Posts tagged dog breeders

Extended Interview with Forrest Lucas about ‘The Dog Lover’ Film

https://youtu.be/zwNtpzex0eY

This morning, Dogster published my review of “The Dog Lover,” a new film based on the true story of a hunting-dog breeder in South Dakota whose dogs were seized in a puppy mill raid aided by the Humane Society of the United States. The film has received mixed reviews, including from The Hollywood Reporter (“this propaganda piece seems bound to infuriate the very animal lovers to which it’s attempting to appeal”) and RogerEbert.com (“shamelessly manipulative on several levels”).

Everything those reviewers wrote is true—this movie is a one-sided take on an issue that is bound to infuriate many dog lovers—but the reviewers don’t understand the context in which this film was made, or its deep importance to anyone trying to understand both sides of the “puppy mill” issue that is raging all across America today.

As I wrote in my Dogster review of the film, I believe everyone who cares about dogs needs to watch it: “The breeders need to see that their voice is being amplified within the current media climate, while the rescuers need to see how they often come across to those they believe should change their ways.”

I also believe anyone who can’t understand why the film exists needs to read the following Q&A with its executive producer, Forrest Lucas. He spoke with me for more than an hour before I wrote my review.

Here are some excerpts from our conversation—which, fair warning to you, contains movie spoilers. While I do not agree with everything Lucas says, I agree completely with his underlying notion that only one side of the debate usually gets fair media coverage. That’s why I’m publishing this Q&A as a companion piece to my review of “The Dog Lover” movie on Dogster, which I also hope you’ll read.

You also may want to visit the official website of “The Dog Lover” film.

 

The Dog Lover movieQ: Was the original name of the movie changed?

A: When we were making it, we called it “The Wrong Side of Right,” but it didn’t tell anything about the story, so they came up with a list of names about dogs.

 

Q: How did “The Dog Lover” come to be?

A: This started in 2000, when the HSUS came to the state of Missouri. They came in with this term “puppy mill,” which meant “the bad guys.” I have a 16,000-acre cattle ranch here in Missouri. I found out about it only a few days ahead of time, because one of my cowboys called. He saw a sign on a highway.

What the voters saw on the ballot wasn’t the same as the actual law. They used the word “pet,” way down deep, and in Missouri, legally, a pet is anything that can live within 15 feet of your house. When we opened this thing up and started looking at it, it would have taken over all animals.

They had spent around $7 million, and they had 67 percent approval at the time. It was high because nobody was fighting against them. All the small agriculture groups in the state, the one big guy came along and told them don’t fight because you can’t beat ’em. All you’ll do is make ’em mad. That’s how they fight. They’re terrorists.

I got involved six days before the vote. We took them down to 51 percent. If we’d had one more day, we would’ve won. We just told people who they really were and what they were going to do: “These are terrorists and they’re lying to you.”

What happened is, since it was a proposition, the House and Senate could take it apart and fix it. HSUS spent a lot of time down there spending on these politicians. HSUS was giving them money to vote their way, and telling them that if they didn’t vote their way, they’d use the money against them.

 

hsus-prop-b-screen-shotQ: So your opposition to Proposition B had nothing to do with dogs, even though it was called the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act” on the Missouri ballot?

A: This was going to take in everything, not just dogs. They weren’t just after the big dog breeders. They were after all the dog breeders. They had rules in there that nobody could live by. Your house wouldn’t probably be big enough for one animal.

I was living in California when they destroyed—and they still brag about it today—this big slaughterhouse. They had a mole in there for months and months. This old cow got down, and that happens, and they couldn’t move her, so they took a forklift and picked her up. They ran that video, and it destroyed that organization. They had to bring back millions of pounds of beef. Every school in the country was getting hamburger from them. The video was totally out of context, and it made this horrible, horrible story, oh these poor animals, and all the crazy people in the news went off on it, and it was the biggest thing ever.

 

Q: So that’s why in “The Dog Lover” film, the false accusations against the breeder involve a doctored video that the rescuers give to the media. That video leads to a raid of the kennel, and to a big campaign ad asking for dog lovers to send donations.

A: Co-rrect.

 

Q: It all goes back to what you thought was an unfair campaign against a slaughterhouse, because you’re a cattle rancher.

A: I saw that happen with that video, and then they turned around and ran Proposition 2 right behind it. That was in California, and it said all the chickens would have to be taken from these real tight cages where they’re so unhappy, these poor chickens, and go into bigger cages. Well, the poultry industry just started falling apart.

 

cage-free-eggsQ: So you made “The Dog Lover” film in part because you’re also upset about the cage-free egg movement?

It’s crazy to us who know better, but to them, it’s a way of stopping egg production. Now they want cage-free, and that’s even worse. The chickens could be inside or outside, but they have to run them to get them outside. The chickens do not want to go outside. And once they get out there, you can’t run the belts underneath them to haul away the manure. They are standing in the manure, and every once in a while a girl’s going to lay an egg, and 20 percent of those eggs get laid outside. You have to go out there and pick up those eggs out of the poop.

 

Q: That sounds gross.

A: It is gross, but that’s what’s happening with these nuts trying to get laws passed to deny eggs to people who want them.

