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Features December 2013 Issue

Does the American Kennel Club Enable the Proliferation of Puppy Mills?

Some say that people’s desire for purebred dogs leads to the creation of puppy mills, large commercial breeding operations with too many bitches and too many puppies to be handled humanely, all for the purpose of producing particular breeds of dogs for those who want, say, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel or other type of dog unmixed with any other breed. The upshot: puppies who are treated like merchandise rather than as the sentient beings they are, spending their earliest weeks and even months in cages and living in inhumane conditions until they are shipped for sale. By that point, say animal advocates, they have lost their best opportunity for learning how to be properly socialized to live in a world with people and other dogs. As a result, they may spend their lives either scared or too aggressive, and may even be sent to a shelter when it is found that they do not fit well in a human home.

In point of fact, there are breeders who run large commercial breeding operations inhumanely, working to make a profit off purebred dogs even if that means the dogs are warehoused like unsold merchandise until adoption and are therefore way behind the 8 ball when it comes to acclimating to life with a family.

But that is not the fault of the AKC. In fact, the organization works against irresponsible breeding practices by saying that for any breeder to be registered by the organization, its breeder must follow the AKC’s Care and Conditions Policy. Among the requirements: all dogs should have access on a daily basis to play and exercise; dogs should be provided with daily positive human contact and socialization; each dog should have its overall health and behavior assessed daily; dogs should be afforded regular grooming to ensure health and comfort; and a sufficient number of staff must be available to provide appropriate levels of care and proper conditions for the number of dogs kept. It is due to these regulations that many commercial breeders no longer register with the AKC, opting for other registries that have no care or inspection requirements.

One thing the AKC does not insist on is limiting the size of a breeding operation, and that’s the “slippery slope part,” says Emily McCobb, DVM, director of the Shelter Medicine Program at Tufts’s veterinary school. “A lot of people think that” to ensure that breeding operations remain humane, “they should limit their size.”

In addition, says Dr. McCobb, “I don’t know how enforceable AKC’s standards are.” There are so many breeders around the country — too many for the AKC to inspect (although AKC field inspectors have conducted more than 45,000 inspections nationwide since 2000, according to its published materials). But even the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whose job it is to ensure that kennels comply with the country’s Animal Welfare Act, cannot keep up.

This is not to say that Dr. McCobb or Tufts is anti-breeder or anti-AKC, which cannot possibly take on the task of making sure that every breeder across the country is operating a humane operation. Like the AKC, she says, “we view the breeder as an important stakeholder in a dog’s health. Most breeders want to do the right thing by their animals. We want to partner with them to have healthy dogs that get along with people. All of us in the dog world share a responsibility for educating the consumer on what constitutes the right establishment from which to adopt a pet.”

One thing all invested in the best dog-human relationships agree on — and this would help prevent irresponsible, large-scale breeders from staying in business — is that puppies should not get shipped to new owners sight unseen. “Go see how the puppy’s being raised,” Dr. McCobb advises. “Meet the mother. If it’s a broker or shelter the puppies have been shipped to, go see the dog in person before making a decision. See how much information they have on the dog’s life before it arrived there, on the lives and personalities of its parents.”

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