AKC High Volume Breeders
An Exclusive Interview with Susan Hamil, AKC Committee Member
Part One or jump to Part Two
Press: Why do you suppose there was such an unprecedented reaction to Denny Kodner’s Dog News column?
SH: "Because we in the fancy are critical of commercially bred dogs for being of poor quality and we see that difference as a way to separate us from them. We are striving to improve the breed and are very emotionally invested in our dogs and we see the commercial breeders as dollar driven and uncaring. Yet, if no one with good/better dogs will breed to them how are they supposed to improve type and temperament?" I don't think we in the Fancy want them to have better dogs because we like that separation and like most people in the Fancy I'm a bit of a control freak about my dogs. I never sell pet puppies without spay/neuter agreement as well as limited registrations nor do I breed my stud dogs to bitches outside. I rarely sell show dogs outside my group of friends and long time co owners because I couldn't control where the dogs go or what happens to them. So although from a strictly stockman's point of view, Denny's suggestion was a very practical solution to a valid criticism of the commercial breeding industry. The firestorm it touched off in the Fancy illustrates how much we are invested in keeping ourselves separate from "them". I don't want to participate in it and I don't believe it is the Fancy's responsibility or obligation to participate in it and certainly no one on the HVBC or at the kennel club is suggesting that the Fancy participate in it.
“I believe the commercial interests will import better stock if they can't find it here; they certainly have the money and staff to accomplish this, especially with the influence of the Internet, and if they believe it will give them an economic advantage they will do it."
Press: The threat of competition is inherent in our reactions to Denny’s comments.
SH: "That’s true and the Fancy has taken a dramatic shift from those days of large kennels as was the custom of the top kennels fifty/sixty years ago. We are what we say we are, hobby breeders who do this for the love of dogs. So I think that’s why many of us feel threatened by the commercial breeders who have at their disposal immense quantities of money, political power, time and facilities. No wonder we feel threatened with AKC’s dialog with them. They are our competition for good pet puppy homes!
"We are trying to maintain breeding kennels with very small numbers and sometimes that is difficult when you want to bring something back into your line or make an improvement and you don’t have first hand knowledge because you can’t have those dogs in your own possession. And over the years we talked ourselves into saying well one of the criteria of a good breeder is that you don’t breed very much. You breed small numbers and you only breed for yourself. We have other jobs, we don’t derive our income from dogs so we can’t manage a large number of dogs as effectively as a commercial breeder."
Press: Well that being so, do you see this as the demise of the small hobby breeder?
SH: "Oh no, in fact one of the reasons I wanted to be on the committee is that I have been involved in rescue since 1978. We rescue 25 to 30 Bloodhounds every year because we were concerned about the animal rights movement and we realized the dogs coming out of the shelters were reproductively intact. The point is we started rescue because we felt we were the experts in Bloodhounds and who else was going to do this? That’s how I feel about the Fancy and the AKC. We are the experts. We know more about dogs than anyone else and we should be the people that the public goes to for information.
"So having said that, I think in the last few years the AKC has really gone forward in trying to give the Fancy the tools that we need. They formed the Canine Health Information Center, every other year we have the Parent Club Conferences, so more than ever AKC is providing information to help the Fancy. So along with encouraging proper care and conditions and authenticity of parentage, we’ve also developed ways for people to get better and more accurate information about dogs. I think its also interesting that we have an Investigations Department, we have a Judge's Department and a Special Services department, but we don't have a Breeder's Department. It is important to have a department dedicated to fulfilling the needs of the hobby breeder. Pat Laurens' efforts to initiate breeder's education conferences was hugely successful in California and evidenced a great interest among the Fancy."
Press: From the show breeders perspective it seems the AKC has become very compartmentalized. Is there any liaison between the high volume breeders committee and other departments of AKC? For instance it would seem that it would have to be a very close relationship between compliance department and the committee.
SH: "Well one of the reasons for me being on this committee is that I have been involved in all aspects of the sport but I knew nothing about commercial breeders. I only know what we see on TV and I see their dogs come through rescue so I wanted to learn more about this. The Fancy in general tends to be reactive. The reaction to Denny Kodner’s column is an example. So it’s great for everyone to say let’s get them out, let’s shut down the commercial kennels, as though we had the power to put them out of business. They are doing very well with their own registries and we are still rescuing their dogs!"
Press: Let me ask you the question which is on most everyone’s mind. Why does AKC need the commercial breeders? People say AKC should “let them go some place else!” Most will never clean up their act no matter what we do so why not just let them “go away?” It seems farfetched to expect AKC is going to force education or compliance on these puppy millers so maybe we should take the advantage of having AKC papers away from them and just let them go their own way.
