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American Kennel Club (AKC)
Does It Have a Future? ll

graphic illustration of show dogs with top three winners

AKC dog registrations this decade declined more than 50% from the highs of the 1990s and in recent years, this non-profit organization has experienced budget shortfalls.

Before you decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing, you should understand what the AKC is and what it does.

The AKC is a registry of purebred dogs

That is its reason for existence. Keep in mind that the club started in 1884 when dog breeding and showing was an exclusive pastime of the wealthy and social.

Even in the 1950s, it was not unusual for a breed handler to carry a dog around the show ring because looks or conformance to breed appearance standards counted for everything.

This emphasis on appearance led to serious health problems. For instance, the Pekingese suffers breathing problems due to his flat face; Bulldogs usually have to be delivered by C-section because their heads are so big.

It's easy to be outraged now by that but think how much our attitudes in so many areas have changed over the years. For example, think how many more opportunities a female graduating from college has in 2013 compared to 1950.

One reason why breed registration is down is that there are some 30 competing registries. The AKC, however, is the only non-profit one. Many of the others were formed as marketing tools or profit-making 'diploma' mills. One registry was formed by a group of Midwestern breeders after they were expelled from the AKC.

The AKC also licenses dog shows and other events and supports numerous health programs and canine research.

Only breed clubs are members of the AKC

Want to join the AKC? You can't. Only breed clubs are members and they lobby, and sometimes oppose, AKC actions.

The breed clubs develop breed standards which the AKC then formally publishes (although the process is sometimes more contentious than this sentence would indicate).

In the 1990s, breed clubs and the AKC were pushed into including more temperament requirements in the standards and more inclusive individuals started to join the AKC board of directors.

Today, there are breed clubs that refuse to join the AKC because they fear the AKC would push the breed standard toward more personality than performance. This is especially a fear of working dog breed clubs.

The AKC is not a law enforcement agency

Animal rights activists and their tame press corp complain that the AKC doesn't do enough to prevent puppy mills and stop animal abuse.

The AKC employs inspectors to visit breeders but if a breeder refuses to allow an inspection, all the AKC can do is fine or expel the breeder from the club. If the AKC suspects there is abuse, it informs law enforcement agencies.

You can visit the AKC website yourself and look at the minutes of their monthly board of directors meetings. In one recent month, the AKC issued fines of several hundred to several thousand dollars and suspended one breeder for ten years.

Again, they are not law enforcement and if an expelled breeder wants to continue breeding, the AKC can only stop him from using the AKC name and registering his puppies.

The AKC needs money to operate

Some traditionalists in the dog world were unhappy when the AKC started licensing products but all kinds of products carrying the AKC logo are available in retail stores nationwide.

The club has opened events and programs to non-purebreds and any dog can be certified as Canine Good Citizen after passing an exam.

I don't understand, however, why making money from showing dogs is 'wrong' but making money from other professions is fine. The head of the Humane Society of the United States makes $248,000 a year, and I bet he thinks he's worth every penny.

The AKC has created the world's largest database of canine DNA through voluntary and mandatory programs. This database is used to track lineage and genetic identity.

This database has enabled the AKC's health foundation to identify DNA markers linked to specific diseases. Good breeders test their dogs and don't breed affected dogs.

Through an associated foundation, it makes substantial grants and awards to veterinary research projects and schools as well as to organizations such as women's shelters that accept pets and relief groups helping after disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm unaware of any research program that HSUS or PETA has funded to improve the health of future canines.

Attacks on the AKC are often politically motivated

Every year when New York hosts the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, you can count on the New York Times having a negative article on the AKC.

Animal rights activists use the lazy mainstream press to tarnish the AKC because it's one of the oldest, one of the most respected and one of the generally-recognized mainstream groups in America. Legislators listen to the AKC and its opinions are taken seriously.

Many animal rights groups call themselves 'mainstream' but they're lying. The AKC truly is mainstream, and it gets criticized for it from both ends of the political spectrum for it.

Some breeders and dog fanciers are unhappy when the AKC supports any piece of legislation while others object because the AKC isn't taking the initiative itself to propose legislation.

I've been a critic because I think the AKC is unwilling to take on other major players in animal legislation such as veterinarians or veterinary schools because it wants to retain mutually beneficial relationships with those power houses.

You can't please everyone and sometimes you can't please anyone.

The ugly truth

There is no one organization in the United States that is responsible to eradicate puppy mills and to ensure we have healthy, happy, sane puppies. The AKC does more to promote canine welfare than any other one organization I know.

I just hope we will be allowed to have pets in the future so there will be a reason for the AKC to still be in existence.

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