|Sunday, December 31, 1995top
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Kennel club certifications
are often worthless, ex-employees say.
Money may be why:
Enforcement of rules would slow the flow.
Digging into the AKC: Taking cash for tainted dogs
By Karl Stark
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
©1995 The Philadelphia Inquirer
David Bartscher and Robert O. Baker
can't forget the dead dogs they pulled out of Shirley Myers' kennel.
The humane officers had traveled to the
prairie town of Mitchell, S.D., to raid the kennel with Davison County Sheriff Lyle
Swenson. They found three dead rottweiler puppies stuffed in trash bags of excrement.
Three other puppies were sick, apparently with the deadly parvovirus. Nursing mothers were
living in cages without water.
Many of the 150 dogs lived in virtual
darkness, while others splashed around in mud tainted with their own excrement. Two small
dogs had lost their paws to a male rottweiler who bit them off, Myers acknowledged. The
officers captured the entire raid, including Myers' comments, on videotape.
That they found deplorable conditions at a
``puppy mill'' was not a surprise. That the Myers kennel dogs had the sanction of the
highly respected American Kennel Club (AKC) is another matter.
Myers was a breeder whose dogs had long been
accepted for purebred registration by the AKC. AKC officials had known for several years
that Myers was failing to keep proper records to prove that her dogs were purebred, AKC
reports show. AKC delayed taking strong action even after its own staff uncovered evidence
of unidentified dogs and sloppy book work, former AKC inspectors said.
In an Inquirer investigation, six former AKC
inspectors said in lengthy interviews that the dog registry of the American Kennel Club, a
nonprofit organization widely regarded as the guarantor of the pedigrees of purebred dogs,
is largely a sham. They say, and records show, that the club does little or nothing to
ensure that many of the dogs the club certifies as purebred are legitimately bred.
In the last five years, the AKC has taken in
more than $100 million in exchange for papers certifying more than six million dogs as
purebreds. Much of that money came from large kennels that sell dogs to brokers or to pet
stores. The former AKC inspectors say those certifications are often worthless or untrue.
The inspectors say the AKC does not verify
bloodlines. What it does is accept applications and fees and send out registration papers,
relying mostly on the word of the breeder that the information submitted is true.
They say the club's primary enterprise -- the
registry of purebred dogs -- has been corrupted. So many dogs without proper papers and
proven lineage have been accepted into the AKC ``stud book,'' or registry, in recent years
that it's no longer reliable, they say.
In many cases, they say, the AKC knows the
registrations are suspect but approves them anyway for a fee. The AKC has never undertaken
a thorough study of its stud book.
AKC officials say the club's main duty is to
serve as a registry, not as a police organization. The AKC has 15 inspectors for the
Here are comments from six former AKC
Robert Nejdl, widely considered the dean of
AKC investigations, became the club's first investigator in 1973 and retired in 1994. Said
Nejdl: ``When people buy an AKC dog, they expect it to be of high quality and they expect
the papers to truly match the dog. But that's not often true. It's just so much window
dressing. The American Kennel Club is in the registration business and not the
deregistration business. It's the cash cow.''
Robert E. Hufford, a former AKC manager of
field agents who worked for the club from 1986 to 1994, said: ``It's a shame. In my
opinion, the only thing it [ the AKC ] is, is a moneymaking operation. A friend of mine
hit it on the head: `The only difference between the AKC and counterfeiters is the color
of money.' They sell something that they're never going to run out of, and it doesn't cost
them anything. The AKC is shipping out registration papers daily they knew should have
been canceled out. The bottom line is the AKC, they don't give a damn [ about conditions ]
as long as the checks don't bounce.''
Rona Farley, a former AKC inspector based in
Pennsylvania from 1991 to 1995, estimated in a court affidavit that in her four years on
the job, 90 percent of the breeders she inspected failed to meet AKC record-keeping
requirements. ``An infinitesimal percentage of those noncomplying subjects were, to my
knowledge, ever disciplined, sanctioned or suspended.'' When breeders failed to comply
with AKC rules, Farley said, she was instructed to ``assist the subject of inspection in
Sharon D. Reed, an AKC investigator who
covered Pennsylvania and New Jersey from 1986 to 1991, said: ``AKC management fought me
tooth and nail about what cases should be prosecuted and mostly on what dogs [ papers ]
should be canceled. They never wanted dogs canceled, even when I had shown fraud. They
said they didn't want to harm the poor consumer. My answer was `The harm has been done.