 

protect-the-harvestQ: So all of this was in your mind when the “Puppy Mill” Proposition B got on the ballot in Missouri, where you have your cattle ranch.

A: Right. HSUS and all the other groups have been lying without people trying to get them, and it’s had a horrible effect on this country. The three months I spent out there fighting Prop B, that’s where I really learned that nobody else is fighting. A lot of people wanted to do something, but they couldn’t. HSUS is too big and powerful, and they have so many people terrorized.

By the time I got done fighting that, we decided, we’re going to go on the offense. We created Protect the Harvest. Then we started actually working with politicians.

 

Q: HSUS alone took in nearly $160 million for the last reported tax year. I noticed that was the same number you used in “The Dog Lover” as the budget for the fictional animal-rights organization. Do you have that kind of lobbying cash for your side?

A: No, I don’t, but I think I’m a whole lot of a better businessman than they are, and we can tell the truth. Everything they say has to be a lie, so it’s a lot harder for them.

 

A frame from "The Dog Lover" film.
A frame from “The Dog Lover” film

Q: This movie is called “The Dog Lover.” Do you have a dog?

A: I had mutts when the kids were little, but I don’t have time to have a dog now.

 

Q: So you didn’t make this movie because you want to protect purebred dog breeders?

A: The only people that had purebred dogs when I was a kid, they would’ve maybe been a hunting dog. There was a lot of ’coon hunting back then. That was one big effect that the fur laws had on America. Raccoon hunting was a big thing of fur. If you could catch them at the right time of year, the fur was valuable, and you had the fun of hunting them with your father or your uncle. That all stopped because you couldn’t wear furs. They terrorized those people.

 

Q: “The Dog Lover” is about a fictional group called the United Animal Protection Agency. Since the movie is based on a true story, why didn’t you call the group HSUS?

A: We didn’t say HSUS because it would’ve been just HSUS that way. We used a name that is not being used, so it could be applied to any of the organizations—PETA, HSUS, ASPCA, Fund for Animals, Greenpeace, that’s a horrible organization out there causing all the people to starve to death in Indonesia.

 

Promo ad for Wayne Pacelle's new book.
Promo ad for Wayne Pacelle’s new book The Humane Economy (which has received very good reviews and a great deal of media coverage)

Q: In “The Dog Lover,” the top people at the fictional UAPA are portrayed as being interested only in money and political power.

A: Wayne Pacelle at HSUS got into it, and he started making the big money.

 

Q: The last tax documents that I saw, he was earning about $425,000 a year.

A: Did you say $4 million?

 

Q: No, about $425,000.

A: Well, whatever they say, he’s taking plenty more on the side. They lie. These guys have to lie. If they told the truth, nobody would give them a dime.

That television scroll? That big ol’ minute-long commercial? Send the $20 a month and we’ll take care of them? It’s a lie. They don’t have any shelters. All they want is the money. The actual dog pounds around the country aren’t getting funded because the money is going to these guys.

 

A frame from "The Dog Lover" film.
A frame from “The Dog Lover” film

Q: Why did you decide to tell the story of this particular South Dakota breeder in “The Dog Lover?”

A: Because I’d seen exactly the same thing happen to a lady in Southern Indiana. I didn’t know her personally, but the attorney general of the state of Indiana, he went down and led his raid against this lady, who was doing nothing but raising dogs and making money. She had a dairy farm also.

That guy in South Dakota, his story was very similar to the lady in Indiana. She was not convicted either, but she was ruined. That’s what happens. They come in and hit you, and the news is in there telling things their way, and people don’t have time to react. That’s the way they work.

 

Q: At the heart of “The Dog Lover” is the question of what it means to breed and sell dogs responsibly. Tell me your thoughts about that.

A: Breeding dogs is, I think, a lot like breeding anything else. The more comfortable you keep the animals, the more productive they’re going to be.

But these guys have tried to say they’re not just dogs. They’re not just pets, even. What’s the thing they call them? I can’t remember…

 

animal-rights-national-conference-logoQ: Do you mean “companion animals”?

A: Right. They’re com-pan-ion animals. HSUS has, supposedly, a university of their own in D.C. where they’re teaching people to sue you, or me, or anybody with the dog being the plaintiff. Of course, the dog is property to you and me, but they’re doing it, and they’re giving a whole lot of money to people in other colleges to teach the classes.

One of these days, they’re going to get that passed, that animals will have rights. That’s why it’s called animal rights. Now, when that happens, it’s going to be, “Katie, bar the door!” That’s their long-term goal right there.

 

Q: So in making a film about a dog breeder, you’re not actually interested in the details of how dog breeders operate?

A: I’m not fighting for the dogs, necessarily. I’m fighting against HSUS.

And they’re trying to spay and neuter every animal they can, so that you can’t be breeding yourself. In their perfect world, if you bought a puppy, you’d have to get it neutered.

 

Q: I’ve never seen a spay/neuter requirement in any HSUS-backed “puppy mill” bill. Spay/neuter laws usually involve shelters, and trying to stop strays and dogs in everyday people’s backyards from producing more puppies.

