Posts tagged The Dog Merchants

The Washington Post on The Dog Merchants: “Fascinating” and “Five Stars”

The Dog Merchants-3DToday is an amazing day: The Washington Post has published its review of The Dog Merchants book and website. My favorite parts:

“The Dog Merchants [is] a sprawling, and sometimes fascinating, look at a complex industry. Her reporting reveals that by simply finding a dog to take home we are dipping into a world largely veiled to the consumer and in many ways ethically dubious. …

“Kavin is doing her part. With the release of the book, she’s starting a website of the same name that will let consumers register and post reviews of any breeder or rescue group, sort of a Yelp for dog buyers. If it shines some light on the shadowy, largely unregulated dog industry, I’d say that’s worth five stars.”

You can read The Washington Post review of The Dog Merchants in full here, starting about halfway through the article.

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.

The Dog Merchants is Featured on ‘My Rescue Rocks’

my-rescue-rocksI’m super excited to share this link to the My Rescue Rocks podcast that came online today. Host Rebekah Nemethy read The Dog Merchants book, checked out dogmerchants.com and prepared truly thoughtful questions about both. I’m so grateful for the chance to have appeared on her show.

This is a wide-ranging conversation that goes on for about an hour, covering everything from how I got the idea to write The Dog Merchants to how I went about some of the reporting to how I realized I should also launch the companion website, if I really wanted to try to make a difference on the breeding and rescue sides of the dog business alike.

You’re going to hear more in this recording than the book’s standard talking points. You’re going to hear me talking free-form about what was going through my head as I pieced together the entire project during the course of several years.

Thanks again to Nemethy for having me on her show. Again, if you want to listen, here is the link.

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. 

 

 

HSUS ‘Horrible Hundred’: A Reminder Why The Dog Merchants Message is Key

2016-horrible-hundred-hsusEarlier this week, the Humane Society of the United States issued the 2016 edition of its “Horrible Hundred” report. Inside are descriptions of 100 breeders that HSUS describes as “puppy mills,” including some breeders who also have been listed in previous years’ reports for similar ways of doing business, and who it appears have not changed their ways.

Two things stood out to me in the introductory text to this year’s report—both of them involving topics covered in my book The Dog Merchants, and both of them once again showing just how hard it has become for everyday dog lovers to figure out how to shop responsibly for a puppy.


AKC BREEDER OF MERIT IN HSUS REPORT

First to catch my eye was that HSUS says it has an American Kennel Club Breeder of Merit included in this year’s report.

The AKC Breeder of Merit seal has become ubiquitous across the Internet in recent years, as breeders who earn the badge hold it up as evidence of their trustworthiness, so puppy buyers will feel comfortable shopping with them. HSUS says the Breeder of Merit listed in this year’s report was running a kennel “where underweight and injured dogs were found in unsanitary conditions.”

The actual requirements to become an AKC Breeder of Merit, listed here, show how a breeder can end up with both that badge and a spot on the HSUS “Horrible Hundred.” To request inclusion in the AKC Breeder of Merit program, breeders need to have participated in AKC events for at least five years, earned titles on at at least four dogs at those events, be a member of an AKC club, ensure that all of the puppies sold are then registered with AKC, and certify that health tests recommended by any breed’s parent club are being performed.

Quite a few of those requirements include paying fees to AKC, but none of them have to do with checking the conditions in which the puppies are actually being produced.

As I write in The Dog Merchants, as of 2013, the AKC acknowledged that it didn’t even know how many breeders across America owned AKC-registered dogs, and that it had just nine inspectors covering the entire nation. Thus, a breeder could in fact meet all of the conditions required for AKC Breeder of Merit designation while still raising dogs in deplorable conditions.

hunte-screen-shotHUNTE CORPORATION IN HSUS REPORT

The second thing to catch my eye was that HSUS calls out the Hunte Corporation in the introductory text to this year’s report, stating that the 2016 “Horrible Hundred” includes “six breeders who supplied puppies to the Hunte Corporation—one of the largest providers of puppies to pet stores.”