You are augmenting the harm.' Boy, did that get me screamed at. AKC registration is
Mike Reilly, an AKC inspector in California
from 1985 to 1994, said: ``They didn't want to know anything that would upset the
applecart. They wanted everything to run smoothly, get the registration money, don't make
waves. The bottom line is get the money.''
Martie W. King, a former AKC investigator
from 1986 to 1990 who covered Pennsylvania, said: ``The name of the game is don't cancel [
purebred certificates ] . If they take too many dogs out, they might have to refund money.
. . . That's going to affect their revenue.''
None of the current AKC inspectors who were
contacted wished to comment. The AKC has a policy barring employees from speaking to
reporters without permission.
AKC President Judith V. Daniels said in an
interview that the club's investigations unit was ``pretty good'' and improving all the
time. She said that puppy mills represent ``a difficult situation'' for the AKC and that
she lacks the authority to toughen enforcement. ``It's up to the entire [ club membership
] to determine how we want to deal with this issue.''
Daniels said part of the problem was that the
organization, which has 12 board members, is split on what its mission should be. Some,
like board chairman Robert Berndt, want to focus on traditional AKC activities, such as
dog shows. They say the former inspectors were disgruntled employees. They argue that the
AKC is not in the business of policing conditions at dog kennels and, therefore, should
not be held accountable for puppy mills.
"'It's not that we're not interested in
puppy mills,'' Berndt said in an interview. ``We don't encourage them. We're interested in
the sport breeder, the person who breeds for the betterment of purebred dogs.''
Others on the board say the former AKC
inspectors are not disgruntled but genuinely want to help dogs. These board members say
the AKC should be more active in detecting improper registrations of dogs because more
than 80 percent of the AKC's income comes from registration fees, much of that from puppy
"'Yes, we are a registry, but the AKC is
more than that,'' said board member Kenneth A. Marden of Titusville, N.J., a former AKC
president. ``When you're as big as the AKC, you do have a responsibility to purebred
The AKC was formed by wealthy dog owners in
Philadelphia in 1884. They were men interested in creating standards for purebred dogs and
sponsoring dog shows.
The AKC says it is the nation's second-oldest
sports organization. Only the U.S. Tennis Association is older. Women weren't allowed to
become AKC delegates and vote for the board of directors until 1974.
Today the club has headquarters on Madison
Avenue costing $971,000 a year to rent, a sprawling registration-processing center in
Raleigh, N.C., and a lobbyist in Washington. The AKC plans to develop part of its North
Carolina property into a hotel. The club's president was paid $177,000 in 1993, according
to the most recently available federal tax documents.
According to AKC rules, all dog breeders must
keep strict records detailing their animals' lineage. If the chain of proof is broken at
any point, the dogs can be canceled from the registry.
Those rules serve to give AKC dogs cache. An
AKC-certified dog can be sold for $100 to $300 more than a dog without papers. Purebreds
are more valuable, because their parents are all the same breed and their features conform
to a recognized standard.
A puppy mill that loses AKC privileges is in
trouble. ``They can't sell dogs without registration papers,'' AKC Chairman Berndt said.
``Nobody will buy them.''
Even many within the AKC say the old rules
need to be updated.
" We're overwhelmed by counterfeit AKC
dogs,'' said Nina Schaefer of Huntingdon Valley, one of 484 AKC delegates who elect the
AKC board. ``Registration procedures were established over a hundred years ago by people
who thought they were creating a purebred dog registry. . . . This system is not working
in the market-driven world of today, and it is time to change.''
Records show that the AKC rarely uses its
authority to strike dogs from the registry. The club registered 1.3 million dogs in 1994
and declined to register 1,331 dogs -- about a 10th of 1 percent.
