In what could become a nasty dogfight, the Humane Society of the United States alleged today that the American Kennel Club is thwarting efforts to prevent animal cruelty by blocking laws that would crack down on so-called "puppy mills, and is also blocking a new federal law that would greatly expand inspections of breeders who sell dogs over the internet.
"This is one of the most important dog welfare reforms of the decade, and AKC is opposing it," Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the US, told ABC News.
In a 13-page report called "The American Kennel Club: No Longer 'The Dog's Champion?'," the HSUS accuses the world's largest purebred dog registry, which collects membership fees from thousands of dog breeders, of blocking laws across the country that would crack down on puppy mills – and affect the AKC's members.
"When we added it all up, we learned that the AKC has opposed 80 state and local proposals to crack down on puppy mills," said Pacelle. "That's a shocking pattern of behavior for an organization that says it's focused on the health of dogs."
"Puppy mills" are large-scale dog-breeding facilities that provide puppies to pet stores across the country and for sale via the internet directly to consumers. Many belong to the AKC and produce AKC-registered purebred puppies. The Humane Society says that many puppy mills have substandard living conditions that create health and behavior problems in dogs.
The Humane Society also charges the AKC with trying to stop a proposed change to the federal Animal Welfare Act that would make breeders who sell puppies over the internet subject to regular health and safety inspections by the U.S. Dept of Agriculture.
The Animal Welfare Act currently requires USDA inspections of breeders but does not require inspections of pet stores, based on the old-fashioned "how much is that doggie in the window" method of dog-buying, in which consumers could see the conditions in the stores where they bought their puppies. The rule was drafted before the advent of the internet, which has now become a significant resource for consumers purchasing both purebred and mixed-breed dogs.
The proposed rule would still exempt physical "retail pet stores" from inspection, but would close a loophole via which internet dog breeders had also classified themselves as "retail pet stores." Any breeder with more than four breeding females would become liable to inspection. The change would add thousands of internet breeders, many of them selling AKC-registered purebreds, to the list of breeders subject to USDA inspection and oversight.
In a press release announcing the proposed rule, the USDA described the move as primarily designed to ensure the proper treatment of animals: "By revising the definition of retail pet store to be better suited to today's marketplace, we will improve the welfare of pets sold to consumers via online, phone and mail-based business."
Yet the AKC – which bills itself on its website as "The Dog's Champion" – has opposed the proposed changes.
"The AKC supports legislation to strengthen enforcement and increase penalties for canine cruelty and neglect," said the AKC in a statement to ABC News. "The AKC has expressed its concerns about the proposed USDA regulations because the hobby breeder who raises puppies in their home will be impacted in the same way as the large scale commercial internet puppy seller. The AKC believes it is neither the intent of the Animal Welfare Act nor USDA to place such an unfair burden on small, hobby breeders."
"Because of our long history and breadth of experience in advancing the care and conditions of dogs, we know that regardless of the number of dogs owned or the manner in which breeders interact with potential puppy buyers, a 'one size fits all' breeder regulation is unfair and unenforceable and not in the best interest of dogs and consumers in the this country."
Both the AKC and HSUS are encouraging consumers to voice their opinions on the proposed rule, which is supposed to take effect later this year and is open to public comment through July 16.