A: I’ve not personally seen a stray dog. It’s been so long, I can’t remember. When I was a kid, you saw them all over the place.

 

A typical puppy-mill protest, courtesy of Patch.com
A typical puppy-mill protest, courtesy of Patch.com

Q: Are you receiving hate mail about “The Dog Lover”?

A: We had one hate mail yesterday, which kind of shocked our director. He wasn’t expecting it to be as bad as it was. The words they were using…

 

Q: What words did they use?

A: I can’t even tell you, but it was bad. They picked me out and said horrible things about me, so it had to come from somebody paid to do it.

 

Q: This hate mail came from a rescuer?

A: Yes. But other than that, it’s been a really, really good response from people who came to the screening and saw it. The ratings were very good. They were very surprised at the quality of it.

They loved the fact that we were doing it, the fact that somebody is doing it, that we are taking it back against these people. A lot of people don’t like these guys.

 

Forrest Lucas, courtesy of thedoglovermovie.com
Forrest Lucas, courtesy of thedoglovermovie.com

Q: Have you ever tried to talk to HSUS or other people on the rescue side about your concerns?

A: I have personally not met anybody from the other side, on the dog side of it. They don’t talk to me.

But they can’t scare me. They can’t hurt me or anybody around me. We’re not afraid of them. That’s what everybody has to understand. They don’t have to be afraid of these guys. Some of these big businesspeople who have stepped over for them, I just don’t understand it.

 

Q: I think if you did talk to them, they would tell you that most people who care about dogs just want them to be treated well, all across the board. My new book The Dog Merchants talks about how there are good and bad breeders, and good and bad rescuers, and that we should all stop fighting with each other and have the good people on both sides start working together.

A: You know, I agree with everything you said there. That sounds right to me too.

 

Read my full review of “The Dog Lover” film on Dogster.

 

‘The Dog Merchants’ Op-Ed Inspires Amendments to ‘Pet Store Puppy Mill Legislation

My publisher, Pegasus Books, just sent out the press release below. I’m thrilled to see “The Dog Merchants” and my other writing based on the book’s research having such an impact, just a month after the book’s publication date.

The Dog Merchants-3D“THE DOG MERCHANTS” OP-ED INSPIRES AMENDMENTS TO “PET STORE PUPPY MILL” LEGISLATION 

The bill’s sponsoring senator now seeks not only to curb substandard breeders, but also to hold dog-rescue groups accountable for doing business responsibly.

JUNE 6, 2016, TRENTON, N.J.—At today’s hearing of the New Jersey state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, Senator Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, introduced amendments to Senate Bill 63, known as the “Pet Store Puppy Mill Ban.” The amendments would require that all dog-rescue groups in the State of New Jersey be licensed by a Department of Health.

Lesniak introduced the amendments following an April 19 op-ed in The Bergen Record by Kim Kavin, author of “The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores, and Rescuers.” 

Kavin’s op-ed, based on her book that was published May 2, exposes ways that some dog breeders as well as some rescuers are now doing business in irresponsible ways that lead to sick dogs ending up in homes all across the United States. According to this contact form, people can check here for the best dog services. 

“In recent years, America has seen a clamor for shelter dogs unlike at any other time in history,” Kavin stated in her op-ed. “The majority of rescuers are operating responsibly, bringing healthy dogs to loving homes—but some are cutting corners. The consequences of irresponsible rescue are just as devastating to families as those of irresponsible breeding.”

Prior to today’s hearing, Lesniak emailed Kavin with a link to her op-ed, telling her that he was introducing the amendments because “I’ve been troubled by this issue. It’s been my only concern.”

At today’s hearing, Lesniak testified that overwhelmingly, dog-rescue groups operating in New Jersey are committed to saving the lives of animals, “but I’m not going to presume that everybody is a saint in this world.” 

He testified that his amendments would require local and state Health Departments to regulate rescuers operating in the state of New Jersey.

“I give Senator Lesniak an enormous amount of credit for reconsidering the part of his legislation that affects rescue groups,” says Kavin, who has two adopted mutts and has fostered 21 other rescue dogs in her Morris County, New Jersey, home. “All of us who love dogs want to see the least-responsible breeders either improved or shut down, but we also don’t want to give a free ride to the least-responsible rescuers who give all of the good rescuers a bad name. We want all the dogs to be safe, and we want everyone offering them for sale or adoption to be held accountable for the health and wellbeing of the dogs in their care.” Visit https://ownawoofies.com/available-territories/ site for setting up these camps around your neighborhood.

Lesniak’s bill, if enacted into law, would become America’s first statewide version of the “pet store puppy mill” bans that the Humane Society of the United States has lobbied to enact in dozens of municipalities nationwide, including Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia. The laws require pet stores that offer dogs for sale to source them from shelters and rescue organizations instead of breeders.

The New Jersey version of the bill is the most comprehensive ever to be introduced in any legislature, according to Amy Jesse, puppy mills public policy coordinator for the Humane Society of the United States. If enacted, NJ S63 could become a model law for every other state in America. Freeholder Jeffery Nash of Camden County, N.J., testified in support of S63 today by saying that if it were enacted, the bill would place New Jersey at the forefront of such legislation and would “send a powerful message to the horrific puppy mills.”

