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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 entire nation.

Here are comments from six former AKC inspectors:

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 re-creating records.''

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 worthless.''

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 mills.

"'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 dogs.''

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 said.

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 Akitas.

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 dogs.

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' colors.

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 rules.

"'In the best of circumstances, it would have been a record-keeping nightmare for Haugh to stay in compliance'' with AKC rules, Nejdl said.

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 said.

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 her kennel.

"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 anyone.''

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 dogs registered.

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 business."

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 rules."

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 11, 1993.

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 it really."

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 said.

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 officers' reports.

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 and blindness.

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 meaningless.

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 the AKC's.

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.

 

Click here for 1995 Philadelphia Inquirer article on Pennsylvania's Puppy Mills

 

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