bureau is heavily involved in the study; there are references making it clear that dog breeding is simply considered a “sector of agriculture.” Terms such as “professional dog breeding organizations and suppliers” (to pet shops, of course), “economic impact studies,” “operational income and expenses,” etc. make it clear that we’re not talking about fanciers who breed dogs as a hobby and invest all the money they have in making sure their dogs are happy and comfortable.

It turns out I was pretty naive thinking that AKC would not be involved in an organization like the MPBA. Instead of being thrilled that the commercial dog breeding business is losing ground and more states keep introducing a “no puppies in pet stores” policy, AKC has, according to informed active fanciers, poured “endless money” into trying to defeat the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act.

I was frankly confused. Many dog fanciers like me no doubt believe — regardless of any personal grievances we may have against AKC — that the organization that governs so much of our daily activity is basically a gathering of dog lovers. I decided it was time to get some answers from an official source and went straight to the top, writing to AKC Chairman of the Board Alan Kalter and AKC President Dennis Sprung.

This is what I wrote:

Hello Alan and Dennis,

I have been informed that AKC has made a substantial donation ($10,000) to help fund a study by the Missouri Farm Bureau/Missouri Pet Breeders Association into among other things how to recruit more commercial breeders, how “overregulation” has negatively impacted puppy mills/commercial breeders, how better to “educate public policy makers” about the importance of high volume dog breeders, etc. I found this difficult to believe but have checked the MPBA website, and it indeed appears to be correct. AKC is even listed as a major sponsor for a future MPBA get-together.

The above will obviously generate publicity, but before proceeding further I would like to ask you for a comment on AKC’s reasons for the donation and to know if the decision was subject to a Board decision? Were the AKC Delegates informed, and what was their reaction?

I would appreciate your comments as soon as possible.

Thank you.
Bo Bengtson

A Response From AKC

Let me interject that although I am not close friends with either Mr. Kalter or Mr. Sprung, I know them well enough to say hello and have conducted individual, in-depth interviews with both of them in the past few years.

That there was no direct response from either did not surprise me. It has happened before when sensitive questions were raised that the individuals with the most responsibility clam up and instead let somebody else do the talking.

In this case it was left to AKC’s polite and pleasant Public Relations Director, Hillary Prim, to answer my questions. To the best of my knowledge she is not a dog person; she joined AKC about a year ago. It is therefore difficult to believe that Ms. Prim can be held personally responsible for the contents of the email I received.

Here’s the response:

The AKC regularly sponsors activities in conjunction with various state breeder groups, including health clinics and testing, educational conferences and genetics and best practices symposia. In 2014, AKC is focusing on health testing at all meetings and conferences, including the Hunte conference in September of this year.

It is also important to make a determined distinction between your use of the term “puppy mills” and large scale kennels that are breeding with the dogs’ welfare top of mind. It is unfair and untrue to label all high volume breeders as “puppy mills.”

The Missouri Canine Industry Economic Impact Study, being performed by the University of Missouri and facilitated by the Missouri Farm Bureau Canine Interest Workgroup, originated in part because there are no credible statistics available in regards to what this breeder segment adds to the state’s economic engine. The AKC believes contributing to this study will assist our organization’s long-term goals to protect the future of all responsible purebred breeders and the purebred community. For example, the economic data resulting from the study will be used to educate public policy makers and the general public about the importance of
responsible breeders. AKC hopes this study will serve as a pilot program, encouraging breeders across the country to implement similar academic studies in their home states. The analysis may also serve as precursor to the examination of the regional economic impact of dog shows, helping to preserve the rights of AKC breeders nationwide.

Was the decision subject to a Board decision?
No – the Board provides staff with overall direction and decisions such as this require due diligence, not approval.

Were the AKC Delegates informed, and what was their reaction?

So there you have it. AKC “regularly” involves itself with what is called “state breeder groups” — what you or I may call puppy mill organizations. AKC makes it sound as if the focus is on health testing; this of course is not mentioned at all by MBPA and is also contradicted by the negligible support of health-related organizations in helping fund the study. The statement that this will help “responsible breeders” everywhere, even eventually have a positive effect on dog shows, is frankly incomprehensible. This seems like garbled logic in the extreme: how would helping puppy mills be good for responsible hobby breeders? Isn’t there an inherent conflict between the two camps?
Ms. Prim takes me to task for using the term “puppy mill” and feels I should make a distinction between them and “large scale kennels that breed with the dogs’ welfare top of mind.” Excuse me, but NO commercial kennel breeds with “the dogs’ welfare” as the primary consideration. If you did you would immediately cease to be commercial!

Stating the Obvious 

Let’s state the obvious: dogs should NEVER be bred as a commercial commodity. It is impossible to maintain a commercial dog-breeding operation and simultaneously keep the dogs’ welfare “top of mind” for the following reasons:

1. No commercial kennel can afford to hire enough qualified individuals to properly socialize a large number of dogs and puppies.
2. No commercial kennel can afford to perform the strict health testing required to maintain breeding stock that is certified clear of all hereditary defects.
3. All commercial kennels will be tempted to cut corners (and costs) when it comes to the dogs’ living quarters and general well-being — as vividly demonstrated in their objections to the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act.
4. No commercial kennel has the time and resources to weed out unsuitable puppy buyers. For the same reason, pet stores are obviously not a suitable avenue for puppy sales, and pet stores are a major outlet for commerical kennels.
5. No commercial kennel would willingly take back —and provide a refund for — a puppy whose owners tire of it or mistreat it.
It’s pretty straightforward: you should only breed dogs if it’s your life interest, your all-consuming hobby, a never-ending fascination. Not all hobby breeders take great care of their dogs, but most would walk through fire for them. Some hobby breeders make a short-term financial windfall once in a while, but most lose money — and dogs should NEVER be bred commercially!
It is also interesting to note that AKC’s board of directors is not consulted in questions of such importance as this. I wonder how many of the directors are even aware of all that’s done in AKC’s name. Certainly I would be surprised in more than an occasional AKC Delegate is aware of the donation.

Of course AKC needs all the registration income they can get: the numbers have been dropping for many years now. (A few years ago AKC stopped making the annual registration figures public, but at its peak in the 1990s more than 1.5 million dogs were registered per year. Now it’s reportedly less than 400,000.) Do those puppy mills register so many pupppies that it justifies AKC’s support of them? Isn’t their acitivity something that AKC, conversely, ought to condemn?

What was that AKC slogan again? “Not just Champion Dogs, but the Dog’s Champion.” Was that it? I wanted to be sure, so Googled the AKC website and entered it in the Search engine. It didn’t come up… I hope that’s just my bad luck and does not indicate a change in AKC’s priorities.