Questions surface about the AKC
by CHARLES R.T. CRUMPLEY Staff Writer, Kansas City Star
American Kennel Club indicates its registry is the focus of an inquiry

Imagine spending hundreds of dollars to buy a purebred, properly registered poodle puppy and discovering six months later that your dog looks more like a Pekingese or a Pomeranian. That's not a rare occurrence, several experts say. Some estimated that from 20 percent to 90 percent of dogs registered by the American Kennel Club in recent years should not have been. Indeed, the AKC is being investigated by several authorities, including the U.S. attorney's office in New York and apparently the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

The American Kennel Club, a nonprofit organization with offices on Madison Avenue in New York, acknowledged that it had received requests for some records. A spokesman, however, said the organization would not comment beyond a prepared statement. The statement said, in part: ``Although the AKC has not been informed as to the full nature or scope of the underlying investigations, it intends to fully cooperate. ''

The organization indicated, but did not specifically state, that the inquiry apparently was into problems with its registry. The registry is what certifies that any particular dog was born of pure stock. The issue is important to consumers because the registry basically separates mutts from expensive, purebred dogs. Dogs that have so-called AKC papers often are worth hundreds of dollars. Dogs without the papers typically have much less value and sometimes no value.

Breeders and other dog owners pay the AKC to put their dogs' names on the registry, which is a kind of family tree of purebred dogs. The AKC relies on breeders and owners to accurately report their litters and dogs, although the organization does have field investigators to verify that a dog's lineage is pure.

Several persons who have investigated or are familiar with the AKC say the organization has been lax, sometimes ignored its own investigators and allowed its registry to be invaded by dogs that weren't what they were represented to be and sometimes were out-and-out mutts. As a result, a consumer can pay hundreds of dollars for a puppy with papers but end up with a dog that isn't what was represented, said Mike Frazer, a self-employed private investigator who has looked into the organization for seven years.

``These AKC papers are much like bearer bonds,'' said Frazer, of Santa Clara County, Calif. ``There's an intrinsic value to the paper, not the dog. '' In a simple scam, a dog breeder could report to the American Kennel Club that his dog gave birth to 10 puppies when she gave birth to only five. Then he could obtain five puppies free from a dog pound or elsewhere and misrepresent them as AKC-registered dogs, selling each for hundreds of dollars.

More often, said Frazer, slightly more sophisticated measures are used. For example, a breeder with five breeding female dogs - but only one of which is of championship stock - could report that only the champion is bearing young. The result: The consumer gets a purebred, but she's paying extra money for a puppy from a ``champion'' dog when that puppy really came from an ordinary specimen. How often this may happen is an educated guess.

Frazer said that according to various informed estimates, 50 percent to 90 percent of all dogs registered with the American Kennel Club should not have been. One southwest Missouri dog breeder, Ken Josserand, made an off-the-cuff estimate of 20 percent to 30 percent.

Herm David, who was a contributing editor to Dog World magazine from 1963 to 1993 and who covered the AKC for years, estimated that 80 percent of dogs registered each year should not have been. The real problem, said David, is that once a dog's family tree becomes infected with wrongly registered dogs, subsequent generations become suspect. The problem is compounded if the wrongly registered dogs aren't erased from the registry.

Others agreed. ``To my knowledge, the AKC seldom removes dogs, and rarely removes their offspring, from the registry, even after the breeders have been suspended for violations of record keeping,'' said Robert Baker of St. Louis, who was the chief investigator for the Humane Society of the United States until 1993. Baker questioned the integrity of the American Kennel Club's investigative arm. When its investigators report that a dog's ancestry is suspect or that certain breeders' dogs should not be eligible for registration, they are sometimes ignored or overridden by the AKC's headquarters, Baker said.

An April memo the organization sent to its delegates said that the ``AKC is proud of the integrity of its stud book, and we are convinced that these investigations are without merit. '' The investigations - fairly well-known in the dog world - are a concern to dog breeders. They are important in this region, where dog kennels are plentiful in rural areas. In recent years Missouri has had the greatest number and Kansas the second-greatest number of licensed commercial breeders. ``It could have a devastating effect,'' said Josserand, who raises golden retrievers and yellow Labradors near Joplin, Mo.

If the American Kennel Club is crippled or goes out of business, ``we could have a much lesser registration body.'' On the other hand, he said, the organization might emerge new and improved. ``They might put out better service, and they might be a little more diligent about their inspections,'' Josserand said. ``Some of their problems have been ongoing, and they just didn't nip them in the bud. '' There has been little incentive to change, several said. Frazer said a buyer of an expensive purebred puppy often stays silent when he discovers six months later that the dog doesn't resemble what was bought. ``They go, 'Oh, well, I love the dog anyway,' and they don't pay any attention to it,'' Frazer said.

The more dogs the American Kennel Club registers, Frazer said, the more money it earns. According to its annual report, its total revenue in 1996 was $46.2 million, up 16 percent from the previous year. Of the revenue, $26.3 million came from registrations. Unscrupulous operators have an incentive to obtain papers fraudulently. Of course, there are many good dog breeders, and the AKC recommends that a would-be buyer of a registered dog do a little research. The buyer should read up on the prospective breed to make sure that its size, temperament and other characteristics will blend with the buyer's family. If the buyer wants a registered dog, the buyer should demand to see the puppy's mother and preferably the father to get an idea of what the puppy eventually will look like. When the puppy is purchased, the buyer should get an American Kennel Club registration application, or at least the AKC numbers of the dog's sire and dam. Walk away if the seller promises only to deliver the papers later.

Frazer was a police officer 10 years in San Jose, Calif. He became an investigator with a humane society in Santa Clara County and in separate cases in 1989 and 1990 prosecuted two breeders who had sold what he described as hundreds of dogs improperly registered with the AKC. After that, he continued investigating the organization as a kind of hobby, although he lost his job with the humane society 15 months ago. He now is a self-employed private investigator. He turned over what he described as hundreds of pounds of files to U.S. attorneys in New York and U.S. Postal Inspection Service agents in 1993. Investigations lay dormant, he said, but had been rekindled lately, apparently after the Internal Revenue Service began inquiring.

Some of the 520 delegates of the American Kennel Club said they received a memo from their headquarters last March saying the New York attorney general's office was looking into problems with the registry. A follow-up memo in April said the organization ``has received a request for certain records'' from the U.S. attorney in New York. It did not specify whether the request was a subpoena.
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