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Addressing AKC Financial Challenges

by Jonathan Jeffrey Kimes

There is no question that the dog fancy under the American Kennel Club umbrella is facing financial concerns.  For decades, the AKC was able to meet its fiscal needs through its ever growing registrations – registrations which were generously made up of puppies sold commercially through catalogs and pet stores.  Over time, the American Kennel Club, in an effort to retain a position of integrity in its registration system, began to require such things such as DNA profiles on frequently used breeding dogs.  The commercial breeders – the puppy mills – resented the burdensome oversight the AKC cast upon its customers and so the commercial breeders retaliated by developing their own registration systems.  As a result AKC registrations began to fall and it became very clear that the revenues generated by the registration of these milled puppies were an important cash stream.
We in the fancy were able to pretend we didn’t know of the criticality of this revenue stream and we viewed these commercial breeders as very undesirable concerns which deserved our disdain.  We have always understood that puppies sold through pet stores often end up in unsuitable homes living miserable lives, that certainly a percentage of them end up in shelters as their owners come to realize they are ill-equipped to successfully raise whatever breed they chose when they walked into a pet store.  As concerned and committed breeders we understand that buying a puppy cannot and should not be an impulse decision and that new owners often require the help and support that only a private breeder can provide.  We also understand that if the new puppy doesn’t fit into the household we will reclaim that not-so-cute adolescent or semi-untrained adult and apply our skill and knowledge to rehabilitate it and shelter it until a new, suitable home is found.  We don’t have the failure rate that pet stores have because we don’t sell our puppies to just anyone who comes knocking on our door.   And we keep our puppies until suitable homes are found.  Our very commitment to the welfare of our dogs guarantees we are not a profit center.  We are responsible citizens of society and do not shift our burden off to shelters or breed clubs who use member resources to shoulder the failures of others.   Many of us rejoiced when the puppy millers left and hoped that the labeling of “AKC Registered” would actually mean something substantive in the future beyond just paperwork processing. 

However, the “business” people at AKC have different ideas.  Without question, it is understood the financial structure of the AKC is not simply a direct relationship of registration processing so that when registration revenues go  down, the cost of supporting the American Kennel Club structure does not contract accordingly.  I don’t think anyone is lost on this situation.  What I do believe what is at contention is this notion that the only way to solve the financial problem is to encourage puppy millers.    I have a strong moral conviction for the health and welfare of all dogs and I am certainly neither willing nor able to passively sit by while the AKC pleads its case that partnering with puppy millers is in all our best interests. 

We must reconcile our moral and ethical stance with puppy milling.  The politics around this are astounding.  I recently read a manifesto which stated it was the “Animal Rightists” who turned ethical breeders away from puppy millers – and I am pointedly not going to use the euphemism “high volume breeder” which is tantamount to putting lipstick on a pig.  We must not forget the American Kennel Club is a congress of dog clubs.  I do not believe there is a single club amongst its ranks who allow its members to breed or sell dogs commercially.  These member clubs require its membership to attest to a Code of Ethics which wholly and completely focuses on the breeding of dogs for the pursuit of breed improvement and they set standards by which breeders maintain their dogs, how often they breed their dogs, and how those resultant puppies are placed in homes.  Not a single club permits its members to view dog breeding as a commercial venture.  Yet we allow the American Kennel Club to take this schizophrenic stance and not only permit commercial dog breeding, but we are being courted to encourage it.  We are being told to look the other way because our “sport” cannot survive if we are not willing to sacrifice the quality of life of thousands of unfortunate dogs.  This stance is absolutely sickening to me.  I stare in amazement as I read enthusiastic endorsements of this disgusting point of view.

If you have no “trouble” with the concept of commercial breeders then perhaps you need some factual information to help you process it.  It is the USDA which regulates commercial dog breeding in the United States and it sets “minimum” standards for the housing of these dogs.  In order to meet its requirements, it states that a dog which measures 11 inches long (from nose to tail) has to be kept in a kennel space which is no smaller than 2 feet by 2 feet.  Do you realize the USDA considers this kennel space to be sufficient so that this dog, in fact, is legally permitted to live the entirety of its life in a space 2 feet by 2 feet?  Do you understand that there is no requirement that such a dog EVER be walked or let outside of this cage?  For a large dog  of 54 inches in length the USDA considers it sufficient that such a dog live in perpetuity in a space which measures 7 feet by 7 feet.  This dog can legally be confined for life in this space.  If the miller has an “exercise plan” (which is unspecific by regulation) then dogs can actually be kept in smaller spaces.  No one, including the AKC, can legally require a dog to be kept in a space any larger than the minimum defined space.   Perhaps you should also know the largest distributor of puppies in the United States has over 85,000 puppies which pass through its facilities annually.   Perhaps you might also wish to know the USDA requires that not more than 1,000 pounds of animal carcass can be buried in a space of less than 1 acre and it has been reported distributors sometimes manage the carcasses of dead dogs and puppies by installing an incinerator on their property instead.   Do you still believe these commercial breeding establishments spend their resources and time to rehabilitate these dog-slaves when they are no longer capable of producing their product?  The fact remains they are killed and buried in trenches or incinerated.  

If, as fellow dog breeders, you do not feel a cold chill down your spine just thinking of this, then I have spent the entirety of my life around the wrong sort of people.    To me, the concept of supporting our interests on the backs of these hapless puppies and their unfortunate parents is immoral and unethical.  And yet people who have been dog breeders their whole lives will have you believe this is a reasonable solution.  Balderdash.  I find the concept of a church running a brothel to support its good works more palatable than this position.  

Let’s try a little harder, folks.  The pet industry will see sales of over $10 Billion in 2008.  And yet no one in the fancy can figure out an ethical way to support the dog fancy that doesn’t require the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of dogs?  The AKC is sitting on a veritable goldmine of information – it has the very makings of an extraordinary Internet business.  Can you imagine the possibilities for information if a subscription based, self-service reporting system were established – something far more creative than the current by-the-drink offerings currently there.  An ability to research breed standards over the years or  historical registration statistics; to create reports on judges on what dogs they had in the ring and what dogs they put up over the last 5 years per breed; or find out how many champions you’ve bred.  They could partner with some of the professional photographers to who have decades of valuable photographs that we would all like to peruse.  What about online library services to allow all of us to access those rare breed books?  The possibilities for content are endless.  What about topical articles or videos to help pet owners?  This mine of data could be the centerpiece of a portal that provides advertising to capture some of that $10 Billion dollars in revenues.   I rather think a good sized dent could be made in the income delta the good people at the AKC now think has to be filled with puppy mill registrations.

I implore this fancy to pull up its socks and stop supporting a revenue model from the 1950’s.  I realize there are arguments that puppy mills will always exist, that the AKC oversight may provide better inspections but I feel focusing on building an AKC brand that means “quality” and means “we care about dogs” is a more defensible long-term view.  We have many talented, connected, gifted members – all of whom should feel compelled to help the American Kennel Club work through this transition period.  Put your brains to work to help answer this challenge.  And let whatever path we end up taking not be paved with the unfortunate lives of commercially bred puppies.

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