"'The AKC really holds the power, much
more than federal and state agencies, to shut down puppy mills,'' said Melanie Volk,
former president of the Badger Kennel Club, an AKC member club in Wisconsin. ``Those puppy
mills wouldn't make a dime on the puppy if they couldn't put the `AKC' on their dogs.''
AKC board member James G. Phinizy said he had
experienced firsthand the ineffectiveness of the AKC investigations unit. In a 1989 letter
to the AKC board chairman, Phinizy wrote that he and fellow enthusiasts of the Scottish
deerhound breed had been ``put off, stonewalled and lied to'' over a complaint they had
made to the AKC.
"'The investigations department, as it
exists, is ineffective and is unable to resolve a complaint, even when given the basic
materials with which to work,'' Phinizy wrote in 1989.
After he joined the board in 1992, Phinizy
wrote another letter to the board chairman in which he reiterated: ``The
inspections/investigations unit is not being managed at all effectively.''
In a recent interview, Phinizy said some
improvements had been made, although he acknowledged that problems still plague the
registry. He said the former inspectors critical of the stud book were not disgruntled
employees. ``There are an awful lot of good people who are trying to improve the AKC,'' he
On July 4, 1993, Melanie Volk went digging
for dead dogs.
Volk, the president of a dog club affiliated
with the AKC, stood in a pair of flip-flops on the muddy property of a well-known dog
breeder in Wisconsin and poked her pitchfork into a moist mound of earth behind the barn.
Up came skulls and bones of rottweilers and poodles, the rotting fur of Samoyeds and
A few hours of spade work yielded Volk and
her associates 15 skulls and 19 dog tags. The group videotaped their dig and sent a tape
to AKC headquarters in New York.
The AKC had been receiving complaints about
the Wisconsin kennel since 1988 and took no action while continuing to accept fees to
certify the kennel's dogs as purebred.
The 83-acre farm Volk was investigating was
then owned by dog breeder Claudia Haugh in Hillsboro, Wisc. As president of the Badger
Kennel Club in Madison, Volk had collected dozens of complaints about Haugh selling sick
Volk also talked to four former employees who
told her about the Haugh kennel's lack of veterinary care and casual filing of AKC
records. And she and others had sent letters and packages to the AKC to get the club to
investigate how such a kennel could be selling purebred dogs. Volk said she knew of at
least a dozen other people who complained about Haugh to the AKC.
Among those who complained was Rose Bednarski
of Milwaukee, who helped Haugh start breeding Ibizan hounds in the mid-1980s. Bednarski
said she saw what she considered to be Haugh's poor methods and record-keeping and
reported them to the AKC, starting in 1988.
Paul R. Firling, the AKC director of
investigations at the time, promised Bednarski in a March 11, 1991, letter that the matter
would be referred to a field agent.
Nothing came of Firling's promise, according
to Bednarski and former inspector Robert Nejdl.
Jon and Mary Kuemmerlein of Madison paid
Haugh $200 for what they thought was a purebred Irish setter in 1991. The dog, which was
returned three weeks later because of numerous illnesses, was sold with AKC papers as a
purebred. Mary Kuemmerlein realized that the puppy was the wrong color -- it was blond
instead of mahogany -- and didn't look like a purebred.
AKC officials ``just simply couldn't care
less,'' she said. ``They got so they wouldn't even return my calls. We sent letters. We
called. We just inundated them. They simply didn't want to hear about it.
"'They were getting money out of
registration from the dogs [ Haugh ] sold.''
Registration fees are $8 a dog, and $32 for a
certified pedigree, which documents four generations of a dog's lineage and its parents'
AKC inspector Nejdl also wrote reports about
the Haugh kennel.
In July 1992, Nejdl reported to AKC
headquarters that Haugh had recruited people to sell her dogs near Milwaukee, Madison and
La Crosse. Nejdl said he believed that this multilevel marketing network violated AKC
"'In the best of circumstances, it would
have been a record-keeping nightmare for Haugh to stay in compliance'' with AKC rules,
The AKC took no action, Nejdl said.
