Environment

Worst in Show: The Dark Truth Behind the Westminster Dog Show

The American Kennel Club has aligned itself with cruel puppy mills and opposes laws that protect dogs.

Photo Credit: Debby Wong/Shutterstock

Every year, breeders and trainers gather in New York for the Westminster Dog Show to celebrate the beauty and grace of purebred dogs. It's a delightful event for any dog lover. But investigations have repeatedly shown that one of the major players at Westminster is not what the public imagines it to be.

Dogs competing for Best in Show at Westminster are registered with the American Kennel Club, which holds itself out as “the dog’s champion.” But in fact, the AKC regularly fights laws designed to stop puppy mills. And in recent months, two former AKC "Breeders of Merit"—who had just passed their AKC inspections—were reportedly found to be keeping dogs in dismal conditions.

The AKC is sustained by fees breeders pay to register puppies.

When the Humane Society of the United States' 2012 report was published, the AKC had opposed more than 80 different laws around the country that would protect dogs from puppy mills. Since then, that number has climbed to more than 150.

The AKC even opposed a North Carolina bill modeled after the AKC's own care and conditions policy for breeders.

Through its political action committee, the AKC has funneled thousands of dollars in donations to some of the most aggressively anti-animal welfare politicians in the country. Simply put, the more dogs registered with the AKC, the richer the organization gets. The organization's PAC then fights many laws that would protect dogs.

The AKC says it inspects its high-volume breeders. But the cases of those former "Breeders of Merit" indicate its inspection system is broken. One breeder pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges. The other sold more than 100 AKC King Charles Cavalier spaniels at a dog auction in the heart of puppy mill country, just as public complaints began to mount about her dogs’ living conditions.

If you don't understand why a group that claims to support dogs would fight legislation cracking down on puppy mills, just follow the money. The more puppies high-volume breeders produce and then register with the AKC, the better for the AKC's bottom line.

This isn't a new problem. In 2012, an AKC “champion” malamute breeder was charged with animal cruelty after 161 emaciated and diseased malamutes were found on his property. Under oath, he testified he felt confident he was obeying all laws and the stricter AKC rules, since an AKC inspector had twice recently found him to be in compliance. He was convicted of 91 counts of animal cruelty, and sentenced to 30 years in prison with 25 suspended.

Many of the AKC-registered pups sold at pet stores and online later turn out to be sick or have expensive, painful genetic defects. The same is true for other dog registration organizations, such as APRI (America’s Pet Registry, Inc), the CKC (Continental Kennel Club) and others. But because the AKC and its member clubs sponsor many Best in Show competitions such as Westminster, many consumers are duped into thinking AKC papers denote a healthy, well-treated animal.

It’s gotten so bad some breed clubs have even fought AKC recognition of their breed because they don’t want to see the dogs exploited like a cash crop. While AKC once prioritized the protection and quality of purebred dogs, it has now hitched its operations and fundraising to high-volume breeders. These days, AKC papers guarantee nothing in terms of animal care—nothing about a dog’s health, quality, behavior or even whether the pup’s parents were kept in humane conditions.

It’s clear that the AKC has aligned itself with the puppy mills that cause so many problems for dogs in our society.

We hope that the organization will one day shift its focus to supporting humane, quality breeders. But in spite of rhetoric about caring for the health and welfare of dogs, it’s been moving in the opposite direction. The AKC may be the largest and richest dog registry in America, but it can no longer lay claim to being "the dog's champion."

That's why we're giving the AKC our Worst in Show award. We hope they'll perform better in the future.