SH: "Well first let me deal with the perception that this committee is somehow going to lower standards for everyone in order to accommodate the high volume breeders. That has never, ever been on anyone’s mind at all. In fact, we have actually raised the standards for parentage and identification, and if we continue to raise those standards it will eliminate a lot of these commercially bred dogs from the AKC registry. So what does that mean to AKC down the road? Lower income? Certainly from fewer registrations. Prestige from numbers? So there will be fewer AKC dogs, do we care? Can we raise the bar and attach real meaning to "AKC" registered? Yes! But how about our continued ability to influence good things for dogs in general and purebred dogs in particular? How about our ability to continue the tradition and philosophy of our sport and the purposes for which our dogs were developed? That could be in real question if we try to exclude large numbers of purebreds from our registry based solely on arbitrary standards and numbers rather than performance and behavior.
"Those commercial folks will still be there, I at least, will still be rescuing their Bloodhounds and the Fancy will still be on the receiving end of condemnation and legislation from animal rights groups."
Press: It would mean that AKC the Good Housekeeping Seal. It would mean that they don’t approve of nor want the carelessly bred dog to have AKC registration. It would mean that AKC cannot bear the thought of commercial kennels breeding a bitch to death and then murdering her when her productive life is at an end. What breeders are concerned about is that those places are shiny and pretty but what goes on behind the scenes and what happens to those animals when there usefulness is gone. How do we deal with that?
SH: "You’re right, we don’t want to be involved in that and we don’t want to think about it. You see, that is the answer. It is not will AKC do it but how will AKC do it? In other words, if you can’t get them on care and condition, and you can’t get them out because of problems on registration matters, and their dogs look like the breed they are supposed to look like, then what criteria could AKC put into place that would exclude them? We currently have no other criteria that could exclude them. So what criteria could that be if that was what the AKC decided to do? To what standards are we willing to hold ourselves accountable?"
Part Two (High Volume Breeder Committee Interview Continued)
Press: Well what about two-tiered registration? Show Breeders want to know why commercially bred puppies have the same certificate of authenticity and quality as a puppy from a top show kennel. Susan, we’re out here proving the quality of our dogs and commercial breeders are not, yet AKC puts equal value on those dogs. Maybe the tiers could be based on whether or not a dog has been brought out in public and been accessed by an AKC licensed judge. Maybe it should gain at least one point as a stamp of approval compared to those dogs that are produced from parents who are not in any way proven to be of breeding quality. AKC has the right to say “if you want to get a gold edged certificate then you have the responsibility to show that you are willing to invest the time, effort, research and whatever it takes to publicly prove this dog is of stable temperament and can see and walk!
SH: Well, those are good points and it’s a problem that we in the Fancy have always had. I’ve been very involved in legislation in CA and I can tell you, we can’t find a way to separate us from them. In the public’s mind, the veterinarian’s mind and certainly in the minds of the law maker’s, we have not been able to come up with anything conclusive that defines us or them except for numbers and the animal right's groups are persuading the legislators to lower that number every day. In California we first agreed with 60 dogs being commercial and just recently the state legislature lowered it to around 20 and only three litters a year. Now, if you are a hobby breeder of toys, you could be considered commercial even if half your dogs were spayed and over the age of eight!
Press: OK so what would be wrong with saying if you want the gold certificate, you have to put your dog in the AKC show ring and prove that it is an acceptable representation of its breed.
SH: Well I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all and that’s one of the recommendations that the committee is looking at. We are trying to look at the whole picture. Unfortunately the focus, at least in the way the public sees it, has gotten to be on the commercial kennel. That’s why we had to go and see first hand what goes on. I certainly didn’t want to see dogs in cages and in bad conditions, so we really had to visit the "state of the art" places, I had to know, I had to see them first hand. I’m also interested in the retail end of it because that’s where a lot of other problems are too. For instance, what authority does AKC have at the retail end of it? What could AKC do to put a program in place that would have a beneficial impact? We need to find out what this whole process is so when they take you to places like Hunte Corporation, of course you are not going to get past the numbers, that’s what breaks our heart no matter how healthy or well socialized the dogs might be, but that is part of our mission, to study this whole problem. Instead of making reactive decisions, we need to find out exactly what we are dealing with and not just rely on TV or the myths. We need to have a plan, we need to be able to say we’re going to do this now and in two years we’re going to do this and in another year we’re going to do that instead of just reacting without having a firm idea of the long-range implications for the fancy, the AKC and of course the welfare of the dogs.