More information was reaching Nejdl from
former Haugh employees who claimed that Haugh wasn't keeping records properly. Joan
Nygaard, who sold dogs for Haugh, said she recalled that dogs' papers sometimes wouldn't
match the dogs she sold. "She was just sending out any papers she wanted,'' Nygaard
In April 1993, Nejdl made another report to
his AKC superiors and noted that Wisconsin agriculture officials had raided Haugh's kennel
in November 1992. Haugh pleaded no contest in April 1993 to charges of poor ventilation at
"It is only a matter of time before the
humane societies/press see a story,'' Nejdl told his bosses.
The AKC still took no action, Nejdl said.
"'They didn't have the will to fully
investigate Claudia Haugh,'' Nejdl said. ''They didn't have the will to fully investigate
Nejdl wasn't the only AKC official who heard
about problems at the Wisconsin kennel.
Volk was regularly sending letters to high
AKC officials, including board member Judith V. Daniels, now AKC's president.
Nothing seemed to make the AKC move, Volk
said, so she befriended Roger Haugh, Claudia's former husband, and got him to let Volk and
some friends onto the Haughs' property while she was away.
Using tips from former kennel employees, Volk
went straight to an eight-foot mound and began digging. The video they made was leaked to
a local TV station. Claudia Haugh said in an interview that the bad publicity was one
reason she left the dog business.
After receiving the video, the AKC board
voted on Sept. 14, 1993, to suspend Haugh's privileges.
But the AKC's action against Haugh had no
practical effect, Nejdl said, because she had already gone out of business. No dogs were
canceled from the stud book, he said. ``They don't even know which dogs are dead in that
pile,'' Nejdl said. ''Anything that passed through her hands is blighted.''
In an interview, Haugh said she had no
problem with the AKC until after her divorce began. ``They do cut you off,'' she said of
the AKC. ``They're very severe about that.''
Haugh said that she had never seen the
videotape but believed that it might have been altered.
Haugh also denied that she sold poor dogs.
''They weren't hamburger,'' she said. ''They all had champion bloodlines.''
On Sept. 16, 1990, inspectors Nejdl and Peter
Haerle inspected the kennel of Donna and Dale Huffman in Willow Springs, Mo.
Over the next week, the AKC investigators
obtained written statements from former employees saying that the Huffmans regularly
flouted AKC rules at their 500-dog kennel.
The Huffmans kept no accurate breeding
records, said former employee Sharon Lyons in a signed statement.
Former worker Vicki Treece agreed. ``If I
just happened to see two dogs breeding, I was to write it down,'' she wrote in a
statement. ``Otherwise, I was told not to worry about it.''
Some of the most damaging statements came
from Donna Huffman. During the inspection, she admitted in signed statements that she
commingled litters and registered them as a single litter, contrary to AKC rules. She said
she exposed bitches in heat to more than one stud dog, so it wasn't possible to
reconstruct which dog was the sire.
She admitted that she exaggerated the size of
litters registered with the AKC to get extra registration papers, which she could then
unilaterally place on unregistered dogs.
Altogether, Nejdl found about 3,000 surplus
dog registrations that the Huffmans could place on unregistered dogs and use to circumvent
AKC rules, according to his report.
After Nejdl's inspection, the AKC sent the
Huffmans a letter saying that it would permanently cut off their kennel. The AKC sent the
Huffmans a list of accusations on Jan. 29, 1991. The letter said a trial board would
consider indefinitely suspending the Huffmans' registration privileges and canceling all
litters going back five years. That amounted to 907 litters, Nejdl wrote, or roughly 4,500
The AKC's proposed cancellation of dogs never
happened. The AKC changed course and certified all but five litters, an AKC lawyer said.
The Huffmans supplied dogs to 18 Docktor Pet
Center stores, mostly in the South. When the dogs were sold, the AKC hadn't yet certified
them as purebred.
Scores of customers who bought Huffman-bred
dogs in early 1991 couldn't get AKC papers because of the hold on the Huffmans.
Many complained to the AKC. Robert L. Gryder,
who ran a Docktor Pet Center in Biloxi, Miss., wrote to the AKC in May 1991, asking that
the club quickly issue purebred papers or cause "irreparable harm to our
About a year after the suspension of the
Huffmans, the AKC agreed to register the dogs she had sold in return for her promise to
stay out of dog breeding for the rest of her life, Donna Huffman said.
