On the eve of the opening of the Westminster Dog Show, the American Kennel Club's most prestigious event, the New York Times examines the 129-year-old group's sorry stance on animal abuse.
Whether it is inspections of their breeders' kennels or active lobbying against humane legislation in statehouses across the country, including Pennsylvania, the AKC focuses on registration fees and ignores the humane treatment of the hundreds of thousands of dogs purported to come from the highest quality kennels, animal welfare advocates charge in the article published in today's Times.
Ed Sayres, the president and chief executive of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told the newspaper a majority of the commercial breeders in the raids that his group participated in had ties to AKC-registered litters.
“The irony to the consumer is that they’re paying a lot for a fake Rolex,” Sayres said. “These dogs are often coming from a genetically traumatic environment and had cruel treatment in a crucial part of their development.”
It wasn't too long ago that the Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs, which represents AKC breeders here, barred members from selling to pet stores and supported efforts to crack down on puppy mills.
But by the time the general public got behind Gov. Rendell'spush to set standards for high volume breeders (it was in fact the seizure of 336 dogs from a filthy kennel owned by AKC breeder Michael Wolf of Chester County in 2006 that sparked the first major outcry in Pennsylvania) the AKC was siding with some of the worst kennel operators in the state - most of whom are no longer in business thanks to the new law.
As enforcement efforts mounted, time and time again AKC breeders here as elsewhere were cited for running illegal kennels and animal cruelty.
In case after case, reported in this blog, no AKC breeder has spoken out to me against abusive and neglectful conditions, even after breeders were convicted. Nor did they express compassion for the voiceless victims, even as cash-strapped rescues and shelter groups mobilized to save them.
Worse, animal advocates say, the AKC, in its quest for registration dollars, is actively courting puppy mills with appearances at events and big ads in the industry publication, Kennel Spotlight.
Last summer the Humane Society of the United States released a report calling on the American Kennel Club to reverse course and support efforts to protect dogs from the worst abuses at puppy mills.
The report also criticizes AKC for pandering to the interests of large-scale, commercial breeding facilities rather than serving smaller-scale, high-quality breeders who make up the majority of AKC.
Just last month ahead of the AKC National Championships, HSUS again urged the AKC to take a stand against puppy mills after the conviction of a Montana breeder in one of the largest cases of AKC puppy mill abuse in history.
At the 2009 AKC National Championships, at least one of the dogs competing was bred by that AKC breeder, Mike Chilinski, who argued that his kennel had been subject to AKC inspections. Law enforcement officers testified they found about eight dead adult dogs and numerous dead puppies on the breeder’s property, and dozens of his surviving dogs were severely malnourished. Records show that 145 of the 161dogs rescued from the property were underweight, with many severely undernourished.
In November two AKC breeders from Monroe County, in northeastern Pennsylvania were convicted of animal abuse after 54 dogs and 20 miniature horses, many of them sick and starving, all living in squalor. Julie Forsyth and Dan Sweeny, who had a prior animal cruelty conviction in Florida, also were found been running an illegal kennel - two years after they were warned by Pennsylvania dog law officials to downsize or get a license.
Yet today, Forsyth remains under "temporary referral" status, according to an AKC spokeswoman, which means that the person "should not breed, sell, or transfer dogs with the expectation AKC paperwork will be provided."
Earlier this month AKC breeders in Virginia and New York were charged with cruelty after law enforcement officials found dozens of dogs living in filth.
Among the legislation the AKC is opposing in Pennsylvania and elsewhere is one that would require those charged with animal cruelty to either relinquish their animals or pay for the cost of their care during the legal proceedings.
The AKC contends the act of paying for food, shelter, medical needs and socializing of a single animal or dozens of animals be they dogs, cats, horses or other pets removed from a dangerous or inhumane situation until a trial concludes would unfairly penalize those not yet convicted of any crime.