Kavin, who was at today’s hearing in Trenton, stated, “I’m thrilled that my book ‘The Dog Merchants’ is elevating the conversation about the need for more responsible practices among breeders and rescuers alike. Both sides of the industry are now moving millions of dogs a year into homes, and both sides need to be accountable for the way they do business. All of our lawmakers need to stop thinking about breeding vs. rescue and start thinking about responsible vs. irresponsible when it comes to the ways dogs are marketed, sold, transported and placed in homes. We should all be fully on the side of protecting the health and safety of all the dogs, as well as all the people who love them, right across the board.”

Get your copy of “The Dog Merchants” book by clicking here.

Two Incredible Nights in Morris County, New Jersey

The Dog Merchants-3DSince my new book The Dog Merchants was published earlier this month, I have been doing talks and book signings at libraries and bookstores all across my home state of New Jersey. Sometimes, only one or two people show up. Sometimes, it’s a packed room.

The past two weeks, at the public libraries in Chester and Randolph, New Jersey, the turnouts were strong—and amazing conversations happened among purebred and rescue advocates alike.

They are the kinds of conversations I’ve never seen happen, anywhere, among people who often won’t even stand in the same room together. They were conversations taking place between the kinds of people who will often scream at each other in ALL CAPS on Facebook. Whether they’re on the “rescue side” or the “breeding side,” most of these people tend to believe the other side is the enemy. They can’t even hear one another, let alone want to try to listen.

But in these two libraries, on these two nights, they all managed to come together.

And in the end, they were all thinking similarly and trying, very hard, to work with one another and be on the side of all dogs.

Me as a child with my first dog, Mac, a Scottish Terrier.
Me as a child with my first dog, a Scottish Terrier. The first word I ever spoke was “Mac.”

The Dog Merchants in Chester

Before my program in Chester officially began, I asked everyone around the room what kinds of dogs they had. I was making small talk, just trying to kill time before the official start.

Quite a lot of people in attendance had purebreds, and it was obvious that they knew one another. They had come as a group. At least a few were breeders. One woman, sitting in the back with her arms folded, asked me what kinds of dogs I had. The way she asked the question—her tone and her demeanor—made me feel like I was being challenged to a duel.

I explained how I’d grown up loving my family’s purebred Scottish Terrier, Doberman Pinschers and West Highland White Terriers, and that today, I have two beautiful mutts.

“That term is offensive,” she shot back.

“What term?” I asked.

“The term ‘mutt.’ The proper term is ‘All-American Dog.'”

I was familiar with the term “All-American Dog.” It is the name of a category the American Kennel Club introduced a few years ago, for mutts who compete in events like agility.

This woman was laying down the gauntlet at my talk, letting me know before I even uttered my first words that she was there to represent the American Kennel Club’s interests.

And this was minute one, before I’d even said a single word about The Dog Merchants book.

Kim's dog Blue, alive and well next to the book about how he was saved.
My dog Blue, alive and well next to the book I wrote about him. (He turned 6 this past February.)

You can imagine how the next part of the story began to play out. I opened my talk the same way I always do: by explaining why I wrote The Dog Merchants book the way that I did. I talked about my previous dog book, Little Boy Blue, and about how at a lot of those talks and signings, I’d be standing there with my 2-year-old dog Blue, and people would tell me they couldn’t read books like mine because they were always too sad. The dog always died at the end.

“But … this is Blue,” I’d say. “Alive and well. See? He’s fine.”

They wouldn’t read the book. They just knew it would make them cry, because that’s what books about serious dog issues do.

“With The Dog Merchants,” I explain today, “I wrote a book that follows the money. It talks about how dogs are bought and sold and marketed, whether it’s for sale as purebreds or for rescue as mutts. I purposely wrote it in a way that won’t make you cry. Half my book is about purebreds, and half my book is about mutts. And you will see that I believe there are responsible rescuers and breeders–along with irresponsible rescuers and breeders. My message is that we, the dog lovers, have to stop being on opposite sides and all get together to support the sellers who are treating dogs responsibly, breeders and rescuers alike.”

Now, with a crowd like that one in Chester last week, my basic opening statement can soften the blows, but the antagonist’s first instinct is still to keep punching. Some of these women had come to have an argument, not a conversation, so the best that I could do was try to have a reasoned and polite conversation in response to whatever they said, however they said it.

After about 15 or 20 minutes of the verbal jousting, two other women in the room began to speak up. They had already read The Dog Merchants. One had grown up in a family that bred German Shepherds and gone on to volunteer for a local rescue group, and one owned a local pet-supply store where she was struggling to find responsible rescue groups to work with on in-store adoption events. 

These two women began to answer the accusations of the women from the “purebred side” of the audience. The conversation was at times tense, but always respectful.

The Dog Merchants-3DI watched in awe and did my best to encourage every moment where a standard “attack line” from the purebred or rescue side was shot down by the other, and to steer the conversation back to the notion of how dogs are bought and sold—which is neutral territory in this particular war of words. Nobody has ever written a book that comes at dog issues from the angle of following the money, so nobody has canned attack lines ready for that conversation. Dog lovers on both sides of the divide actually have to think a little before they speak, and when they start to think from this slightly different perspective, they ultimately realize they have more common ground than they previously believed.