Nejdl said the compromise hurt the AKC
registry: There are now nearly 4,500 dogs that the registry knows to be improperly bred.
"The AKC holds themselves out to be a pristine registry that basically is the very
best," he said. "The only way you can have the very best is to enforce your own
Dotsie Keith and Nina Schaefer don't consider
themselves animal-rights activists. Keith is legislative chairwoman of the Pennsylvania
Federation of Dog Clubs. Schaefer recently concluded eight years as federation president.
She and her husband, Charles, are both AKC delegates.
In December 1993, Keith and Schaefer traveled
to New York City to ask the AKC to do more about puppy mills in Pennsylvania.
Specifically, they wanted the AKC to investigate Joyce Stoltzfus, a suspended Lancaster
County breeder, who they said was still using AKC privileges by having her husband use his
name on the papers.
Keith and Schaefer said they admired a copy
of a painting by Queen Victoria's painter, Edwin Landseer, who painted dogs and other
animals, in the AKC lobby. They were treated to corned-beef lunches in the AKC's boardroom
with Robert G. Maxwell, the AKC president at the time.
Nothing changed after their visit, the two
women say. The Lancaster breeder is still bypassing AKC rules, according to a review of
recent sales complaints against the kennel.
"I don't think they recognize how AKC
registration papers are making dogs an attractive product for puppy mills in
Pennsylvania," Schaefer said.
Said Keith: "It's not a secret that they
haven't done anything about puppy mills. . . . We all know there needs to be vast
improvement in the administration of the AKC."
Both women say the majority of dog
enthusiasts support some kind of AKC action on puppy mills. Several surveys of AKC
delegates and show people have identified the registry and puppy mills as the most
important issues facing the club.
Keith and Schaefer had hoped to interest the
organization in using DNA testing to make a detailed study of dogs of any large commercial
breeder in Lancaster County. They had hoped the study would show whether the breeder was
truly meeting AKC requirements.
The AKC didn't do it, they said.
The two women also brought up Joyce
Stoltzfus' Puppy Love Kennels in Lancaster County. The AKC had suspended her after
investigator Sharon D. Reed inspected the kennel on June 13, 1990. Among Reed's findings:
Stoltzfus' personal records listed 12 breedings by a Labrador retriever named Sander Bleu,
while Stoltzfus told the AKC the same dog had sired 50 litters.
Despite her suspension, Stoltzfus continued
to sell AKC-registered dogs, Keith and Schaefer say.
Stoltzfus declined to comment. Her husband,
Ray, could not be reached.
Recent sales complaints reviewed by The
Inquirer show that Joyce Stoltzfus has continued to sell AKC-registered dogs. The
complaints were obtained from the Pennsylvania SPCA, which lists Puppy Love as one of the
state's three largest sources of consumer complaints.
When asked about Puppy Love, AKC spokesman
Wayne R. Cavanaugh said the AKC couldn't blame Ray Stoltzfus for his wife's errors. He
said the AKC was ``very interested" in claims that the Stoltzfuses were circumventing
her suspension. "If you know of a buyer that could substantiate this claim, please
let us know so that we can take the appropriate action," Cavanaugh said.
Former inspector Mike Reilly said AKC
officials in New York made it difficult for him to do his job.
For months, Reilly had asked his superiors to
send records of all dogs filed with the AKC by breeders Fred and Marge Bauer of Miami,
Okla. The AKC had suspended Marge Bauer in 1988, and Reilly suspected that many of her
100-plus dogs wouldn't match their AKC records.
On Feb. 2, 1993, Reilly conducted an
inspection. "Everything they brought me had errors on it," he said.
The couple admitted in signed statements that
they had failed to keep proper records, Reilly said. Reilly also found that Marge, despite
her suspension, had continued to sell AKC dogs by registering them in her husband's name.
Fred Bauer was suspended by the AKC on May
The business proved difficult without AKC
backing, Marge Bauer said. She said she appealed to the club for reinstatement because she
wanted to start raising rottweilers.
The club reinstated her on Sept. 14, 1994.
AKC inspectors haven't visited her since, she said.
