The nation's oldest and largest dog breed registry has opposed scores of legislative initiatives across the country aimed at improving the welfare of dogs, including a federal bill to crack down on Internet puppy sellers, according to a report released Monday by the Humane Society of the United States.
In the past five years the American Kennel Club has lobbied against 80 measures in a number of states, including bills requiring dog breeders to comply with basic care standards, banning 24/7 dog chaining, outlawing debarking without a medical reason and making it illegal to leave a dog in a hot car, the report found.
The report contends that the AKC allowed puppy mill operators charged with animal cruelty to continue to sell dogs and gave passing inspections to filthy, overcrowded kennels later raided by humane rescue teams.
“The American Kennel Club bills itself as ‘The Dog’s Champion,’ but our report shows a pattern of activity that is entirely at odds with that self-description,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the HSUS. "We are shocked that a group that should be standing shoulder to shoulder with us is constantly lined up with the puppy mill industry."
The American Kennel Club said in a statement that it has inspected more than 55,000 kennels nationwide since 2000 and has sanctioned breeders who do not comply, as well as worked with government authorities in pursuing civil and criminal sanctions.
But HSUS said the AKC has "attempted to deflect independent regulation of large-scale breeders on grounds that it maintains an internal kennel inspections program, but standards for the program are unclear and its results unpublished."
The HSUS report reveals that some puppy mills inspected by AKC were the subject of law enforcement-led rescues and that facility operators were later convicted of animal cruelty because of the poor conditions of their dogs.
(The report does not touch on the enormous expense of rescuing and caring for hundreds of these AKC- registered dogs seized in these kennel raids.)
The AKC said it "supports legislation to strengthen enforcement and increase penalties for canine cruelty and neglect."
But HSUS points out the group in fact took stands against many legislative initiatives to combat cruelty, including bills setting more humane standards for care and housing of dogs in puppy mills that were enacted in Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Washington and other states. One state that has seen growth of puppy mills and subsequent abandonment of scores of breeding dogs is West Virginia, a state that already suffers from pet overpopulation, poverty and a lack of veterinarians. Here's how the AKC describes its legislative victory there:
West Virginia – Senate Bill 406 would have imposed numerous regulations on "commercial dog breeders", which was defined as anyone who "maintains" eleven or more intact dogs over one year of age and breeds dogs exclusively as household pets. The AKC opposed several provisions, including arbitrary care and conditions requirements and a 50-dog ownership limit. As amended by the Senate, the bill exempted anyone who keeps or breeds dogs "for the purpose of herding or guarding livestock animals, hunting, tracking or exhibiting in dog shows, performance events or field and obedience trials..." The AKC believed, however, that these exemptions were vague and may not have truly protected hobbyists. The AKC issued numerous Legislative Alerts and letters of concern and also worked closely with concerned dog owners in opposition. SB 406 passed the Senate and was held in the House Judiciary Committee. Read more about this win for West Virginia breeders.
HSUS urged the AKC to reverse course and support efforts to protect dogs from abuses in puppy mills rather than "pander to the interests of large scale commercial breeding facilities."
The report traces the shift in philosophy by the AKC, largely supported by the number of dogs it registers, to the 1990s when commercial kennels boycotted the group and competing registries sprung up. Today the AKC participates in commercial breeder conferences and advertises prominently in the commercial kennel industry publication, Kennel Spotlight.
In Pennsylvania, the AKC did not take an outright position against the overhaul of the dog law in the years leading up to its passage in 2008, but it still worked to weaken the legislation, said Tom Hickey, a member of the Governor's Dog Law Advisory Board, who was one of the most vocal advocates for the bill.
"We knew they weren't an ally," said Hickey. who addressed a breeders group during the debate over the legislation. "I told them the train had left the station and was moving too fast and they reluctantly got on board."
Most recently, AKC has been lobbying breeders to oppose a proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture rule that would regulate Internet puppy sellers not currently covered under the federal Animal Welfare Act, the HSUS report said. The Animal Welfare Act now only regulates kennels that sell to pet stores, but the rise of the Internet has led to an explosion of kennels and brokers dealing dogs online many of which are subject to no inspections or standards of care. (Among the websites advertising Pennsylvania-bred puppies by licensed and unlicensed kennels are www.greenfieldpuppies.com and www.lancasterpuppies.com.)
The AKC described the regulations as "onerous," even though the proposal includes exemptions for breeders with fewer than five breeding female dogs as well as breeders who sell only to buyers they meet in person.
"Because of our long history and breadth of experience in advancing the care and conditions of dogs, we know that regardless of the number of dogs owned or the manner in which breeders interact with potential puppy buyers, a “one size fits all” breeder regulation is unfair and unenforceable and not in the best interest of dogs and consumers in the this country," the AKC said in a statement.
"The AKC has expressed its concerns about the proposed USDA regulations because the hobby breeder who raises puppies in their home will be impacted in the same way as the large scale commercial internet puppy seller. The AKC believes it is neither the intent of the Animal Welfare Act nor USDA to place such an unfair burden on small, hobby breeders."
That was the same rationale the AKC used to "raise concerns" about the Pennsylvania dog law. While the tougher standards have led to mass closures of commercial kennels here which refused to upgrade, the numbers of small kennels remains the same.
Three dozen breeders have lost privileges in Pennsylvania since 2002, (most often suspended for 10 years) including some of the largest and most notorious puppy mill operators. Among them, Nathan Myer who closed his 800-dog kennel in Lancaster County after the passage of the dog law.
What role the AKC played in obtaining any of the Pennsylvania cruelty charges is unclear. The cruelty and dog law violation cases that I am familiar with, the AKC has told me was unaware of the charges.
Among the Pennsylvania AKC breeders found guilty of animal cruelty were Lehigh County residents James Deppen and Mimi Winkler, who operated Judges Choice of Ironwood kennel until their kennel license was revoked by the state. Winkler moved to New York and continues to judge AKC shows.