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.