An entire chapter of The Dog Merchants takes readers inside Hunte’s facility in Missouri, explaining the company’s business model and its own statements about how it operates, as well as serious accusations of everything from racketeering to having “mass puppy graves” at its facility. Because Hunte is a privately owned business, it’s hard to know every detail of what goes on inside, but the company does acknowledge being one of America’s biggest distributors of pet-store puppies, moving anywhere from 45,000 to 90,000 dogs a year into shops nationwide, many of them franchises of Petland.

I was thus curious about the “Horrible Hundred” report citations of Hunte, because in some cases, the accusations were vague, as have been many of the accusations made about the company on the Internet for years. For some breeders affiliated with Hunte on the “Horrible Hundred” list, HSUS says it has actual documentation that puppies were sold to Hunte. For others, HSUS writes that records show some breeders “claim to sell puppies” to Hunte.

Trying to verify the truth, I reached out to Greg Brown, who handles marketing for Hunte. I asked him if there was any way to verify or disprove the HSUS claims where documentation is vague, or where HSUS says it has proof that Hunte is doing business with the breeders on the new HSUS list.

Brown told me that Hunte cannot comment on any breeder’s business, only on its own business. He then sent me this three-paragraph statement from Ryan Boyle, Hunte’s president and CEO (which I am publishing in full because it’s only fair, given the number of pages in the HSUS report that cite the Hunte Corporation):

Everyone at The Hunte Corporation loves pets, and especially puppies. For over 25 years, Hunte has worked with professional responsible breeders in many states listed on the HSUS’s report.  We rely on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) inspection reports, as well as our own due diligences, to provide necessary information to guide us in our purchasing decisions.  When we are made aware of issues at a specific breeding facility we immediately get involved to ensure any issues are corrected.  In the unlikely event a Hunte breeder has issues with substandard animal care resulting in the health or welfare of the animal being affected, Hunte discontinues purchasing from the breeder.

“Breeders that have been cited can take steps to correct the problem. If they do so and are back in the good graces in accordance to the Animal Welfare Act regulations, we will consider re-evaluating the relationship and purchasing puppies from the breeder on a case-by-case basis, but only if animal cruelty was never involved. 

“Through the USDA inspection, citation, and correction process breeders grow and improve. It’s a disservice to animals in rescues and shelters that all animal care organizations are not required to have this same level of regulatory scrutiny.”

The Dog Merchants-3DTHE UPSHOT

It’s a good thing that HSUS continues to shine a light on breeders whose business practices are resulting in dogs being treated in unacceptable conditions, but it’s also paramount for all of us dog lovers to do more than just read the headlines. We must ask questions—and then more questions—no matter where it is we choose to get our next dog.

As these most recent examples from the HSUS “Horrible Hundred” involving the AKC and Hunte show, when it comes time for us to hand over money for a puppy, the truth about how our money is being spent can often be very hard to ascertain. No matter what we think we may know, there is often much, much more to be learned before cash should change hands.

That’s the big-picture message I’m trying to spread with The Dog Merchants, for all of us dog lovers who are trying to do business with responsible breeders and rescuers alike.

If you’d like to learn more by reading your own copy, you can find the book at your favorite local store or with any of these online retailers.

The Dog Merchants Book Earns High Praise from Parade: “Required Reading”

The Dog Merchants-3DI’m so thrilled about this article that Parade published today about The Dog Merchants. There’s a wonderful Q&A about how the book discusses the good and bad going on in breeding and rescue alike, and how all of us must become far more conscious consumers the next time we go out to get our next dog.

Author Leah Ingram writes: “I spoke Kavin about her book, which I believe should be required reading for anyone interested in owning a dog—whether that be via adoption or purchase from a breeder.”

My cup runneth over. Check out the Parade article by clicking here.

New Video: The Pink-Tongued Puli

[one_full last=”yes” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][fusion_text]Today is a hugely exciting day: The Dog Merchants book is officially available to the general public! You can order at your favorite local bookstore, or at any of these stores online. If you’d like an autographed copy, order from the Clinton Book Shop in New Jersey. I’ll head over, sign your edition and send it happily on its way.

