DEAR DR. FOX: The American Kennel Club is not, as you stated, "simply a registry issuing pedigree papers, essentially without policing the sources the dogs come from -- notably puppy mills."
The AKC registers dogs. We do not register kennels or breeders. We are not a government organization. We can address only situations surrounding dogs that are registered with us. The AKC is dedicated to the well-being of all dogs; it in no way condones or supports substandard care or "puppy mills." If we find anyone engaging in behavior detrimental to the health of any dog, we report them to the local authorities.
AKC's compliance department conducts thousands of inspections every year of breeders who register their litters and dogs with us. We have strict policies. Breeders must adhere (to them) for proper care and conditions of the dogs.
The AKC has several options for breeder education and health testing, which include our Bred with H.E.A.R.T (health, education, accountability, responsibility and tradition) program and various breeder education courses (akc.org/dog-breeders/bred-with-heart/). These courses are free and consistently occuring to provide breeders with the most up-to-date knowledge possible. -- Brandi Hunter, vice president of public relations and communications for The American Kennel Club, New York City
DEAR B.H: Thank you for clarifying the scope of the AKC's involvement in purebred dogs. When an AKC-registered puppy develops health issues that veterinarians have confirmed and consider to be of hereditary origin, who should the dog owner contact? Are these concerns thereafter passed to the breeder? What corrective measures are initiated? Is this data stored and available to the public, including scientists, veterinarians and prospective purchasers?
DEAR DR. FOX: To answer your question, if a person purchases a puppy and the dog has health issues, there are state laws that protect the consumer. They can report an improper practice that way. The AKC is not a government agency, and we cannot shut down a breeder, nor can we take dogs off property. We do, however, in any case where a dog(s) is in any danger or being treated improperly, report the breeder to local authorities and sanction them where necessary. We do our best to inspect breeders who register with us. Ethical breeding is our ultimate goal; however, breeders and their breeding practices are the responsibility of the breeder. -- Brandi Hunter
DEAR DR. FOX: After a horrible crisis in December with my Saint Bernard, "Mary," I found myself advocating alongside 22 victim families who purchased dogs from one woman in upstate New York.
Our case has snowballed, uncovering 38 disturbing issues with a breeder who had assumed 20 business names. Seventy-six percent of our issues are genetic abnormalities traced to one specific bloodline, which registered through the AKC. The issues include renal disease, congenital kidney abnormality, ciliary dyskinesia, fibrosarcoma, urinary incontinence, chronic urinary infections, vision loss, multiple Addison disease cases, aggression and double hip, elbow and knee dysplasia diagnosed at six months.
I phoned the AKC and spoke with someone in case management. I relayed, as a genealogist, the findings. We were greatly concerned of the troubled outcome with our dogs, and we felt a pattern was emerging on the family tree, but we needed help. I offered the registry numbers for parent dogs, as many of their pups were ill or had died. I inquired if the AKC offered medical testing on behalf of the breeder. The representative said, "The AKC does not maintain health records for registered dogs."
I wanted data on litters registered to one sire in particular. He was a prime suspect carrier for renal disease and potentially had fathered 200-plus dogs. The representative could not help, but she suggested forwarding a complaint. She was very clear that the AKC investigation department could review, but at best, only be able to inspect premises and note care of current breeding stock.
She didn't offer a database for owners to check breeder ratings, nor did she share the ability to reference credentials of the breeders who participated in programs such as Bred with H.E.A.R.T. There was no way she could provide assurance for me that our breeder was "in good standing," without complaint or had been scrutinized for state licensing.
Later, we found that this breeder had been unlicensed by all authorities for 11 years. All the while, she registered many litters with the AKC.
To whose benefit are programs such as Bred with H.E.A.R.T. if members are not vetted prior to accreditation? These programs mean nothing to the families who seek guidance with a breeder prior to purchasing or thereafter if we cannot source pertinent data. After our ordeal, we set up an unethical breeder awareness website for advocacy purposes at unethicalbreederawareness.com. Our story is displayed there. -- T.V., Howell, New Jersey
DEAR T.V.: You have my sympathy and support, as do all the people with dogs who have serious and costly hereditary diseases that might have been avoided by breeders following up on the health of the puppies they produce (called progeny testing). I urge all concerned readers with any purebred dog with health issues diagnosed by a veterinarian as probably hereditary in origin to contact your newly formed group, Unethical Breeder Awareness.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)