We need to get more programs in place for the Fancy so they can do the best job that they can and can remain much more than competitive with the commercially bred dogs. We need to devote the resources of AKC to supporting the Fancy in terms of conformation and performance events, education and health research. We need to make it abundantly clear that no one is ever considering lowering the standards of achievement or compliance and as you mentioned, the two tier registration system may be something to look at. If anything, we’re going to raise the standards but we also have to consider the fact, OK, what if we raise them and then what if the commercial meet those higher standards? Then what?
Press: That’s all true and I think we are beginning to understand the committee’s work but the compelling comparison is that good breeders take care of our dogs, we love them, we keep them in our homes and we care for them through-out their lives. The commercial kennels do not. If they want to remain part of the AKC system and use that marketable piece of paper, they should provide a certain percentage of each dollar of profit toward establishing a foundation or a place where those bred-out dogs can be housed and cared for, for the rest of their natural life. That isn’t to say they have to be in a private home, many of them would be too stressed in that situation, but they could certainly be cared for in a clean, healthy environment comparable to what we would hope they have been in while they were making puppies. I think at least that might be a step and it would be one thing that breeders and decent people could say well, OK, I could live with that. If we just knew that those dogs were not being murdered as soon as they become infertile.
Long pause…. the question pained Susan deeply. She sighed…
SH: “Well that’s right so that we know they are being cared for and not just treated like some form of non-companion livestock. That’s something we might consider. That is the purpose of the committee, to explore all areas of possible solutions to some of these very unpleasant problems. At least we are looking in all the dark corners and we are trying to come up with ways to protect the dogs and improve the conditions of their daily lives.
There is a Calif. bill that has passed one committee hearing that requires that everyone who has sold twenty dogs or had two litters (so if you are a toy breeder and you have two puppies from two litters you will be subject to this too) every dog has to be microchipped and you have to be registered as a breeder with animal control and each puppy buyer has to be registered with animal control. Animal control knows who you’re selling them to and where puppies are going and which puppy has which microchip. And if you fail to do that the fine is $5000. We need the AKC'c assistance and influence with this. Their Legislative Department was helpful in getting other interests involved and putting information up on the website and contacting the Fancy. If we do reduce the number of dogs registered with AKC and only the Fancy supports registration, we may loose our ability to reach and influence greater numbers of just regular dog owners in our data base, veterinarians, trainers, etc who can help us fight this type of restrictive legislation."
Press: Puppy mills probably wouldn’t mind divulging that information and they certainly are accustomed to doing paperwork where as the average breeder isn’t...
SH: That’s scary and you were talking about giving away rights. What else is this? Giving away private information on your puppy buyers!?
Press: I’m shocked and even though we’re on AKC’s PR list, this is the first I’ve heard of this bill. AKC needs to spend ten times their two and a half million dollar budget in getting the news out and fighting such threatening legislation.
SH: Well that’s right, AKC needs to be building bridges and establishing relationships and a more cooperative attitude between the veterinarians and the many other professions that can help or hurt us in the public relations arena. The AKC has just put it's Veterinary Outreach Program up on the website. I think this is a much needed program that can really help the veterinary community better understand the AKC, the Fancy and purebred dogs.
Press: Yes, we all have 20/20 hindsight and if AKC had used it’s vast resources more wisely perhaps we would not be in the public relations crunch that AKC and show breeders find ourselves in now.
SH: Well, it may be a little late but it’s never too late to start and that’s what AKC is really putting it’s resources towards. That’s why this committee is so important because there are so many aspects to it and to the work we are doing. You know, it’s the unintended consequence of your action that you really have to be careful of. At least we are looking at the problems and AKC thought enough and was aware enough of the problem to appoint this committee to address it. Any recommendations the committee brings to the AKC Board will be most helpful in determining the future direction of the AKC. It will affect not only its size and scope in registration matters, but what those decisions will effect our sport and our dogs as well as the future of purebred dogs in the United States.
Press: Yes, my understanding is that the committee is exploring areas that have never been addressed before. You are shining a bright light in dark corners that none of us have wanted to admit were there.
SH: Exactly! We’re really trying to get facts instead of relying on myth. We are trying to take a new look at what all these things mean to us but never, never at any point in our fact finding has anyone on the committee or with AKC ever suggested lowering the standard. Someone wrote a suggestion that AKC was going to strike up a relationship with the commercial breeders, lower the standards, and register all their dogs! Nothing could be further from the truth! Never, ever has that been the case.
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