By the time that 90-minute event in Chester had ended, the dog lovers in the room had discussed everything from whether U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations are sufficiently strong to protect dogs on commercial-breeding farms to ways that legislators might think about beginning to define the term “responsible rescue” in our society.

The woman sitting in the back eventually unfolded her arms, and she talked openly about some problems she believed exist in the breeding community. She also seemed to realize that the rescue-minded people in the room were dealing with some of the exact same problems. 

When it was over, most of the people bought a book so they could learn more about the actual issues that so many dogs face. The librarian thanked me and said my talk was one of the most thought-provoking events they’ve had in a while.

She also congratulated me on maintaining a level temperament, which I have to tell you, is not an easy thing. My natural state is to be a fighter, too. An incredible level of tenacity is required to even get a book like The Dog Merchants published in the first place. I do know how to throw a punch. I’m simply choosing not to swing my fists, even when jabs are coming directly at me. 

A still shot from my recent appearance on "Business Insider."
A still shot from my appearance on “Business Insider,” talking about legal dog auctions.

The Dog Merchants in Randolph

Last night, my talk at the Randolph library started out the opposite of the one in Chester from last week. This time, the crowd of people who knew one another and had come as a group was even bigger, but this time, they were from the rescue community. A few everyday dog lovers had also taken seats, mixed in among the many women wearing T-shirts from the rescue groups where they volunteered.

One lone woman sat in the back and listened quietly and intently, and she let all the rescuers who all knew one another say their piece, as they had clearly come to do. The lone woman listened, along with everyone else, to my explanation of Chapter One in The Dog Merchants, which tells the story of a day inside America’s biggest legal dog auction—where breeders and rescuers alike bid on the same exact dogs.

The lone woman watched as even the most knowledgeable rescuers in the room quieted down, because many of them were learning about a part of the dog business they had no idea even existed, let alone that was part of “their side” of the issue when you look at it from the angle of following the money.  

Lively conversation then ensued, about real issues: about whether there are any meaningful regulations at all for small-scale breeders and rescuers; about whether there is any real way for consumers to figure out whether they’re doing business with a responsible breeder or rescuer; about whether and when it is necessary for public safety to euthanize some dogs in our shelters.

After about an hour or so of thoughtful debate and conversation, the lone woman in the back raised her hand to speak.

australian-cattle-dogShe said she has been volunteering at a shelter because she thought it was the right thing to do, but that the shelter workers all make her feel bad because she bought a dog from a breeder. She said her children have allergies and she wanted to protect their health, but she also didn’t want them to grow up without a dog, so she went to a breeder for the dog she has in her family, and then she volunteered at the shelter to help all the other dogs too.

This woman said the shelter workers told her she was a bad person, that she should have drugged her children to save a homeless dog even if her kids were allergic to him, that a dog died because of her decision to go to a breeder, that she was a horrible human being.

She looked me in the eye from across the room and said, “Your book came at just the right time for me, because you are not saying it’s bad to go to a breeder. You’re only saying it’s bad to go to a bad breeder.”

And I said, “Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. Breeder is not a bad word. You are a good mother, and you are a good person. You wanted to protect your children and you wanted to have them grow up with a dog. Those are wonderful things, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”

The lone woman started to cry.

Her eyes welled with tears because I’d had the simple decency to tell her that she was not a bad person for having sought out a hypoallergenic dog and then volunteered at a shelter. 

And then several of the rescuers in the room turned to her and tried to comfort her. “She’s right,” they said of me. “You’re a good person. You care about your kids and you care about the dogs. You are trying to do the right things.”

And then a number of the rescuers started talking about how not all rescues are good, and how maybe the shelter where the lone woman was volunteering needed to change some of its ways too. Quite a few of the rescue-minded people in the room had horror stories to share of adoptions gone horribly wrong.

A screen shot from the home page of DogMerchant.com.
A screen shot from the home page of DogMerchants.com, which I built using nearly the whole first advance check that I earned writing The Dog Merchants book.

Many of those same people then thanked me not only for writing The Dog Merchants book, but also for building the website dogmerchants.com, where all dog lovers can rate breeders and rescuers alike, to help all of us dog lovers share information about which sellers we can trust.

And then we all talked about the pending “pet store puppy mill ban” in New Jersey, a piece of legislation that is highly contentious within the breeding and rescue communities, a piece of legislation that is meant to become a model for the entire United States.

We talked about the language that is actually in the “pet store puppy mill” bill, and what it would mean for good and bad rescuers, as well as good and bad breeders, right across the board. One very activist rescuer sitting in the front row in her rescue T-shirt—a woman who had been involved in promoting the bill’s passage—said she was going to go back and look at the language one more time, to make sure she’s actually supporting what she thinks she’s supporting. She wants to support the overall cause of rescue, which is great, and she wants to put what she calls disgusting “puppy mills” out of business, which is also great. But she doesn’t want to hurt the responsible breeders, and she doesn’t want to send rescue-minded buyers to the least responsible “rescuers” who move sick or dangerous dogs into unsuspecting people’s homes. 

