Earlier 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.
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.”
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.