"I just wrote them a letter and asked
them if I could have privileges back," Marge Bauer said. "I was surprised I got
David Bartscher, an officer with the Sioux
Falls Humane Society, first inspected Shirley Myers' kennel in South Dakota on April 16,
1990, and said he found deplorable conditions. Dogs had matted coats that he believed
never had been shaved down. Filth and stench were everywhere.
Bartscher repeatedly tried to get Myers to
clean up her kennel. Myers made little progress, he said. "It was like she's from a
different time where she just felt she was doing everything she needed to do," he
Bartscher called in Robert O. Baker, then
chief investigator of the Humane Society of the United States. The two men and Sheriff
Swenson conducted a videotaped search of Myers' kennel on May 12, 1992.
The tape showed that up to three inches of
feces had accumulated under some cages. Only the nursing puppies and their mothers had
food, the officers found. Myers had run out of food for the others, according to the
AKC dogs are often viewed as exemplars of
their breeds. Myers' purebreds had large sores on their bodies, the officers found. Many
had potbellies from parasites and malnutrition. Others had genetic defects, such as
entropion eyes, a condition in which the eyelid grows toward the eye and causes irritation
By chance, two AKC employees, manager Robert
E. Hufford and inspector Eugene G. Brennan, were in South Dakota that day to brief
breeders on AKC rules. They heard about the raid from humane officers staying at the same
hotel, and they stopped by Myers' kennel two days after the raid. They found Myers in
violation of AKC rules.
Hufford said that Myers' dogs weren't
identified and that her records were in such disarray that they made no sense.
Hufford said he soon placed Myers on hold,
meaning that new dog registrations from the kennel wouldn't be approved until Myers could
clearly identify her dogs and document their lineage.
When Myers refused to allow a reinspection,
Hufford said, he recommended that the AKC permanently suspend her.
The AKC didn't. Another AKC manager was sent
from New York to reinspect Myers' kennel on Feb. 29, 1993. He reapproved the kennel, an
AKC spokesman said.
Myers' kennel was once again able to sell
dogs, with the AKC's backing.
The action infuriated Darla Brobjorg, the
president of the Sioux Empire Kennel Club, an AKC member group in South Dakota. She said
she concluded from the Myers case and others that AKC enforcement is virtually
The AKC typically suspends only small
breeders, not big kennels, to protect their registration income, she said. "They're
in this to make money," Brobjorg said.
On June 6, 1993, an inspector for the U.S.
Department of Agriculture wrote a report on Myers' kennel, noting that her dogs weren't
identified. The department's identification requirements are considered less strict than
Myers was arrested on animal cruelty charges
on Aug. 18, 1993. She was convicted of one count of cruelty on April 19, 1994, and ordered
out of the dog business. The AKC continued to accept her registrations after she appealed.
Once Myers was convicted, many thought the
AKC would act, because the club has a policy of banning breeders convicted of cruelty. The
club didn't act quickly.
AKC inspector Nejdl was asked to perform
another inspection, which he did on July 17, 1994. He got Myers to sign a statement
admitting that her records were "not in any kind of order."
Still, the AKC delayed taking action. Nejdl
said he believes another AKC inspector was sent out to confirm his report.
When the AKC finally suspended Myers on Dec.
12, 1994, for poor record-keeping, the five-year suspension had little practical value.
The AKC ruled that people who bought dogs from Myers could get their dogs registered, in
some cases, under the AKC's "unofficial hardship" clause. Dog buyers had only to
say that they didn't know of the breeder's suspension when they bought the dog. AKC board
member Phinizy said he helped institute a new policy last summer to make it more difficult
to register a dog under the hardship clause.
The AKC also declined to conduct a full
investigation and to remove dogs from its stud book that Myers had previously registered,
former inspectors say.
Myers declined to talk about the AKC's
handling of her case.
An AKC spokesman said Myers was given an
additional 10 years of suspension in February for her conviction of cruelty.
Baker, the humane officer, said he wasn't
surprised by the AKC's delays. After officers seized 11 of Myers' dogs in May 1992, many
people made contributions to help the dogs, including prisoners at the nearby South Dakota
State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls.
"It's a shame when the inmates in a
state penitentiary have more compassion and care for animals than the American Kennel
Club," Baker said.