Here’s a fun video to celebrate the day. Be sure to turn on your sound, or you’ll miss out on the fun. This one is a hoot![/fusion_text][/one_full][one_full last=”yes” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][youtube id=”https://youtu.be/SKVDNZWa83k” width=”600″ height=”350″ autoplay=”no” api_params=”” class=””][/youtube][/one_full]

Third Excerpt from ‘The Dog Merchants’ Book: Rescue Must Be Responsible

ny-post-screenshotToday, the New York Post published the third excerpt from The Dog Merchants book. It’s from a chapter in the book that explains how rising demand for rescued dogs has led to a situation where we have some rescuers doing business responsibly while others are cutting corners to fill demand quickly.

I’m sure that some of my friends who are responsible rescuers may be concerned about this type of information being presented to the public. It can feel “anti-rescue” to air these issues in a major media outlet, especially to those who dedicate their lives to ensuring that rescued dogs are properly vetted and temperament tested before they are placed into homes.

But the truth, most rescuers agree, is that not all rescuers are created equal. There are documented cases nationwide of rescuers moving sick or temperamentally unsound dogs into people’s homes. Often, those placements are done with the best of intentions—to save the dog’s life—but the consequences of irresponsible rescue are absolutely devastating to families. Moms and Dads and kids trying to do a good thing, by welcoming a homeless dog into their family, shouldn’t be unwittingly saddled with dogs who require thousands of dollars in veterinary care, or who bite.

I hope that my friends in rescue will agree that helping dog lovers understand the difference between responsible and irresponsible rescue is important, and I hope that my excerpt from The Dog Merchants published in today’s New York Post helps to make that difference clear.

Op-Ed: Why New York Lawmakers Should Evict the Westminster Dog Show

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 Albany Times-Union.

Today, the Albany Times-Union published my op-ed urging New York state lawmakers to evict the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which is one of the biggest marketing assets for commercial-scale puppy farms nationwide.

I’m sure that my friends who are responsible breeders will find this op-ed uncomfortable to read. The American Kennel Club sanctions the Westminster show along with thousands of others each year, and many responsible breeders participate in, and cheer, for them—as do many lovers of purebred dogs sitting at home in their living rooms.

Among other things, my op-ed published today exposes how these well-intentioned lovers of purebred dogs are being misled into supporting the commercial-scale puppy farmers that many of them despise. The research for this op-ed includes a document that shows just how differently the AKC describes such dog shows when it’s talking only to commercial-scale breeders, sometimes called “puppy mills”—in publications that it knows hobby breeders do not read.

Here’s the truth. Dog lovers who participate in and cheer for thousands of AKC-sanctioned dog shows each year are told that these shows are about “celebrating the sport of dogs” and “improving the breeds.” Those are marketing lines designed to get us to engage in what is actually a series of carefully designed marketing events, which are broadcast nationwide and worldwide in an effort to drive up business on commercial breeding farms.

When it’s writing in publications like Kennel Spotlight, which is read by commercial-scale puppy farmers, the AKC calls this business plan its “events strategy,” part of its “marketing toolbox.” It states very clearly: “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. … 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.” (You can read that document in its entirety here.)

The AKC makes a great deal of its $67.8 million in annual income (including the $567,548 it pays its top official) on registration fees that dog lovers pay for “official papers” that come with purebred dogs. Hobby breeders do not sell enough puppies to drive that business model. Commercial-scale breeding farms do.

I know that many of us who care deeply about purebred dogs and mutts alike watch shows like Westminster and cheer for our favorites. The reality is that we are cheering for an event much like the Detroit auto show, one that is rolling out new products in a marketing effort to keep the biggest puppy producers in business.

To be clear, I am not—in any way—saying that responsible breeders should be shut down. I am instead saying that responsible breeders must understand the bigger business interests at stake when they choose to throw their support behind AKC-sanctioned shows like Westminster, participating in them by the thousands of shows across America each year.

Let’s all understand the truth, and make sure we’re behaving in a way that keeps all of us dog lovers working together, squarely on the side of the dogs.