By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
New research conducted by our Stop Puppy Mills campaign reveals that the American Kennel Club, a purebred dog registry organization that used to call itself “the dog’s champion,” has opposed more than 450 bills that aimed to help pups since 2008. What’s more, its opposition has escalated, at the same time that dozens of AKC-linked breeders have appeared in our annual Horrible Hundred reports on problem puppy mills, and others have been charged with or convicted of animal cruelty.
When we began tracking the AKC’s opposition to humane legislation in 2008, we found that, through its government relations arm, the organization opposed at least 15 bills designed to help dogs in puppy mills, such as breeder licensing bills in Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Michigan and Virginia, and a bill in South Carolina to limit the amount of time dogs could be kept in small crates.
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In 2023, the AKC has opposed at least 26 proposed bills in just the first six months of the year. These included several humane pet store bills that would have stopped the sale of puppy mill puppies in pet stores, and bills that would help facilitate intervention to seize dogs in suspected animal cruelty situations. In addition, the AKC opposed:
- A bill in New York to prohibit debarking of dogs.
- A bill in Virginia that would require dogs to have continual access to water.
- A regulatory proposal in Oklahoma to allow the state’s department of agriculture to seize dogs from commercial breeders if it has reason to believe the health, safety or welfare of the animal is endangered.
- An ordinance in Knoxville, Tennessee, that would require owners to give dogs access to adequate exercise space, among other things.
- A bill on animal fighting in Georgia that would make it an offense to “possess, purchase, or sell ‘fighting related objects.’”
- The AKC even expressed concerns over a bill in Connecticut to prevent the sexual abuse of animals, claiming that it could interfere with their breeders’ artificial insemination practices.
In addition to opposing state and local laws, the AKC’s lobbyists have been making the rounds in the U.S. Congress to express opposition to humane laws at the federal level. One of their main targets is the Puppy Protection Act (H.R.1624), which would require U.S. Department of Agriculture-licensed breeders to provide dogs with better veterinary care, space to run and protection from extreme temperatures. The AKC is also pushing a problematic bill, the Healthy Dog Importation Act (H.R.1184/S.502), that is in line with their repeated attacks on animal rescue organizations. The bill could make it harder for rescues to save animals, expose them to liability for their lifesaving work, and potentially stall efforts requiring various agencies working together, including those that help animals in disaster, emergencies or cruelty investigations.
With the AKC drawing its income from the staggering quantity of puppies registered in its books, it’s no wonder why the organization habitually opposes laws designed to curb massive, irresponsible breeding, and is interfering with the good work of nonprofit animal rescues.
Despite the AKC’s established history of opposing animal protection laws, decision-makers in government often do not understand that the AKC is not an animal welfare organization, but a dog registry that profits from the mass production of puppies. Taking advantage of such misperceptions, AKC lobbyists mislead government leaders by claiming that the group self-inspects its breeders, when in fact most breeders who register with the AKC are not inspected, and many of the AKC’s “inspections” are primarily paperwork reviews. For example, the AKC’s “inspections” of Petland stores, parts of which HSUS investigators have filmed undercover, are not humane inspections: Instead, AKC representatives visit the stores to review their registration documents. But shoppers who see the “AKC inspected” signs in Petland’s stores are apt to wrongly infer from the signs that Petland’s puppies are all from AKC-inspected breeders.
Of course, some AKC-registered breeders are responsible, breed sparingly and take excellent care of their dogs. But the AKC has done little to address the bad apples among its registrants. Our Horrible Hundred reports have featured AKC-linked breeders who had underweight dogs, excessive roaches and feces and other egregious conditions.
We hope someday the AKC will join us in championing some basic common-sense laws to prevent animal cruelty. Until then, we will continue to educate the public about what AKC really stands for: protecting the profits of the puppy mill industry.
You can ask your representatives to co-sponsor the Puppy Protection Act, which would help save thousands of dogs from suffering.
Kitty Block is CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.