I agree with her 100 percent.

That activist woman had walked into the room at the start of last night’s talk with three pre-purchased copies of The Dog Merchants that she had asked me to autograph before the evening even began. She had asked me to dedicate one of them to the Morris County Board of Freeholders, the lawmaking body in this part of New Jersey, because she wanted them to know that local dog lovers care about these issues and will vote on them.

The librarian finally came in to kick us out because they were closing for the night. I received thunderous applause, and then a few people waited for me in the parking lot to talk even more.

We stood there last night, first in the haze of dusk and then in the full-on dark, in a library parking lot, talking about ideas that might help so many dogs on the breeding and rescue sides alike. 

And I felt wonderful because I knew that, just maybe, a new ray of light was actually starting to beam awfully brightly. If I continue to do my job correctly in the mass media, while I am promoting my book, then that light just may dawn soon all across America.

 

The Dog Merchants-3DIf you’d like to read The Dog Merchants bookyou can order a copy here.

If you’d like to add your voice to the conversation, feel free to comment on this blog, or come share your views on Facebook or Twitter.

If you’d like to schedule a live or Skype event in your own hometown bookstore, library or living room, then you can reach me here.

 

Video: ‘The Dog Merchants’ and Dog Auctions Featured on Business Insider

kim-on-business-insiderAbout two weeks ago, I spent more than an hour at the New York City offices of Business Insider, answering questions on camera for a series of segments about issues that “The Dog Merchants” book addresses within the breeding and rescue communities alike.

The first video segment from that interview is now live at the Business Insider website. It is about what goes on inside legal U.S. dog auctions, which are the topic of Chapter 1 in “The Dog Merchants.”

This first video segment is just a hair over 1 minute long. You can watch the dog auction video by Business Insider here.

If you want to learn more about what happens inside dog auctions with breeders and rescuers alike, you can get your copy of “The Dog Merchants” book here.

An Open Letter to Brandi Hunter and the American Kennel Club

Illustration created by Sharon Montrose for my op-ed. Copyright to this work is owned by the Albany Times-Union
Illustration created by Sharon Montrose for my op-ed. Copyright to this work is owned by the Albany Times-Union.

On May 2, I published this op-ed in the Albany-Times Union urging New York State lawmakers to consider outright evicting, or at least prohibiting the televising of, the AKC-sanctioned Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show from within state lines.

I wrote that the village of Mamaroneck had recently become the first municipality in New York State to enact a “pet store puppy mill ban,” making it illegal for pet stores to do business with commercial-scale puppy farmers. The point of my op-ed was that if New York wants to stop farmed puppies from being imported and sold, then it has to do far more than simply cutting off the distribution outlet at a single pet store, or even at all pet stores. To achieve that goal, I wrote, lawmakers also have to go after one of the puppy farms’ biggest marketing assets: the widely televised Westminster show held annually in Manhattan.

The most recent estimate from the Humane Society of the United States, which I included in my op-ed, is that about 2.4 million puppies a year are now coming off the federally registered U.S. breeding farms alone. That number is up nearly 18 percent since 2014, and it does not include illegally operating puppy farmers, the types regularly cited in the media as “puppy mills” after being caught in large-scale animal cruelty-busts involving popular, AKC-promoted breeds such as Bichon Frises and Yorkshire Terriers.

Furthering my point, I also wrote that sanctioning events such as Westminster and creating the resulting mass-market demand is intentional on the part of the AKC, which profits from every additional puppy that is bred on the farms and then registered with the AKC for a fee.

Yesterday, AKC Vice President of Public Relations and Communications Brandi Hunter responded to my op-ed with this Albany Times-Union piece.

The Dog Merchants-3DTHE TRUTH: AKC IGNORED MULTIPLE INTERVIEW REQUESTS FOR THE DOG MERCHANTS BOOK

Hunter’s piece opens with an outright lie. Her first line reads: “The AKC (American Kennel Club) was not contacted by Kim Kavin regarding her book The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores, and Rescuers.”

Let’s dispel Hunter’s libelous public statement right off the bat, as it is intended to defame my reputation as an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, writer and editor.

I did, in fact, reach out—not to one, but instead to two AKC media officials while reporting my book The Dog Merchants. I wrote both to Hillary Prim, who at the time was AKC’s public relations director (she now works for fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg), as well as to Lisa Peterson, who continues to be listed on AKC’s website today as director of communications.

I sent the same email to Prim and Peterson alike—and I of course retained a copy in my book’s reporting notes. My letter began, “I’m an author writing to request an interview with AKC Spokesman Chris Walker for my upcoming book about how everyday people can make smart choices when buying a dog.”

My interview request went on to list bullet-point questions that I wanted to discuss with the AKC, including this one: “My research has led me to instances where some breeders and the AKC are at odds about what is in the best interest of dogs, including lawsuits involving Border Collies in the 1990s and, more recently, the Coton de Tulear. Some breeders say the prominence that comes with AKC recognition is a double-edged sword that also leads to more puppy-mill activity, with everyday people not understanding the difference among dogs they see listed for sale. I’d like to know how the AKC addresses those concerns.”

The reason AKC is not quoted directly in my book The Dog Merchants has nothing to do with me. Its representatives are not quoted because the AKC failed to reply to my explicit and direct request for an interview.

The Dog Merchants-3DFACT, AFTER FACT, AFTER FACT

Hunter’s letter published yesterday goes on to explain how the AKC is committed to responsible dog ownership and breeding. Her piece does not, however, address or even acknowledge a single reported fact that my op-ed included.

Let’s look at just a couple of those facts in detail. This is the information I was prepared to discuss with the AKC in seeking its side of each story for The Dog Merchants book:

AKC Affiliation and Events Drive Up Demand and Pricing on Puppy Farms. While reporting my book The Dog Merchants, I heard the cash-income value of the AKC brand, as well as of AKC-sanctioned shows like Westminster, invoked by virtually everyone I interviewed on the commercial puppy farming side of the purebred business.

  • One source was a commercial puppy farmer who at the time was president of the Missouri Pet Breeders Association, which opposed that state’s “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act” of 2010 and ultimately worked to get many of its provisions overturned. To be clear, this breeder has not been accused of animal cruelty in any way, and he welcomed me onto his property with my notebook in hand. At the time I visited and interviewed him, he had about 50 Newfoundlands, Beagles, Shiba Inus, Corgis and Puggles on his farm, and they all seemed healthy and content, with plenty of room to run and play.
  • However, as he went on to explain to me, he sells his AKC-registered puppies in a far different manner than the breeders featured in AKC-sanctioned, televised shows like Westminster—breeders whom in-house announcer Michael LaFave, during the 2014 event at Madison Square Garden, explained over the loudspeakers were not affiliated with pet stores, because they “are the breeders who care.” Unlike those show breeders turning out AKC-registered puppies, this commercial farmer turning out AKC-registered puppies told me that he sells to pet stores, puppy brokers and online click-to-ship buyers, things that show breeders consistently claim no responsible breeder would ever do. He also told me that he gets many sales leads from the AKC classifieds, and that he likes those buyers because they see the AKC brand and don’t try to negotiate his puppy prices downward.
  • Another person who invoked the AKC name, and the Westminster show directly, was the director of corporate sales for the Hunte Corporation, which moves 45,000 to 90,000 puppies a year from breeding farms into pet stores nationwide, depending on customer demand. He told me, “You don’t want somebody thinking it’s a Westminster winner when it’s not” while describing how Hunte grades incoming puppies as A, B or C, on what it calls “buy day” at the start of processing and pricing the puppies for retail sale across America every week.
  • In addition, Hunte officials told me, company founder Andrew Hunte once told AKC officials that his company was the kennel club’s biggest customer in moving dogs that buyers later register with AKC for a fee.
  • Yet another person who invoked the AKC and Westminster brands during my reporting for The Dog Merchants book was the owner of America’s biggest legal dog auction. While talking about the most expensive dog he has ever sold, he told me, “When I got $12,600 that one time, a guy came up to me and said, ‘Wow, you sure got a lot of money out of that dog.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Did I?’ Because we’ll only know what these dogs are really worth when the American Kennel Club lets me hold an auction just after Westminster one year, using the champion.”
  • On the day that I attended the auction, more than 300 dogs were sold to the highest bidder. About one-third were either AKC registered or eligible for registration once buyers brought the puppies home. I created a spreadsheet of the top-selling breeds at the dog auction that day: Four of the Top 10 breeds in terms of highest auction pricing matched breeds on the list displayed on television during the Westminster show, of the top AKC-registered breeds for that year. When I expanded the spreadsheet to review the Top 20 breeds that brought in the highest auction bids that day, eight them were on the AKC-registered list of America’s favorites.

Suffice it to say that while Hunter may believe what she wrote yesterday, that “the goal of our shows is not to drive demand at commercial breeding farms,” she is at best mistaken. When I spent time with the breeders of AKC puppies who actually operate the farms, one of their primary distribution companies to pet stores nationwide, and one of the auction houses where they trade breeding stock on a regular basis, they were very clear in explaining that the truth is precisely the opposite of what Hunter claims.

creating-demand-for-purebred-dogs-screenshotSanctioning Events to Increase Demand on Puppy Farms and at Pet Stores is an AKC Business Goal. Next, in my op-ed, I cited this document written by Mike Ganey, who at the time of its writing was AKC vice president of marketing. Ganey’s piece was published in the commercial-breeding magazine Kennel Spotlight, whose publisher owns the Southwest Auction Service dog auction.

  • The fact that AKC is openly advertising for business in this publication, produced by a prominent dog auctioneer, is newsworthy unto itself, given that in its own 2002 report on high-volume breeders, the AKC states: “Auctions are not an appropriate venue for selling purebred dogs. Auctions are a blight on all dog breeding and on the commercial industry in particular, and many commercial breeders we spoke to in that community would like to see them eliminated as well. There is really no positive aspect of these auctions.”
  • The title of this document written by AKC’s own marketing director for this publication is “Creating Demand for Purebred Dogs.” The piece urges puppy farmers to register their dogs with the AKC, because then the AKC turns their fees into a marketing investment—sanctioning highly publicized dog shows with concurrent events such as “Meet the Breeds”—to drive up business not only back on the farms, but also in pet stores like the one where such business was just banned in Mamaroneck, New York.
  • Ganey writes: “Because of the AKC’s unique scale and depth of our involvement, we create events other organizations can only dream about. Events that draw thousands of pet owners and potential pet owners—events that have a positive impact on your business whether you are a breeder selling to distributors, dealers, pet stores, or direct to consumers.”
  • Ganey continues in that same document: “So how do these AKC events help breeders? By helping create preference and demand for purebreds, no matter where the consumer chooses to buy their purebred dog. Giving consumers a positive, hands-on experience is an important way we remind potential dog owners of the unique benefits of purebreds, in a fun, informative way. The most tangible benefit for breeders, however, is reflected in dollars and cents. Sure, AKC litter registrations may cost more than other registries, but we turn that difference into a marketing investment that can yield more margin for you.”

This clearly delineated AKC business strategy is the polar opposite of what Hunter claimed in her Albany Times-Union piece yesterday, when she wrote that the AKC’s goal with mass-marketed dog shows is “to share and celebrate our sport and our dogs with the public.”

Those words were written for an audience of potential buyers, as opposed to the audience of suppliers with whom AKC talks very differently when it is conducting the business of filling the mass-market demand that it creates for purebred puppies when it sanctions televised marketing events like Westminster.

The Dog Merchants-3DAKC MUST JOIN THE REST OF US, ON BEHALF OF ALL DOGS

What Brandi Hunter and the American Kennel Club published in yesterday’s Albany Times-Union was a classic “non-denial denial,” which is what happens when any company cites its own honesty of purpose without acknowledging, addressing or providing any contradictory evidence to facts such as the ones cited above. Hunter’s piece was intended to buttress its public image in the face of strong public demand and rave reviews for my book The Dog Merchants, which reveals all of the above facts, and more, about the breeding and rescue sides of the dog business alike.

Hunter and the AKC also engaged in “character assassination” in yesterday’s piece, publishing an outright lie about me in an attempt to smear my reputation as an award-winning journalist with 20 years’ experience. Anyone who has ever heard the phrase “kill the messenger” can easily understand why Hunter would choose to employ such an underhanded tactic.

I sincerely encourage Brandi Hunter and everyone at the American Kennel Club to join me in actually attempting to address the real problems facing so many of our beloved dogs today.

As I write in my book The Dog Merchants, “I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m tired of feeling dizzy and manipulated while trying to shop responsibly.”

 

Get your own copy of The Dog Merchants book at your favorite local bookstore, or by clicking here. 

 

 

Most Popular Dog in America? Not the Labrador. It’s Actually the Good Old American Mutt

labrador-yellowThe American Kennel Club released its list today of the most-registered purebred dogs in America, and predictably, the mainstream media is once again getting the story wrong. Articles have already started popping up from serious news sources like the Miami Herald, whose headline reads—inaccurately—“Labrador Retrievers Still the Most Popular Dog in the U.S.”

AKC marketers have been hoisting this fallacy onto ignorant journalists for years. The truth, if you actually look at statistics for all dogs, is that the good old American mutt is by far the most popular dog in the United States.

Let me break it down for you:

  • The AKC long ago stopped announcing the actual number of purebred dogs registered each year. Today, it simply announces “most popular” breeds, but it keeps the number of dogs a secret. Most journalists simply don’t notice the lack of actual data, and they publish the AKC’s marketing trick as a news headline.
  • Why is the headline a marketing trick? Because if you look back about a decade, when the AKC was still releasing actual registration numbers, the total number of dogs being registered for even the most popular breeds was less than 150,000. Here’s the AKC’s own press release from 2005 showing that the “most popular” Labrador Retriever breed that year had just 137,867 registrations.
  • Compare that to the number of dogs adopted each year from American shelters, where about 90 percent of the dogs are believed to be mutts. Total number of mutts that Americans bring home as pets, in the same timespan that the AKC registers fewer than 150,000 Labradors? About 1.8 million.

Suffice it to say that the most popular dog in America remains, by far, the good old mutt.

Don’t fall for this annual marketing trick that the AKC pulls on the mass media, and on dog lovers everywhere. Learn about the big business that we all buy into with every dog we bring home. Order your copy of The Dog Merchants book today.

The True Cash at Stake at the Westminster Dog Show

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 2.14.38 PMSalon.com just uploaded my article “The Big Money Behind Best in Show.” It is the first adapted article to be published from The Dog Merchants, giving readers their first sneak peek into the book.

The Dog Merchants is a follow-the-money look at the whole of the dog business, breeding and rescuing alike. This piece for Salon.com was written for publication as the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show begins airing on television, so of course it focuses exclusively on the breeding side.

Rest assured that more adapted articles and excerpts are coming soon—including a 3,000-word excerpted piece about rescue that will appear in the February issue of The Bark. Stay tuned.